Claire Perry O’Neill, the former energy minister, is consulting lawyers after she was removed from her role running the UN climate change conference.
Perry O’Neill has told friends that Boris Johnson and his most senior aides gave three different reasons for her dismissal from her role at the conference, known as COP26, which is due to take place in November in Glasgow. She is considering legal action if she does not receive a proper explanation.
She took on the job after leaving parlianent at the election but was informed that her services were no longer required in a telephone conversation with Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s most senior aide, on Friday. A minister will replace her. Perry O’Neill is then understood to have talked to the primeminister and to Sir Edward Lister, another senior figure in No 10, with whom she had been discussing plans for the conference.
Government sources have accused Perry O’Neill of bullying civil servants and failing to get a grip on the unit planning the summit. It is understood that she faced an investigation into a claim made against her by one official in her team but was fully exonerated.
The incident occurred when Perry O’Neill was supposed to be travelling to Clarence House for a meeting with the Prince of Wales. The staff member told her 15 minutes before the meeting that they had forgotten to book her a cab. Perry O’Neill is said to have responded: “What the actual f***! This place couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.”
A friend said: “Claire is not a diplomat but there are untruths circulating about her. She was completely exonerated. She is consulting an employment lawyer.”
Allies said she became frustrated that the COP26 unit had failed to produce a proper plan for the summit and that the estimated costs had nearly doubled from £250m to £450m because of poor estimates by other departments. Johnson decided that Glasgow should host the conference — in order to stress the value of the union — “against the express advice of officials”, who wanted it in London.
The former minister is a colourful character who once asked, when she could not attract the attention of then Commons Speaker, John Bercow: “What do I have to do? Give him a blowjob?”
Perry O’Neill’s removal has prompted concerns in Whitehall about dysfunction at the heart of the government. She reported directly to Johnson, who was supposed to chair the cabinet sub-committee. But Perry O’Neill revealed on Friday that not one meeting had been held.
Johnson will make his first public intervention on the issue on Tuesday, when he launches the UK’s COP26 strategy at an event with Sir David Attenborough.
One Whitehall insider said planning for the summit had become “a seething bear pit” of infighting between ministers over who should take charge.
Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, and Perry O’Neill are understood to have clashed when the latter was allowed to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month while Leadsom was grounded by Downing Street. Leadsom is also said to be incensed by Perry O’Neill’s decision to appoint Mark Carney, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, to a panel of 25 experts despite his “unhelpful” statements about Brexit.