The key moments from Dominic Cummings’ Coronavirus evidence
Cummings alleged he was concerned about the potential of a pandemic as early as January. He said he texted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ask if pandemic planning structures were in place and that Hancock reassured him. He said these plans turned out to be “completely hollow” and that he regretted not following up on the issue.
He said there was a lack of urgency from people in the government when the crisis started to unfold, with people even “off skiing” in February. “In no way shape or form did the government act like it was the most important thing. It didn’t act like it was the most important thing in February, let alone January,” he said.
Cummings argued that a lot of the government’s logic was based on “duff studies” from behavioural scientists assuming that the public would not accept restrictions.
He said he tried to persuade Johnson to impose lockdown earlier by presenting a different plan and said that his fears were echoed by others in Downing Street, including the Cabinet Office’s Helen McNamara, who allegedly told Cummings “We’re absolutely f*cked” in March.
“This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken,” Cummings told the committee
Cummings alleged the Prime Minister made a number of controversial comments regarding coronavirus, including that he saw it as “the new swine flu” and “a scare story”. Cummings also said it was suggested chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty should inject Johnson with the virus on live TV to show it was nothing to be scared of.
He also alleged Johnson was more concerned about the measures against Covid causing harm than the disease itself, and that it was “crackers” that the public had to put up with Johnson leading the fight against the virus. “The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again,” he said.
During the summer, when cases were low, the Prime Minister apparently regretted lockdown and said he wished he had acted like the mayor from the film Jaws who kept the beaches open during a crisis, comments that have been reported in the past, according to Cummings. Cummings also said there was a general notion by the summer that the crisis was over, which turned out to be a “terrible, terrible mistake”. Johnson was “more concerned about the economy” by that point, he said.
Cummings also spoke about the PM’s relationship with the media, which he was, he said “about a thousand times too obsessed with”, to the point that it stopped him from being able to do his job. He said Johnson was completely led by headlines when planning his day and that Cummings “fundamentally disagreed” with him on “pretty much everything with communications”. “If the Prime Minister changes his mind 10 times a day, and then calls up media and contradicts own policy day after day, you’re going to have a communications disaster,” he said.
Cummings confirmed that Johnson did make a comment about letting “bodies pile high” on 31 October. He even said Johnson preferred there to be chaos in the country so that people could look to him “to see who is in charge”.
“I regarded him as unfit for the job”, he said, and added that by the end of October their relationship was “pretty much finished”. Overall, he said, Johnson was “like a shopping trolley slamming from one side of the aisle to the other.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock bore perhaps most of the brunt of Cummings’ wrath. He said Hancock “should have been fired for about 15 to 20 different things… including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly”. He claimed that many senior officials agreed with him.
Damningly, he accused Hancock of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” over his public pledge to complete 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. He said it caused huge problems for the government because it meant Whitehall was caught between rushing to hit this “stupid target” and building “medium term” infrastructure to make more tests. He said Hancock “wanted to go on TV and say ‘look at me and my 100,000 test’” and that “he should have been fired for that thing alone”.
Testing had to be moved out of Hancock’s department and by the time test and trace was set up there were too many cases for it to function, Cummings said.
He also said Hancock lied about people being able to get treatment for other illnesses over the summer (“he knew that was a lie”) and said he was responsible for people not being tested before entering care homes and “seeding” coronavirus.
Hancock blamed scientists for various issues and used Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty “as a shield for himself,” Cummings also alleged.
Cummings appeared most aggravated when talking about herd immunity and said he had no idea why the government was “lying” about not pursuing it as a strategy. He said there was an assumption in government that there could either be one sharp peak of the virus, followed by herd immunity by September, or a moderate curbing of cases, followed by an even worse second peak in the winter, which would have been worse for the NHS.
On 12 March, he said Johnson was told by the then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill to go on TV and explain the herd immunity plan by saying “it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September.” At the time, Cummings allegedly said: “Mark, you’ve got to stop this chicken pox analogy”.
Cummings had harsh words about Johnson’s fiancée as well. He said that one of the reasons lockdown was delayed is because the government was distracted by Symonds “going completely crackers” about a “trivial” story about her dog’s behaviour that was reported in The Times. He also said she was “desperate” to remove him and his team from Number 10 and tried to appoint “her friends” to positions in Number 10 in a “completely unethical” and “clearly illegal” manner.
“My resignation was definitely connected to the fact that the Prime Minister’s girlfriend was trying to change a whole bunch of different appointments at Number 10 and appoint her friends to particular jobs... I thought the whole process about how the Prime Minister was behaving at that point was appalling and all that was definitely part of why I went,” he said.
Johnson did not listen to any advice about having a circuit break lockdown in September, instead opting to “hit and hope”, according to Cummings. Even Hancock apparently supported Cummings on it, he said, and criticised Johnson for not “learning from mistakes”.
He said he was not surprised that the government wasn’t acting quickly to deal with the Indian variant and said he had “deja vu”.
Cummings pushed for a public inquiry into the pandemic. Johnson has committed to an inquiry which will start in spring 2022, but Cummings said: “When you have a crisis this bad, you’ve got to face reality.”
“Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die,” he told MPs. “There is absolutely no excuse for delaying that because a lot of the reasons for why that happened are still in place now.”