Chancellor Rishi Sunak shared concerns last autumn that Boris Johnson had “no plan” to deal with coronavirus and was wrongly delaying a second lockdown, the prime minister’s former adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed.
In a series of messages on his Substack blog, Mr Cummings repeated his description of the PM as “like a shopping trolley” veering from side to side of the aisle without any clear direction.
And he said that the UK could have avoided the need for a second lockdown altogether if it had followed up the first set of restrictions properly, but said this opportunity was lost because Mr Johnson “totally bogged it”.
Mr Cummings, formerly Mr Johnson’s most senior adviser at 10 Downing Street, said that decision-making at the top of the government was “horrific”.
“When you watch the apex of power you feel like ‘if this were broadcast, everyone would sell everything and head for the bunker in the hills’,” he said.
“It’s impossible to describe how horrific decision-making is at the apex of power and how few people watching it have any clue how bad it is or any sense of how to do it better. It’s generally the blind leading the blind with a few non-blind desperately shoving fingers in dykes and clutching their heads.”
Watch: Five of the most important moments from Dominic Cummings' testimony
Downing Street now is “just a branch of entertainment industry and will stay so ‘til [Boris Johnson] gone, at earliest”, said Cummings, adding: “The most valuable commodity in government is focus and the PM literally believes that focus is a menace to his freedom to do whatever he fancies today, hence why you see the opposite of focus now and will do ‘til he goes.”
Mr Cummings also called for an investigation of the use of “do not resuscitate” instructions for people with learning difficulties who developed Covid-19, saying it was clear that “some terrible stuff happened”.
Asked if the issue was discussed in government, he replied: “Not in front of me – we were told these decisions were taken in quite a decentralised way. But I think this whole issue does need urgently addressing now, clearly some terrible stuff happened.”
Mr Cummings rejected claims that the chancellor – who had launched the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to support the hospitality industry during the summer – resisted scientists’ call for a return to economic and social restrictions as Covid-19 cases grew in the autumn.
Instead, he insisted that the delay in September last year was down to “a PM decision against advice of scientists, data team, me and others in No 10”.
Cummings exempted Sunak from criticism in his epic seven-hour testimony to a House of Commons inquiry into the handling of coronavirus last month, reserving his scorn for Mr Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock.
Watch: What you need to know about COVID-19 variants
And answering questions on his blog today, he repeated that the chancellor had supported him, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and others in pushing the PM to ditch the “herd immunity” strategy and order a lockdown in March last year.
Mr Cummings added: “September decision not to act seriously was a PM decision against advice of scientists, data team, me and others in No 10. It wasn’t a cabinet decision or ‘cos of Sunak’.
“Sunak’s view was the same as all serious people July-Oct: there is no plan, just a trolley smashing side to side, we can’t keep telling people ‘go back to work arghhh stop lockdown arghhh go back to work Covid is all nonsense argh save the NHS...’ etc, which is what PM was doing July-Oct.”
The former adviser – who quit in November after a power struggle with the PM’s wife Carrie – repeated his assertion that Mr Johnson is “obviously unfit” to be prime minister.
He said that he plans to write later this week about the reasons why he helped to install Mr Johnson in 10 Downing Street.
But he did not contest the idea that the PM regularly lies to the public, adding: “No 10 lies routinely cos that’s the PM’s personality.”
Mr Johnson’s “greatest strength” is that he is “more self-aware than almost anybody else in politics”, but this only comes to the fore when he is in “fear of imminent career death”, said Mr Cummings.
“Sadly he keeps it hidden from himself most of the time,” he said. “He’s a much more complex character than he seems, behind the mask is ... another mask.”
He described Mr Johnson as “a pundit who stumbled into politics and acts like that 99 per cent of the time but 1 per cent not - and that 1 per cent is why pundits misunderstand him/underestimate him”.
Cummings dismissed the idea that his former boss Michael Gove was running the government behind the scenes.
Asked about Gove, he said: “He did not have ‘huge responsibility and influence’. Nobody in the cabinet has much responsibility or influence.
“The CHX (chancellor of the exchequer) leads a powerful institution and he has a lot of power. But Gove does not, he does not ‘run’ the CABOFF (Cabinet Office) nor is he even told much about what it’s doing.
“One of the myths of the media is ‘Gove is a key player in Downing Street’ – it just isn’t true.”
He voiced his preference for bringing in people from outside politics to run key projects, as Katie Bingham did with the vaccines taskforce.
And he added: “The Tory Party is hideous obviously, but that was part of the point of doing Brexit – to put a bomb under them all so they all have to change. And they are changing. Not fast enough.”
The “crucial question” in UK politics is “how to accelerate the change/obliteration of existing parties”, he said.
Watch: Lockdown restrictions - what is changing, what is staying the same and why?