The things we learned from Dominic Cummings’ mammoth evidence session

·8-min read

Dominic Cummings gave a marathon seven-hour session of evidence to MPs about his time in No 10 as the pandemic approached and then raged across the UK.

Here is what we learned from the former adviser to the Prime Minister:

– Mr Cummings left No 10 believing Boris Johnson ‘unfit’ to be Prime Minister

The Prime Minister hired former Vote Leave mastermind Mr Cummings after entering Downing Street in July 2019 and it has been suggested the senior aide played a key part in the Conservative majority secured at the winter general election that same year.

But, despite Mr Johnson defending his de facto chief of staff after he travelled to Durham while strict Government travel restrictions were in place during the first coronavirus lockdown, it appears their relationship fell apart while working closely during the crisis.

Mr Cummings, who left No 10 late last year following a behind-the-scenes power struggle, told MPs he thought Mr Johnson “unfit for the job” of the Prime Minister.

Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees, he said the pair’s relationship had taken a “terrible dive” after Mr Johnson’s decision to delay ordering a second lockdown in October.

Mr Cummings added: “By October 31 our relations were essentially already finished, the fact that his girlfriend also wanted rid of me was relevant, but not the heart of the problem.

“The heart of the problem was fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job and I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes.”

– The Prime Minister is alleged not to have taken the threat of the virus seriously

In a broadside against his former boss, Mr Cummings said the Prime Minister not attending the first few emergency Cobra meetings on coronavirus in early 2020 might have actually been for the best as Mr Johnson regarded the virus as “a scare story”.

Instead of planning how to tackle its spread, Mr Johnson – who was admitted to intensive care after contracting Covid-19 during the first wave – was likely to suggest being injected with the virus live on television, he said.

“In February, the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story, he described it as the new swine flu,” Mr Cummings told MPs.

Boris Johnson came in for criticism during Dominic Cummings' evidence session
Boris Johnson came in for criticism during Dominic Cummings’ evidence session (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

When asked if he had told the Prime Minister that was not the case, Mr Cummings said: “Certainly, but the view of various officials inside Number 10 was if we have the Prime Minister chairing Cobra meetings and he just tells everyone ‘it’s swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get (England’s chief medical officer) Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of’, that would not actually help serious planning.”

– A second lockdown delay in the autumn led to ‘tens of thousands’ of extra deaths

Mr Cummings laid out to MPs the extent of his arguments with the Prime Minister about a second lockdown in 2020, which he felt was needed to quell the rising cases seen towards the end of the summer.

He went so far as to apologise for failing to resign at the time in order to try to “blow this thing sky high” in an attempt to save lives.

The 49-year-old said the failure to act quickly meant “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die” from coronavirus.

Tensions were raging so high at the time of the eventual decision that the Prime Minister said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third lockdown, according to Mr Cummings, who said reports of the alleged comments by the BBC were “accurate”.

Explaining his version of events before the November lockdown, Mr Cummings said the Prime Minister decided not to impose wholesale restrictions when first advised, despite modelling showing the NHS was going to get “smashed again”.

Mr Cummings added: “I said to him the whole lesson of what happened before is that by delaying the lockdown to later it had to be more severe, it had to last longer, the economic disruption is even worse anyway and we will have killed God knows how many thousands of people in the meantime who have caught Covid who wouldn’t have caught it if we act now – surely you have got to learn the lessons from the past.

“And the Prime Minister decided no and said basically we are just going to hit and hope.”

– Mr Cummings continually called for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to be fired while working in No 10

The lengthy session saw Mr Cummings take aim at Cabinet minister Mr Hancock, criticising his performance during the pandemic, claiming he lied to colleagues and honing in on his flagship policy of aiming to carry out 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day in April 2020.

Mr Cummings branded the spring testing target “criminal, disgraceful behaviour”.

MPs were told that Mr Cummings recommended to the Prime Minister “almost every week, sometimes almost every day” that Mr Hancock should be sacked, but that the Conservative Party leader was warned off the idea because “he’s the person you fire when the inquiry comes along”.

Dominic Cummings said he recommended Health Secretary Matt Hancock be fired multiple times
Dominic Cummings said he recommended Health Secretary Matt Hancock be fired multiple times (Jacob King/PA)

“I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly,” Mr Cummings said on Wednesday.

“There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people.

“I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary (Sir Mark Sedwill), so did many other senior people.”

– The Government’s argument that care homes were protected from the virus was ‘complete nonsense’

With Covid-19 posing a far greater mortality risk to the elderly, ministers promised to shield care homes from the pandemic – a vow Mr Cummings argued went unfulfilled.

A host of residential homes experienced outbreaks, with 36,275 deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes being recorded since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures from the UK’s statistics agencies.

The claims saw Mr Cummings pour further criticism on to the Health Secretary.

Mr Cummings said he and the Prime Minister had been told “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes” by Mr Hancock.

He added: “We only subsequently found out that hadn’t happened.

“Now all the Government rhetoric of ‘we put a shield around care homes’, and blah blah, was complete nonsense.

“Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”

– His trip to Durham and subsequent ‘eyesight test’ in Barnard Castle was a ‘major disaster’

There was uproar both in the media and among the public after it emerged that Mr Cummings and his family had defied stay-at-home rules during the first lockdown last year to travel to Durham.

Mr Cummings said he did not disclose at the time that, as well as facing childcare troubles when he and his wife fell ill with Covid, there were also security motivations behind the 260-mile journey, with a gang appearing outside the family’s London home “saying they’re going to break into the house and kill everybody inside” in February 2020.

The former No 10 adviser said he was “extremely sorry” about the infamous episode, which was “definitely a major disaster for the Government and for the Covid policy”.

He said it was decided with the Cabinet Office after that – combined with press coverage that prompted more threats – he would move his family out of London to his parents’ home in County Durham regardless of lockdown rules.

Mr Cummings told the committees: “I ended up giving the whole rose garden thing where what I said was true, but we left out a kind of crucial part of it all.

“The whole thing was a complete disaster and the truth is… it undermined public confidence in the whole thing.”

– Ministers and officials believed herd immunity was an ‘inevitability’

Mr Cummings said he is “completely baffled” why No 10 has tried to deny that herd immunity was the official plan early last year when it had been seen as an “inevitability” until mid-March 2020.

In interviews after the first few positive cases were recorded in the UK, officials such as chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance appeared to suggest building a natural immunity in the country was one tactic being looked at.

Mr Cummings told MPs it was thought in Whitehall that it would be “inconceivable that the British public are going to accept Wuhan-style measures here” such as a strict lockdown.

He said: “It’s not that people were thinking this is a good thing and we actively want it, it’s that it’s a complete inevitability and the only real question – it’s one of timing, it’s either one of herd immunity by September or it’s herd immunity by January after a second peak. That was the assumption up until Friday March 13.”

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