Steve Bannon, who has previously backed a range of notorious far-right political figures, has publicly endorsed Dominic Cummings for the first time, calling him a “brilliant guy”.
Donald Trump’s former chief strategist also said that Boris Johnson will become an increasingly populist prime minister after jettisoning his political positioning as a “globalist” to “opportunistically jump on Brexit”.
But Bannon, who helped mastermind Trump’s successful bid for the presidency, reserved his highest praise for Johnson’s most senior aide.
“A brilliant guy. I think Cummings is very smart where he puts his efforts. What I like about him is he has the ability to focus on the main things,” Bannon said, hailing the Downing Street strategist for his role in Brexit and Johnson’s 2019 election triumph.
The comments were made during interviews for a book to be published on Thursday which investigates how unaccountable money, lobbying and data has reshaped British politics.
Written by Open Democracy journalist Peter Geoghegan, Democracy for Sale documents how dark money has corrupted the democratic system and features several interviews with Bannon, although his comments on Cummings – made earlier this year – came too late for inclusion.
Bannon has fostered extensive links to global far-right nationalist movements in an attempt to unite “the Judeo-Christian West”. He has also described UK Islamophobe Tommy Robinson as the “backbone” of Britain, defended Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, and praised anti-immigration French politician Marine Le Pen, among others.
However, Bannon refused to say if he is currently advising the UK’s prime minister or has met Cummings. Last year evidence emerged suggesting close links between Johnson and the man who led Trump’s 2016 campaign. Bannon even claimed to have crafted speeches for the prime minister.
The interviews throw up key similarities between Bannon and Cummings. Chief among them is the desire to reform the UK civil service. Bannon advocates demolishing it entirely, arguing the “administrative state needs to be taken apart brick by brick”.
Dismantling the UK civil service is one of Cummings primary ambitions. At the end of June its head,Mark Sedwill, quit with Cummings reportedly then telling colleagues that “a hard rain is coming” for the service.
Another common theme emerges with Bannon’s views on Brexit. “There is one choice: hard out, no deal. It won’t be disruptive,” says Bannon, who was fired as a top adviser to Trump in 2017 following white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Cummings is believed to have privately championed a no-deal outcome and the EU’s chief negotiator recently revealed that the two sides were “still far away” from agreement with less than three months to go before a 31 October deadline.
Bannon urges Johnson to focus more on manufacturing rather than ensuring that Britain resembles a “Singapore on the Thames”, shorthand for a low-tax, lightly regulated economy.
Politically, Bannon sees Johnson moving ever further to the right, developing “more economic nationalistic tendencies” and predicting that “Boris will adapt his policies to become more populist over time”.
The former investment banker also says that by studying the reaction to previous financial crashes he knew there would be an inevitable populist rising following the 2007-2008 crisis.
Bannon says he began visiting the UK frequently in 2013 and meeting individuals like Ukip leader Nigel Farage and his supporters James Delingpole and Raheem Kassam, who would both be hired by Bannon to work for a British version of the rightwing news site Breitbart.
Bannon also says he spent time meeting members of the Young Britons’ Foundation, described by some as a “Tory madrasa” used to teach young Conservatives the “dark arts” of politics.
Bannon said that during 2014 he noticed the supporters on Farage’s campaign trial for the European elections were similarly angry to US protesters during the recession after the financial crash. “They were the exact Tea Party crowds of 2010, where we had had this huge populist revolt,” he said.
Sensing the public mood, Johnson and Cummings came on board with Vote Leave, the official campaign to leave the EU.
“Guys like Boris and Dominic Cummings came and they were very important but they were quite late to the party,” said Bannon, whose Breitbart resolutely backed the campaign to leave the EU.
On the day that article 50 was triggered, Farage was filmed with a pint of beer thanking Bannon and Breitbart. “You helped with this. Hugely,” he said.
Bannon also admits that he briefly met Aaron Banks, the insurance businessman who co-founded the pro-Brexit Leave.EU campaign.