Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has made a number of explosive claims about the Government’s handling of the pandemic during a joint session of the House of Commons Health, and Science and Technology committees.
Cummings, who quit Downing Street in November, started to speak out about mistakes by the Government in recent weeks and has now issued many more claims about events during his time in Downing Street – here’s a look at some of the key points.
Starting the session, Cummings appeared somewhat and emotional apologised by saying he and others had fallen short of expected standards. Speaking to the committee, he said;
“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most the government failed.
“I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.”
Mr Cummings was particularly critical of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, saying he “should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things”
According to Cummings, he and other senior officials repeatedly told the Prime Minister that Hancock should be fired. Among his accusations about the Health Secretary, Cummings said Hancock was obsessed over a “stupid” target to offer 100,000 Covid tests a day and that he diverted officials’ attention away from the task of setting up a test-and-trace scheme.
Early thinking regarding the virus
Cummings made a number of claims that the Government did not take the virus seriously.
Speaking about one particular day, Mr Cummings claimed that a conversation took place in the Cabinet Office where the then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill said “‘Prime minister, you should go on TV tomorrow and explain the herd immunity plan and that it is like the old chicken pox parties. We need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September.”
Cummings also claimed that the Prime Minister had said he would get Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty to inject him with COVID-19 on live TV ‘so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of’.
The former chief adviser also said that there had been “no functioning data system” at the start of the pandemic. Before giving evidence to MPs, he shared the below picture on Twitter, which he said showed government thinking during the start of the pandemic.
During the committee session, Cummings was asked about communications during the pandemic and how he believed the Government had performed. At many points over the last year, the Government has been criticised for poor communication, such as through its “Stay Alert” slogan, andjust this week for not announcing new health advice that had been published on gov.uk.
Speaking about communications, Mr Cummings admitted there were “definitely mistakes made” in communications, but laid much of the blame on the Prime Minister. Cummings said;
“Some of the people working on the communications were some of the best people in the world. One of the great myths about the whole thing is that, oh, the reason for all of these problems was bad communications. Fundamentally, the reason for all these problems was bad policy, bad decisions, bad planning, bad operational capability. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got great people doing communications if the Prime Minister changes his mind ten times a day and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy day after day after day, you’re going to have a communications disaster zone.”
Mr Cummings used one particular example, saying that the PM had been advised: “do not pick a fight with Rashford”. Footballer Marcus Rashford campaigned for a change in the Government’s policy on free school meals last summer, however, the Government initially stuck by its policy before u-turning. Speaking about the events, Cummings said “the Prime Minister decided to pick and then surrender twice”.
You can watch back the full session from Parliament in full on parliamentlive.tv.