Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been “sacked for lying”, Boris Johnson treated COVID-19 like a “scare story” and many ministers were “literally skiing” as the pandemic was developing early last year, Dominic Cummings has said.
Appearing before MPs, the prime minister’s former chief adviser made a number of allegations about the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Here are the main ones:
Matt Hancock should have been ‘sacked for lying’
Dominic Cummings said Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired for “15 to 20 things” including “lying” to people “on multiple occasions”.
He added that he encouraged the prime minister to sack Mr Hancock, and claimed the cabinet secretary – the country’s top civil servant – recommended the same course of action.
Later, Mr Cummings said it took too long to get test and trace set up, and that in April, the “system was too distracted by the Hancock pledge” to reach 100,000 tests a day, which the former adviser described as “stupid”.
Mr Cummings added: “I said: ‘If we don’t fire the secretary of state and we don’t get testing into someone’s hands, we are going to kill lots of people.'”
Mr Cummings said Boris Johnson “came close to removing” Mr Hancock in April, “but just fundamentally wouldn’t do it”.
He added: “There was certainly no good reason for keeping him.”
Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the health committee, stressed that Mr Hancock will be able to respond to the allegations in two weeks’ time.
Mr Hunt added that the claims are “very serious” and need to be backed up with evidence where possible.
Hancock used scientists to shield himself
Mr Cummings said he believes the health secretary used government scientific advisers Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty “as shields for himself” so that if things went wrong, he could blame them and say it wasn’t his fault.
He described Mr Hancock’s handling of this as unethical.
PM did not consider COVID to be serious
Mr Cummings claimed Boris Johnson did not chair early meetings of the COBRA emergency committee because he thought it was like “swine flu” and did not think it justified major concern.
He told MPs the PM even considered asking England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, to inject him with COVID-19 to prove it was not particularly serious.
‘Crackers’ that Boris Johnson is prime minister
Mr Cummings said: “It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there (Number 10), just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.”
He added: “There’s so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two. And there’s obviously something terribly wrong with the political parties if that’s the best that they can do.”
Government ‘fell apart’ when Boris Johnson got COVID
When the PM became ill with coronavirus, “in lots of ways, the whole core of government fundamentally fell apart”, Mr Cummings said.
He added that the administration “kind of collapsed when the prime minister got ill himself, because he’s suddenly gone and then people are literally thinking that he might die”.
Boris Johnson ‘changes his mind 10 times a day’
Mr Cummings rejected the idea that there were major communications issues during the pandemic.
Rather, he said it was difficult to convey effectively “bad policy, bad decisions, bad planning, bad operational capability”.
He added: “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got great people doing communications. If the prime minister changes his mind 10 times a day, and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy day after day, you’re going to have a communications disaster.”
Government claim of ‘shield’ around care homes ‘complete nonsense’
Mr Cummings said that “when we realised in April that this had happened (untested people being sent back into care homes), Boris Johnson said a less polite version of ‘what on earth are you telling me…what on earth has happened with all of these people in care homes?'”
He added: “(Matt) Hancock told us in the Cabinet Room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes – what the hell happened?
“The government rhetoric was that we put a shield around care homes… it was complete nonsense (and) the opposite of putting a shield around them. We sent people with COVID back to the care homes.”
Mr Cummings continued: “It was a catastrophic situation – there is no other way to describe it.”
PM regretted first lockdown and he and Cummings ‘fundamentally’ disagreed about COVID
Mr Cummings said: “Fundamentally the prime minister and I do not agree about COVID. After March he thought that the lesson to be learned is we shouldn’t have done a lockdown, we should have focused on the economy, (and) it was all a disaster.”
He added: “I thought that perspective was completely mad. I had very little influence on COVID stuff. I mean I tried, I made arguments, but as you can see on pretty much all the major arguments, I basically lost.”
There were claims it would be ‘racist’ to close the borders
Mr Cummings said there were suggestions it would be “racist” to close the borders because it would be tantamount to “blaming China”. He said he asked for an explanation but did not get one.
He said he told Boris Johnson: “We’re imposing all of these restrictions on people domestically, but you can see that people are coming in from infected areas, (so) no one is going to take it seriously.”
He claimed the PM was concerned about damage to the tourism industry.
Key people were ‘skiing’ when pandemic was gathering pace
The government was not operating on a “war footing” in February 2020 and “lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February”, Mr Cummings said.
Plan B came into effect when government realised ‘we’re absolutely f****d’
Mr Cummings said that on 13 March 2020, then-Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen Macnamara came to see him to say the initial government plan would not work, and they would need a “Plan B”.
He described her saying: “We’re going to have to ditch the whole plan and we’re heading for the biggest disaster this country has seen since 1940. I’ve been told for years that there’s a whole plan for this, (but) there is no plan, we’re in huge trouble.
“I think we’re absolutely f****d and we’re going to kill thousands of people.”
Mr Cummings’s trip to Durham in April 2020 was a ‘major disaster’
He said he moved out of his house in the autumn of 2019 because of “security threats”.
Then, in February: “I was down at Westminster and my wife called saying there’s a gang of people outside saying they’re going to break into the house and kill everybody inside. She was alone in the house at the time with our then three-year-old.”
Mr Cummings said it was subsequently decided with the Cabinet Office that he would move his family out of London to his parents’ home in County Durham regardless of lockdown rules.
During his press conference in the Downing Street rose garden, he left out a “crucial part” of his explanation as to why he broke lockdown rules, he said.
Had the public known the truth they would have “understood the situation”, he added.
But he described the trip to Durham as a “terrible mistake” and said the fundamental lesson “is the default on everything should be openness”.
Sir Patrick Vallance should be credited for suggesting the vaccine taskforce
Mr Cummings said the government’s chief scientific adviser had “worked in the private sector, he had experience, he understood the key players involved”.
He said Sir Patrick texted him about it as early as 24 March. “He was the first official to push the idea – I think he deserves credit from the country for it.”
Sir Patrick was also instrumental in the government securing a contract with AstraZeneca for COVID vaccines, Mr Cummings added. He said the Department of Health “came close to signing a duff contract” with AstraZeneca which would have left UK’s priority access in doubt, until Sir Patrick intervened.
“Patrick deserves enormous credit,” Mr Cummings said.
Boris Johnson’s girlfriend went ‘completely crackers’ over a story about her dog
Dominic Cummings said 12 March was “a completely surreal day”. He says he sent a message to the PM in the morning saying there were “big problems coming” as the cabinet office is “terrifyingly s***” and the UK was facing 100,000 to 500,000 COVID deaths.
But he added that plans to deal with COVID were “completely derailed” that day because Donald Trump wanted the UK to “join a bombing campaign in the Middle East”.
He also said the PM’s partner, Carrie Symonds, was “going completely crackers” over a newspaper story about her dog.
Initial hope was to achieve herd immunity
The early plan was for limited intervention, Mr Cummings said.
He added that there was a hope of achieving herd immunity to the virus – until it became clear that the number of deaths would be unacceptable.
Delay in announcing lockdown in March was because there was ‘no plan’
Mr Cummings said the government didn’t support a lockdown because it thought it would just mean a worse peak in the winter.
But he said he realised on 12 March: “The system is delaying announcing all of these things because there wasn’t a plan in place. These things are being delayed because the planning and preparation hasn’t been made.”
There was ‘no functioning data system’ to monitor COVID infections in March 2020
At the time, Mr Cummings said it involved him wheeling a white board into a room in Number 10 and NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens reading out “on scraps of paper” the number of COVID patients in intensive care units.
Mr Cummings said data on tracking the pandemic was “weeks out of date”.
PM was ‘more worried about economic damage than the virus’
Mr Cummings said: “There were quite a few people around Whitehall who thought the real danger was the economy. The PM’s view was that the real danger was not the disease, but the measures we take against the disease and the economic consequences.”
He claimed Mr Johnson said “in several meetings”: “We’re going to completely destroy the economy with lockdown.”
He added: “Fundamentally, the prime minister just didn’t think it was a danger.”
Whitehall did not think there was going to be a pandemic
Mr Cummings told MPs: “It was not at all seen in Whitehall that there was going to be a pandemic.”
Asked if COVID was “the most important matter”, he said: “At the time, in no way shape or form did it act like it was the most important thing in February, let alone January.”
The Department of Health was ‘like a smoking ruin’
Asked about that claim by Rosie Cooper MP, Mr Cummings said it related to the procurement system on PPE and medical equipment being “completely hopeless”.
“There wasn’t any system set up to deal with proper emergency procurement,” he said.
He claimed the government turned down offers of ventilators because prices had gone up: “It completely beggars belief,” he said. “The whole system was like wading through treacle. That’s why I described it as a smoking ruin.”
There was no proper plan for tiered restrictions
Mr Cummings said the Treasury had to deal with Number 10 shifting the boundaries of the tiered system of COVID restrictions.
He said there wasn’t an exact plan for different areas having different COVID rules.
“The prime minister was constantly changing his mind,” he added.
Even Bill Gates would have struggled as prime minister during the pandemic
Mr Cummings said: “I have been critical of the prime minister. But if you dropped, you know, Bill Gates or someone like that into that job on the first of March, the most competent people in the world you could possibly find, any of them would have had a complete nightmare.
“There is no doubt that the prime minister made some very bad misjudgments and got some very serious things wrong. It’s also the case, there’s no doubt, that he was extremely badly let down by the whole system. And it was a system failure, of which I include myself in that as well. I also failed.”
Carrie Symonds was part of the reason Mr Cummings quit
He said his resignation was “definitely connected” to the fact the PM’s girlfriend was trying to “appoint her friends to particular jobs” in Number 10.
And he claimed Ms Symonds was trying to overturn the outcome of an official process about hiring for a particular job, which he said was “not only completely unethical but was also clearly illegal”.