For Boris Johnson, the Tumult Begins Inside Downing Street  07/23/2019 22:07:53   Sarah Lyall
ImageBoris Johnson and his wife, Marina Wheeler, in 2015. The two are divorcing.
Boris Johnson and his wife, Marina Wheeler, in 2015. The two are divorcing.CreditCreditJustin Tallis/Agence France-Presse  Getty Images

LONDON  As he finally moves into the job he has wanted all his life, the newly anointed prime minister, Boris Johnson, brings with him a formidable array of challenges, the most pressing being his promise to extricate Britain from the European Union.

He also brings a chaotic personal life and, as the first single prime minister in more than 40 years, an unsettled domestic situation unique in the annals of modern-day prime ministerial politics.

Separated from and in the process of divorcing Marina Wheeler, his wife of 26 years, Mr. Johnson has since last year been dating and intermittently living with Carrie Symonds, 31, a former spokeswoman for the Conservative Party. Ms. Symonds has been credited with getting Mr. Johnson, 55, to cut his hair, lose some weight, effect more gravitas and start wearing clothes that look to be ironed.

But the couple have not appeared at any public events or been photographed together since neighbors called the police last month to report that the two were having a loud argument at her apartment. (The police said they visited and there was no need for further action.)

Ms. Symonds was not by Mr. Johnsons side when he addressed the Conservative Party as its new leader on Tuesday. (Wheres Carrie Symonds? The Mirror asked.)

Asked about the argument at a televised campaign event last month, Mr. Johnson repeatedly danced around the question. I think what people have come here today, seductive interviewer though you are, I think people have, I dont think they want to hear about that kind of thing, he said.

Mr. Johnson and Ms. Wheeler have four children together. Mr. Johnson, whose womanizing has been the subject of extensive coverage in the British news media, is the father of at least one child from an extramarital affair. He and Ms. Wheeler had split up several times before but had always gotten back together.

ImageCarrie Symonds, a former spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, has been in a relationship with Mr. Johnson since last year.
Carrie Symonds, a former spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, has been in a relationship with Mr. Johnson since last year.CreditBen Cawthra/Sipa, via Associated Press

Their marriage has now broken up for good, friends say, over his relationship with Ms. Symonds.

Ms. Symonds was spotted with her mother over the weekend moving things into a new house in Camberwell that, according to newspaper reports, she and Mr. Johnson have bought together.

The Brexit-supporting Daily Telegraph, a kind of in-house organ for Mr. Johnson that tends to know what is going on with him, reported a few days ago that Ms. Symonds does plan to move into 10 Downing Street. But she will do it quietly and over the coming weekend, the paper claimed, so as not to draw attention to herself during what she feels is meant to be Boriss moment.

A spokesman for Mr. Johnson did not return an email seeking comment.

In the 2003 film Love Actually, a single prime minister (Hugh Grant) starts dating a young woman (Martine McCutcheon) who brings tea to his office every afternoon. But there is little precedent in real life for a First Partner in Downing Street, and it is unclear what, if any, formal role Ms. Symonds would have in Mr. Johnsons premiership.

The new prime minister  who has an air of personal disorganization, tends to lose things, and used to lug his belongings to and from work in a backpack slung over his shoulders  is said to have lived with friends, and at his house in Thame, Oxfordshire, over the past few weeks.

He and Ms. Wheeler have reportedly sold their family home in Islington, London. Since their argument, neither Ms. Symonds nor Mr. Johnson appear to have stayed in her apartment.

But the job of prime minister comes with government-sponsored housing at 10 Downing Street, one of three connected townhouses on a small, blocked-off road in central London.

Downing Street is not like the White House. It is smaller, more crowded and much less grand, and the housing arrangements inside are more fluid.

Beginning with Tony Blair, who took office when he still had a young family, the last few prime ministers have lived in the apartment on the upper floors of 11 Downing Street, which is larger and more spacious than the pokier apartment at No. 10. That has relegated the chancellors of the Exchequer, who usually live in No. 11, to the apartment at No. 10.

Ms. Wheeler and Mr. Johnson with Ivo Sramek, a Czech official, at a meeting of European foreign ministers in 2017.CreditPool photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas

Prime ministers typically provide many of their own furnishings, aided by public money for upkeep of their living quarters. Unlike in the United States, where the two-plus months between the presidential election and inauguration provide for a measured and organized housing transition, a change in premiership in Britain is abrupt. One prime minister moves out of Downing Street; the next moves in right away.

Last weekend, The Mail on Sunday reported that as a result of his divorce, Mr. Johnson didnt have any stuff and had asked the government to pay for new furniture to fit out his prime ministerial apartment.

A spokesman told the newspaper that Mr. Johnson had been offered taxpayer-funded furniture but had turned it down, and that the prime minister would foot the bill for his own furnishings.

Sir Ed Davey, a member of Parliament from the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said he wanted to get to the bottom of the whole thing and planned to write to the Cabinet Office to find out what the government intended to spend on Mr. Johnsons apartment.

Ive heard of sofa government, but this is ridiculous, he told The Mail, using a Britishism for a leaders circle of advisers. He earns a fortune and should be able to earn his own furniture.

In addition to his parliamentary salary, which is about 79,000 pounds a year, Mr. Johnson is reportedly paid 275,000 pounds a year for his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph and last year earned tens of thousands of pounds in speaking engagements. Those activities will most likely have to stop now that he is prime minister.

Declaring that Theresa May, the departing prime minister, had paid for her own furnishings and that she has never earned anything like as much as Boris Johnson, Mr. Davey alluded to accounts of Mr. Johnsons fight with Ms. Symonds.

Neighbors said Ms. Symonds could be heard accusing Mr. Johnson of spilling red wine on her sofa and being spoiled about money.

Rather than wine stain, he should be worried about the stain he is making on British politics, Mr. Davey told The Mail.

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