Winners and losers from Dominic Cummings’ seven-hour session with MPs

·7-min read

Dominic Cummings took a marathon seven-hour grilling from MPs on Wednesday over the Government’s handling of coronavirus.

The Prime Minister’s former top aide, who left Government in November after a behind-the-scenes power struggle, lifted the lid on many of the discussions held in Downing Street over the last 16 months as ministers and officials battled to get on top of the coronavirus pandemic.

But in the course of his evidence, there were some who faced his criticism, while others escaped his wrath.

– Losers

– Matt Hancock

The Health Secretary took the brunt of Mr Cummings’ condemnation, as he accused Mr Hancock of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” by interfering with the test and trace system to hit his “stupid” 100,000 daily target while Boris Johnson was in hospital with coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks to the media outside his home in north-west London
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Cummings said the Health Secretary used scientific experts as “shields for himself” and repeatedly lied in meetings. He said he regularly told the Prime Minister to sack Mr Hancock – a move he said that the then cabinet secretary also recommended.

“I said sack him almost every week, sometimes almost every day,” he told MPs.

At one point he said he told the PM “if we don’t fire the Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) and we don’t get the testing in someone else’s hands, we are going to kill people and it will be a catastrophe”.

And he said it was Mr Hancock who had assured him and Mr Johnson that those being discharged from hospital to care homes would be tested for coronavirus, but they were not.

Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock had come close to being fired in April – a claim Downing Street denied – but was kept on to be the fall guy in a future public inquiry.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “We absolutely reject Mr Cummings’ claims about the Health Secretary.”

– Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister was also targeted with the scathing claim that he was not a fit and proper person to lead the country through the rest of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Phil Noble/PA)

Mr Cummings said his former boss was distracted by his personal life at various times during the pandemic, and that the pair’s relationship had taken a “terrible dive” after the second lockdown in October.

“The heart of the problem was fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job,” Mr Cummings said.

Mr Cummings alleged Mr Johnson had never wanted a proper border policy to control the pandemic, and that he favoured the economic arguments against lockdown over the health risks.

He said Mr Johnson was a “thousand times too obsessed” with the media, and that it was “completely crackers” Mr Johnson was in charge and that thousands of people in the country could provide better leadership than the Prime Minister.

He also said Mr Johnson ignored scientific advice when faced with calls for a circuit breaker in September, before saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than announce a third lockdown, Mr Cummings said.

It was also suggested Mr Johnson had wanted chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to inject him with the virus on live TV to show it was nothing to be scared of.

Downing Street rejected many of the remarks and Mr Johnson insisted his Government at “every stage tried to minimise loss of life”.

– Carrie Symonds

When Mr Cummings left Government last year, it was reported it was due to a power struggle in which the Prime Minister’s fiancee Carrie Symonds won out.

Carrie Symonds and her dog Dilyn
Carrie Symonds and her dog Dilyn (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

And Mr Cummings told MPs on Wednesday she was “desperate” to get rid of him.

He alleged that when the Prime Minister should have been focusing on the pandemic, Ms Symonds was “going completely crackers” over a story in The Times newspaper.

He said on March 12 last year the Government was consumed with a potential bombing campaign in the Middle East at the request of then US president Donald Trump and a “trivial” story about Mr Johnson, Ms Symonds, and their dog, Dilyn.

He said: “It sounds so surreal it couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog.

“The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that.”

He also claimed Ms Symonds tried to change appointments and get her friends jobs.

He said: “My resignation was definitely connected to the fact that the Prime Minister’s girlfriend was trying to change a whole bunch of different appointments at Number 10 and appoint her friends to particular jobs.

“In particular she was trying to overturn the outcome of an official process about hiring a particular job in a way which was not only completely unethical but was also clearly illegal.”

– Winners

– Rishi Sunak

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak escaped any venom from Mr Cummings, even when MPs asked specifically about the involvement of the Treasury.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Lee Smith/PA)

Mr Cummings said it was wrong to suggest that Mr Sunak had been against locking down.

He refused to criticise the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which has been blamed for a spike in Covid cases in the summer.

He said: “I can’t really remember conversations, to be honest, about Eat Out to Help Out out specifically.”

When it was suggested it was “quite a big initiative”, Mr Cummings said: “I suppose in the grand scheme of things it didn’t seem like that at the time.”

And he defended the Treasury over differing levels of financial support given to local authority areas during the tiering system of restrictions.

He said the system was “put together chaotically” and said: “In a nutshell, I would say that the Treasury did its best in a very, very difficult situation.”

But he denied he was angling for a role in a possible future Rishi Sunak administration.

He told the Commons committee: “I think everyone from my wife to everybody in Westminster and Whitehall will agree that the less everyone hears from me in the future, the better.”

– Dominic Raab

The Foreign Secretary was praised for the way he stepped in when the PM was taken into hospital with coronavirus.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (Ian West/PA)

“Dominic Raab has not got nearly enough credit that he should’ve done because he had to step into an extraordinarily difficult situation with the Prime Minister on his deathbed,” Mr Cummings said.

“When Raab took over there was a conversation in No 10 with the cabinet secretary and Lee Cain, the director of communications, about calling a Cabinet to try and find a replacement for the Prime Minister in case he died, that’s how serious the situation was.”

He added that he had done a “brilliant job”.

– Ben Warner

Much of Mr Cummings’ praise was reserved for those who he saw as outside the Government machine, including data expert Ben Warner, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

Mr Cummings compared Mr Warner, who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign, to Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character in the movie Independence Day when explaining to the Prime Minister why his initial strategy to tackle the pandemic would not work.

He said: “It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan.

“With Ben Warner in the Jeff Goldblum role.”

He said when Mr Johnson had suggested herd immunity was similar to chicken pox parties, where children were exposed to the disease at a young age, Mr Warner had said “chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people”.