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Dominic Cummings absent from Downing Street after ‘undergoing surgery’

The Prime Minister’s key aide Dominic Cummings has been absent from the government during its torrid last few weeks after undergoing surgery.

Boris Johnson’s powerful chief of staff, 48, was originally due to have an operation for an undisclosed condition last summer.

But he is understood to have postponed the procedure twice to help Mr Johnson into No10 and then to win the general election and oversee Brexit. 

His absence over the past fortnight partly over-lapped with the Prime Minister’s holiday. 

But it has also coincided with a torrid period for the Government, which it found itself under severe attack over bungled A-Level and GCSE exam grades and whether returning schoolchildren should wear masks.

His surgery will again fuel rumours that he may step down from his powerful role within months. 

In May the Spectator suggested he could quit by the end of the year if he completes his ongoing attempt to reform the civil service.

The Tory Bible employs his wife, Mary Wakefield, as a senior journalist. 

An insider who knows Mr Cummings well said he intends to step back from the political front line after the UK finally leaves the EU in December.

The suggestion that he could be out in six months was reinforced by a separate claim that he will consider himself ‘largely redundant’ by Christmas if he completes his shake-up of Whitehall mandarins by then.

Earlier this month he was accused of parking his tanks on the Civil Service’s lawn.

Mr Cummings and another of Mr Johnson’s top advisers Munira Mirza, are to leave No10 to set up a new ‘control centre’ for the PM in 70 Whitehall, the current home of the Cabinet Office. 

It is a move that can be measured in the tens of metres, but one that may be seen as a larger one in terms of intent. 

To all intents ant purposes it will create an ‘office of the prime minister’ in the middle of mandarin territory, the Times reported. 

Mr Cummings has made no secret of his desire to shake up the Civil Service. Last month he won an internal power fight with Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, stepped down.

Meanwhile Mr Cummings has also come under fire for his role in a review of Britain’s defence capabilities. 

MPs warned that Mr Johnson’s pledge to overhaul defence and foreign policy is in danger of being undermined by the failure of Government to engage with outside voices.

The Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development was billed in last year’s Queen’s Speech as the deepest and most radical re-evaluation of the UK’s place in the world since the Cold War ended.

Last night there was anger after it was reported the British Army’s entire force of hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles could be scrapped under sweeping modernisation plans.

The UK’s Challenger II main battle tanks and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles are said to be at risk because of swingeing budget cuts expected to follow the coronvirus crisis. 

The cost of upgrading the heavy armour and a desire to switch military focus to modern threats like cyberwarfare could see the battlefield heavies put out to pasture, little more than 100 years after they were invented.

The Challenger II has been the UK’s main tank since the late 1990s, with cavalry regiments using it in Iraq. There are around 227 in service.

The Warrior, of which there are almost 400, has been in service since the 1980s. 

Britain already sounding out Nato partners about giving up its heavy armour and focusing instead on aviation and cyber warfare, the Times reported.

A government source told the newspaper: ‘We know that a number of bold decisions need to be taken in order to properly protect British security and rebalance defence interests to meet the new threats we face.’  

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said: ‘This Government has shown time and time again that it lacks the strategy and competence needed to maintain our national defences, with little to show from a decade in power other than a shortage of troops and an equipment funding black hole.’

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