Dominic Cummings acted as prime minister ‘in all but name’, Sajid Javid tells Covid inquiry

Dominic Cummings acted as prime minister in all but name and was the driving force behind key decisions during the pandemic, Sajid Javid has told the Covid inquiry.

The former health secretary said cabinet ministers were often excluded from decision-making and it was Mr Cummings calling the shots.

Recalling his decision to resign as chancellor in February 2020, he said he agreed with claims made by others that there was a “toxic” and “feral” culture within No 10 and said he had “not experienced that extent of dysfunction in any government before”.

He blamed the dominance of Mr Cummings, who was Mr Johnson’s top adviser, revealing: “I felt that the elected prime minister was not in charge of what was happening in his name and was largely content with Mr Cummings running the government.”

Mr Javid said that, when he stood down from his post after Mr Cummings told him to sack all his aides, he warned that the strategist had been given “a huge amount of responsibility and power” and “would not stop until he had burnt the house down”.

On another day of shocking revelations, the Covid-19 Inquiry heard:

  • Mr Javid said Britons would have to “learn to live” with Covid, to which Mr Johnson replied, “and die with it”

  • Mr Johnson believed people were “going into hospital with Covid who don’t need it”

  • Former deputy chief medical officer Dame Jenny Harries said it would be “clinically appropriate” to discharge Covid patients from hospitals into care homes

  • Mr Javid said he was not invited to key meetings when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was on the rise

  • Dominic Raab said he did not accept the Johnson government was a “puppet regime” run by Mr Cummings

Mr Javid opened his testimony to the inquiry stating that “we will never fully understand the scale of the grief” of those who lost loved ones.

Evidence shown to the inquiry painted a picture of the former chancellor and health secretary as an often more cautious voice throughout the pandemic.

Sajid Javid says he agrees with claims there was a toxic culture in No 10 (PA)
Sajid Javid says he agrees with claims there was a toxic culture in No 10 (PA)

In January 2020, Mr Javid sounded the alarm about travellers potentially importing the virus from China into Britain and in July 2021, when Mr Johnson was pushing for a “very considerable package of freedoms”, Mr Javid said “the pandemic is far from over”, Sir Patrick Vallance revealed in his diaries.

The former chief scientific adviser’s notes from the pandemic have exposed Mr Johnson and other senior ministers’ often callous attitude toward the tackling of the virus.

And on Wednesday, the inquiry saw an extract in which Sir Patrick recalled a meeting with the then-PM in which cases were up, admissions to hospitals were up and Mr Johnson “looked downbeat”.

Mr Javid told the meeting that Britons would “have to learn to live with it”, to which Mr Johnson replied: “And die with it.”

The shocking extract comes after it was revealed Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate” in order to let young people get on with their lives.

Sir Patrick recalled the meeting saw Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who was then chancellor, pushing against a “more cautious” Michael Gove and Mr Javid.

Boris Johnson called Britons reluctant to go back to the office ‘work-shy’ (Getty)
Boris Johnson called Britons reluctant to go back to the office ‘work-shy’ (Getty)

In another diary extract from December 2021, Sir Patrick recalled the former PM talking about “his anxieties” about imposing more lockdown measures.

As well as fears about the government losing credibility, Sir Patrick recalled Mr Johnson saying: “I am sure people are going into hospital with Covid who don’t need it.”

Mr Johnson also called Britons reluctant to work in the office as “malingering” and “work-shy”, the inquiry heard.

In an extract from Sir Patrick’s diary in July 2021, the chief scientist said the then-PM said he “wants everyone back at work ‘we can’t have the b****cks of consulting with employees and trade unions. They need to come back to work. All the malingering work-shy people’.”

The inquiry also heard how Mr Javid was not invited to key meetings when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was on the rise in winter 2021 – something Sir Patrick recalled labelled “quite extraordinary”.

He wrote: “Health Secretary not invited to the meeting yesterday – quite extraordinary – [Lord] Frost and [Mr Sunak] but no SoS (secretary of state) DHSC (Department of Health and social Care) – WTF.”

“We think [Mr Sunak] is trying to delay a decision until it is too late and then say ‘I wasn’t given enough information on which to make a decision’,” he added.

Mr Javid also agreed with claims of a “toxic”, “dysfunctional” and “feral” culture within No 10, as described by other witnesses.

He said decisions were made during the pandemic at the last minute in a way that “caused confusion and problems with effective communication to the public”.

Giving evidence to the inquiry in the afternoon, former foreign secretary Mr Raab denied Mr Javid’s claim that Mr Johnson was not in charge during the pandemic.

The former deputy PM, who stood in for Mr Johnson when he was admitted to hospital with Covid, told the Covid inquiry he does not accept the Johnson government was “some sort of puppet regime” run by Mr Cummings.

He said: “There is a whole circus that can be built up in the media and elsewhere around the internal battles between individuals and some of that is natural and healthy.”

He said he had “no beef” with Mr Javid, but added that he disagreed with Mr Javid’s position. Mr Cummings was “trying to galvanise direction of travel” in government which was “much needed” during the pandemic, Mr Raab said.