Former UK aide Cummings denies leaking ventilator messages, blasts PM

·2-min read
Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arrives at Downing Street, in London

LONDON (Reuters) -Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former top adviser, on Friday denied reports he leaked Johnson's private communications over COVID-19 ventilators and criticised the British leader's competence and integrity.

Cummings, architect of the successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, left Johnson's staff suddenly late last year having previously been his most influential adviser over Brexit and a 2019 election campaign.

Three British newspapers, citing unidentified sources in Johnson's office, reported on Friday that Cummings was behind the leak of text messages in which Johnson promised to fix a tax issue for businessman James Dyson.

Johnson's office on Thursday launched an inquiry to find the source of the leak. Dyson was working on supplying ventilators to the government to cope with COVID-19 and Johnson has said he has no regrets over his actions.

Cummings denied he had given the text messages to journalists and offered to cooperate with the leak inquiry.

"I am happy to meet with the Cabinet Secretary and for him to search my phone for Dyson messages," he wrote on his blog.

Asked prior to the Cummings' rebuttal about the reports blaming his former adviser, Johnson said: "I think people aren't so much interested in who's briefing what to whom as the substance of the issue at hand and the issue is really the question of the ventilators."

Cummings' departure last year was seen as a chance to reset Johnson's leadership as public confidence in his handling of the pandemic and Brexit sunk.

On his blog, Cummings also said he was not responsible for leaks over the cost of refurbishing Johnson's residence, and a separate leak last year when details of the government's plan to enter a lockdown were reported before a formal announcement.

Johnson's office responded later on Friday, saying that the government had followed the rules in relation to the refurbishment. The Prime Minister had never interfered in a government leak inquiry, the statement added.

"This government is entirely focused on fighting coronavirus, delivering vaccines and building back better," his office said.

The contents of Cumming's wide-ranging blog concluded with the line: "It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves."

Asked about the refurbishment plans in March, Johnson's spokeswoman said all donations, gifts and benefits were properly declared and no party funds were being used to pay for the upgrades.

Cummings is due to appear before a parliamentary committee on May 26 to discuss the pandemic response.

(Reporting by William James; Additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Alison Williams and Philippa Fletcher)