Rishi Sunak has assembled an ideologically diverse cast of Conservative advisers from his time as chancellor to help him navigate through the initial challenging months of his nascent administration.
With only days to prepare to take over from Liz Truss, the new UK prime minister has drawn on long-serving aides to fill senior roles in his Downing Street operation. The new team is acutely aware it has less than a week before a major fiscal plan is due to be unveiled.
Despite the short timescale, Sunak is not expected to retain many aides from the previous Truss government. One well-placed Whitehall figure said “it’s almost a whole Treasury takeover” of Number 10.
One of the most influential figures in Sunak’s inner circle will be Oliver Dowden, who chaired both of his leadership campaigns. The 44-year-old MP for Hertsmere is expected to be the prime minister’s chief fixer in a senior cabinet role.
Dowden, who was culture secretary and Conservative party chair in Boris Johnson’s government, previously worked in Number 10 under David Cameron. One Sunak ally said he would be “Rishi’s right-hand man throughout and will help him run the government”.
The new prime minister’s chief of staff is expected to be Liam Booth-Smith. The 35-year-old, who previously worked at the Policy Exchange think-tank with a specialism in housing policy, served Sunak in the same role at the Treasury.
Booth-Smith is admired by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s controversial former chief aide, and is known in Whitehall for his loyalty to the new prime minister. One Tory aide said Booth-Smith would “would run through brick walls for Rishi”.
Policy within Sunak’s Downing Street is expected to be overseen by Eleanor Shawcross-Wolfson, a non-executive director at the Department for Work and Pensions who advised former chancellor George Osborne. She is married to Lord Simon Wolfson, chief executive of the clothing retailer Next.
Another key figure is James Nation, a former civil servant who first met Sunak during his tenure at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. One colleague described him as “Rishi’s problem solver” who would “take thorny problems away and find a way through them”.
Sunak’s day-to-day media and communications will be handled by Nerissa Chesterfield, his longstanding press secretary who also worked with him at the Treasury. The 31-year-old previously worked with Truss during her time as international trade secretary and at the Institute for Economics Affairs think-tank.
The prime minister is also likely to appoint a new Downing Street director of communications, but has not yet decided who that will be.
Rupert Yorke, a veteran of Theresa May’s Downing Street team, is likely to oversee relations with the Conservative party — a sensitive post given the turmoil that has seen two prime ministers forced out within weeks. The 33-year-old has served as a political aide in several departments, including the home office and cabinet office.
“Handling the parliamentary party is going to be one of the trickiest things for Rishi,” said one senior Tory MP. “Both Liz and Boris were brought down by their failure to keep MPs on side, so god help his political secretary.”
Sunak has also sought to take advice from a broader group of Tory aides — unlike Truss, whose operation was chiefly dominated by aides from the libertarian right flank of the Conservative party.
In recent months, Sunak has also held a series of dinners with an informal “brains trust” to act as a loose sounding board for policy ideas. Attendees have included Ameet Gill, who served as head of strategy in David Cameron’s Downing Street office, and pro-Brexit campaigner Paul Stephenson, director of communications for Vote Leave. Both work at Hanbury Strategy, a public affairs consultancy.
Other “brains trust” members include Rupert Harrison, who previously served as George Osborne’s chief of staff and is now a member of the government’s economic advisory council, and Nick Timothy, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff and now a newspaper columnist.