A court will consider the influence held by Boris Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds, after permission was granted last week for a judicial review into how the government came to cancel a cull on badgers.
According to The Guardian, the case “could embarrass Boris Johnson”, as well as “raise questions about the government’s willingness to listen to its advisers when formulating policy”.
The cull, which was due to take place in Derbyshire, was pulled after Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers ordered Natural England to scrap the plans last autumn. Villier’s decision came three weeks after Symonds was briefed by Dominic Dyer, head of the Badger Trust, which opposes the cull.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which sought the judicial review, claims this meeting played a key role in the government “ignoring scientific advice in favour of retaining the cull”, says The Guardian. The government denies any wrongdoing; however, Villiers confirmed that Downing Street was involved in the decision to cancel the plans.
So who is Symonds?
Daughter of The Independent co-founder Matthew Symonds and Josephine Mcaffee, one of the newspaper’s lawyers, she grew up in southwest London and attended the private Godolphin and Latymer School.
In 2007, at the age of 19, Symonds was targeted by serial rapist John Worboys, who used his job as a black cab driver to offer his victims spiked drinks and then assault them while they were passed out or semi-conscious.
Symonds later found out about Worboys’ other victims and was among those who expressed outrage when a parole board ordered his release, eventually forcing a High Court ruling in 2018 to keep him behind bars, reports The Times.
Symonds studied at Warwick University and graduated with a first-class honours degree in art history and theatre studies. She joined Conservative HQ as a press officer in 2009, where the “gregarious, intelligent, ambitious, strong-minded and attractive” Symonds “quickly made a name for herself”, according to the Daily Mail.
How did she meet Johnson?
Symonds first met Johnson in 2012 when she was seconded to work on his London mayor re-election campaign, later becoming director of communications at Conservative Campaign headquarters.
“Eyebrows were raised” in March 2018 when social media posts revealed that Johnson, and his colleagues Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, had attended her “alcohol-fuelled 30th birthday bash”, says The Telegraph.
Johnson announced in September 2018 that he was divorcing his second wife, barrister Marina Wheeler, “swiftly thrusting the MP’s intimate relationship with Symonds into the spotlight”, says the newspaper.
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The pair are believed to have hosted a champagne and canape party just before New Year’s Eve. “At one point, guests saw Boris drape himself around Carrie before leaning in for a kiss,” claims The Sun on Sunday, which in January published photographs showing Symonds “cheekily tweaking the ex-foreign secretary’s bottom in the street”.
Symonds dominated the headlines last summer after it was reported that police were called to her house following an alleged bust-up with Johnson.
She is already the first “live-in girlfriend” of a UK prime minister, reports Sky News, while The Sunday Times adds that Johnson is said to be “so enamoured of his new girlfriend that he wants to make her his third wife”.
If that were to happen, Johnson could “become the first prime minister to wed while serving in Downing Street for 250 years”, adds The Sun.
How much influence does she have?
Symonds quit her role at Tory HQ in August 2019 to take up a role with Bloomberg, working in PR for the media giant’s ecological initiative Vibrant Oceans.
However, her political influence has reportedly remained in place.
In The Spectator, edited by Johnson from 1999 to 2005, Harry Mount suggests Symonds was the reason the former London mayor and foreign secretary is “thinner and more smartly dressed than he’s been for years”.
It has also been suggested that Symond’s influence was involved in Johnson’s decision to toughen sentences for sexual and violent offenders.
Grazia reports: “It would make sense that Carrie would act as a representative in Downing Street for women who have been victimised by short prison sentences for rapists.”