Covid Inquiry UK: what is Dominic Cummings doing now? Boris Johnson’s former adviser gives evidence
Dominic Cummings, who was Boris Johnson's former chief adviser when he drove from London to Durham during lockdown with Covid symptoms, will give evidence to the Inquiry today.
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Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former key political adviser, will give evidence to the UK’s Covid Inquiry today.
Cummings was a key figure in Downing Street during the early days of the pandemic, and it is expected he will be quizzed about the dysfunctional nature of Johnson’s government.
Yesterday (30 October) at the Covid Inquiry, WhatsApp messages were shown from Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to Cummings which said Boris Johnson “changes strategic direction every day … he cannot lead and we cannot support him”. Cummings replied that Johnson was “careering (sic) around on WhatsApp as usual creating chaos and undermining everybody”.
The 51-year-old is also likely to be asked about a lockdown-breaking trip to County Durham with his family in May 2020, when the government had ordered people to stay at home, while he had Covid symptoms. He returned in April after driving to Barnard Castle, County Durham, amid concern that catching Covid had affected his eyesight.
This is part of the second phase of the UK's Covid-19 inquiry, which has the goal of establishing how effective the UK government's leadership and decision making was in controlling and restricting the virus.
Who is Dominic Cummings?
Cummings grew up in Durham, and attended Exeter College, Oxford University. After graduating in 1994, he moved to Russia and lived there for three years.
Cummings started his political career in 1999 as campaign director for Business for Sterling, the campaign to stop the UK joining the Euro. He became then Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith’s director of strategy, but not for the last time in his career quit calling Duncan Smith “incompetent”.
He later became an important figure in the no campaign in the referendum for a North East regional assembly in 2004, saying this would mean less money to the NHS (something we’ll hear about later). He then worked as special adviser to Michael Gove from 2007 to 2014, including when Gove was Education Secretary.
Cummings came to prominence as the campaign director for Vote Leave, the official campaign for Brexit. He was credited as the mastermind behind the victory, coming up with the “take back control” slogan and the claim that Brexit would mean £350 million a week for the NHS.
He then became Boris Johnson’s special adviser after he became Prime Minister in July 2019, and was described as a de facto chief of staff. He quit in November 2020, after the Barnard Castle trip, as he fell out with Johnson, and has been a vociferous critic of the former Prime Minister ever since.
What is Dominic Cummings doing now?
Since leaving his position in government, Cummings has launched a technology consultancy firm. Siwah Ltd was created in February 2021 and is a successor of his previous firm, Dynamic Maps. Cummings says it is designed to solve management, political and communications problems. It made a profit of around £91,000, according to its latest account on Companies House.
Cummings also runs a blog on blogging website Substack, which readers can subscribe to for £10 a month, or £100 a year. On his blog, Cummings has often hit out at how Boris Johnson’s government operated during the pandemic.
In one 7000+ word post, he published what he claims are WhatsApp exchanges with the Johnson, in which he referred to then Health Secretary Matt Hancock as “totally f*cking hopeless” and ponders replacing him with Michael Gove. Cummings wrote that Johnson never confronted the health secretary over any of the failings, “despite dozens of requests from two cabinet secretaries, me and other ministers and officials.”
He also sought to reiterate his claims that the government initially followed a herd immunity strategy, before realising it would lead to too many deaths and changing course late, resulting in an extended lockdown, greater economic damage and more deaths than necessary. It was found Cummings broke government rules for failing to seek permission from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments before setting up the Substack.
Cummings has also started a career as an after dinner speaker. He gave a speech on the famous German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck at the Orwell festival of political writing. He has also said he’s planning to set up a new political party to “replace the rotten Tories and win in 2028”. On his Substack blog, Cummings said he wanted to launch the “startup party”.
What happened to Cummings during the pandemic?
Few political scandals have reached the level of ‘cut-through’ achieved by the Dominic Cummings Barnard Castle trip, with a brewery even naming a new beer after the landmark.
It was bad enough that Cummings was found to have driven from London to County Durham with symptoms while the whole country was under lockdown. But the manner in which the scandal played out - with Cummings calling a press conference in which he justified a 30-mile drive with his family in tow by saying he wanted to “test his eyesight” - elevated the scandal to a new level.
Boris Johnson continued to support him, saying that he had acted "responsibly, legally and with integrity". Johnson was widely criticised for seeming to place more importance on his aide’s job than maintaining the public’s faith in the importance of the Covid regulations, and seemed to hint for the first time at the ‘one rule for us and another for them’.
During Partygate, a photo emerged of Cummings, Johnson, his now-wife Carrie and a number of other people sitting around in the garden drinking wine. Cummings argued that this was a work meeting.