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SAGE: Dominic Cummings asked questions and offered help to independent scientific advisory group

SAGE: Dominic Cummings asked questions and offered help to independent scientific advisory group

Questions are being raised after it emerged that Dominic Cummings has been present at meetings of the independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). 

Downing Street has confirmed that Mr Cummings, who is the Prime Minister's chief adviser, attended some of the meetings, however, it denied a report in the Guardian that he is a member of the committee. According to the Guardian report, Mr Cummings was present at the SAGE meeting on 23 March, the same day that Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown.

Mr Cummings is a controversial character and was the mastermind of the successful 2016 Vote Leave campaign at the EU Referendum. He also came up with the campaign's 'take back control' slogan and has expressed unconventional attitudes towards the media. In January, Mr Cummings hit the headlines for advertising on his personal blog for "weirdos and misfits with odd skills" to work in government.

The SAGE committee, whose membership is secret, has been helping to shape the UK's response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

A No10 spokesman confirmed that Mr Cummings and Mr Warner, a data specialist who also worked on the Vote Leave campaign, attended or listened in to SAGE meetings in order to better understand scientific debates around the virus. The spokesman said the individuals occasionally "ask questions or offer help when scientists mention problems in Whitehall." He added,

"The scientists on Sage are among the most eminent in their fields"

"It is factually wrong and damaging to sensible public debate to imply their advice is affected by government advisers listening to discussions."

The spokesman also claimed, "Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this."

The Labour Party has raised concerns over Mr Cummings' attendance at the group, which is meant to give independent and scientific advice to the government. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Cummings "is a political adviser, not a medical or scientific expert. If the public are to have confidence in the Sage, the government must make clear Dominic Cummings can no longer participate or attend."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4s Today Programme, Mr Ashworth said there was concern "that political advisers have influenced the debate".

Sir David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser has also raised concerns over Mr Cummings' attendance, saying that if he participated in the discussion "this must compromise the independence" of the group.

 

Photo Credit: Radical Larry 1 under licence (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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