The Prime Minister’s former chief adviser said Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired over coronavirus failings and “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” on the testing target.
Dominic Cummings also said Whitehall’s top official recommended to the Prime Minister that Mr Hancock should be sacked.
Downing Street did not deny that the Prime Minister considered sacking Mr Hancock in April last year but insisted Boris Johnson has confidence in the Health Secretary now.
Mr Cummings said there were around 20 reasons why Mr Hancock should have been thrown out of the Cabinet – including, he claimed, lying both in meetings and publicly.
He said Mr Hancock performed “disastrously” below the standards expected and the cabinet secretary – the country’s top civil servant – recommended the Health Secretary should be sacked.
“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.
PM believed coronavirus was like ‘swine flu’
He also told MPs that Mr Johnson believed coronavirus was like “swine flu” and people died unnecessarily because of Government failings during the pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s former aide apologised to the public, saying that ministers, officials and advisers had fallen “disastrously short” of the standards they should expect in a crisis.
Mr Cummings said the Prime Minister was more concerned about the impact on the economy than the need to curb the spread of coronavirus in the weeks leading up to the first lockdown.
The former adviser, who left Downing Street last year after a behind-the-scenes power struggle, told the MPs: “The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this.
“When the public needed us most, the Government failed.
“I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.”
What else Dominic Cummings said
In a series of explosive claims, Mr Cummings said:
– The Government was not operating on a “war footing” in February 2020 as the global crisis mounted, with the Prime Minister on holiday and “lots of key people were literally skiing”.
– Mr Johnson thought Covid-19 was just a “scare story” and the “new swine flu” and it was suggested chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty should inject him with the virus on live TV.
– Herd immunity from people catching the disease was thought to be inevitable because there was no plan to try to suppress the spread of the virus.
– Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill told the Prime Minister to go on TV and explain the herd immunity plan by saying “it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September”.
PM’s former adviser Dominic Cummings gives evidence on the government’s handling of the pandemic
Cummings to give evidence at 9:30am
Good morning. Today looks set to be a one to remember in Westminster, as Dominic Cummings makes his return to Westminster to give evidence to a joint inquiry into the government’s handling of Coronavirus.
As readers who spend any time on Twitter will likely know, Cummings has been giving some fairly detailed hints as to the thrust of his testimony today. He is expected to level a whole host of accusations at the government and in particular Boris Johnson’s Downing Street operation, including claims the PM wanted to be given Covid live on TV at one point, and that he did in fact utter the infamous line that he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than implement a third lockdown.
ITV’s Robert Peston reported yesterday that Cummings has another alleged quote from the PM which could cause issues; the former adviser says Johnson rejected calls for a third lockdown, saying “Covid is only killing 80-year-olds”.
While the session is sure to make excellent viewing, there are many who doubt Cummings’ claims and his intent, and perhaps not without good reason.
While claiming through his seemingly endless Twitter thread that he is here to shine a light on the government’s failings throughout the pandemic - and in particular, that the government enacted a herd immunity strategy in the early days - evidence has come to light which suggests Cummings was very much a part of the problem.
Playbook reports that a cache of leaked Whatsapp messages are doing the rounds in Westminster which show Cummings urging senior minsters not to admit that herd immunity was the policy, from back when he was still in Downing Street.
Join us at 9:30 when the session is due to begin for live updates
How will the session work?
This morning’s select committee hearing could be a record-breaker, as it is set to go on for several hours.
The proceeding will be split into four sections, with a cross-party and cross-committee selection of MPs firing questions at Cummings for roughly an hour on each subject area.
Part one will relate to pandemic preparedness and the first lockdown, while the second part will cover non-pharmaceutical interventions, including test and trace.
It is expected that this section will also feature questions on Cummings' infamous trip to Barnard Castle during the height of lockdown restrictions, and whether that had detrimental effects on adherence to the rules.
The third part of the session look at the vaccination programme, while the last part will look into arguably the most controversial element of the inquiry; the decision making around second lockdown. This means that, if for some reason you can’t stay with us throughout the whole marathon session, you can check back in at the points you’re most interested in.
9:30 - Pandemic preparedness and first lockdown
10:30 - Non pharmaceutical interventions and the Barnard Castle trip
11:30 - Vaccination programme
12:30 - The second lockdown
If you’re with us live, the joint session of the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee is now underway. with chair of the Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark, explaining how the session will work.
He welcomes Dominic Cummings, who appears in person at the committee. Clark’s first questions relates to Cummings’ claim during the infamous Downing Street garden press conference almost a year ago to the day that he had been aware of the risk of highly infectious diseases for years before the pandemic broke out.
Cummings says the, “truth is senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most the government failed, and I’d like to say to the families of all those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and my own mistakes in that.”
Also says “many institutions” failed in the early stages of the pandemic, but highlights the decision by Taiwanese government to ‘hit the panic button’ around New Year 2020.
Government was “not on a war-footing” in February
Asked whether Covid was treated as the most important issue on the government’s agenda back in January, Cumming says “in no way shape or form” did the government act like Covid was “the most important thing” in January, or in February he says.
Asked what proportion of his time was devoted to it in those months, he says “not much” in January, but “a lot more” in February. He says it made up less than half of his time before a cabinet reshuffle on 12 February, and more than half afterwards.
He says: “The government itself and Number 10 was not operating on a war-footing in February on this in any way shape or form, lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February.”
Cummings “not sure” if he attended COBRA meetings in February
Cummings says he can’t remember if he attended COBRA meetings in February, and says they weren’t always particularly useful.
He says he was briefed one-to-one by senior scientists, partly because he felt COBRA meetings were likely to leak.
PM thought Covid was ‘next swine flu’ and wanted Chris Whitty to inject him with it live on TV
Strong line of questioning from one of the committee chairs, Greg Clark.
He asks Cummings: “You said in one of your Tweets this week, that if we’d had competent people in charge we probably could have avoided lockdown one, but you and the prime minister didn’t consider yourselves to be relevant to that meeting, was there another meeting or were you not the most competent or relevant people?”
Cummings: “Lots of COBRA meetings are quite formulaic, in terms of the prime minister the basic thought was that - in February the prime minister regarded this as a scare story, he described it as the new swine flu”.
Greg Clark: “Did you tell him it wasn’t?”
Cummings: “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 ‘this is swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on tv with Coronavirus so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of’ that would not help serious planning”.
Cummings says he is “not a technical person” and “not a smart person"
Asked whether he routinely attended SAGE meetings, Cummings says he could have gone but delegated this to an official.
“Lots of SAGE meetings are quite technical, involving technical questions, I’m not a technical person, I’m not a smart person. I couldn’t understand a lot of the models being discussed”
Greg Clark interjects with a slight smile: “Anyone reading your blog would say that you had a facility with technical terms and discussions”
Cummings: “That’s wrong. That’s not a good description of me at all”
The blog update
Asked about why he changed a post on his blog a year after it had been published to include direct references to Coronavirus, Cummings plays down the media reports and says it is untrue to say he changed it. After explanation, becomes clear his argument is that he did, in fact, alter a blog post to include new references to Coronavirus, however he did not change anything he had written himself, but simply added further quotes from a report he was referencing.
Committee chair Greg Clark expresses his “surprise” that Cummings had time to reflect on and amend a blog-post from a year earlier during a period in April 2020 when he was tasked with dealing with the pandemic.
Questioning moves on to herd immunity
We are moving into the next phase of questioning now, relating to herd immunity
Cummings says nobody “wanted” herd immunity, but it was regarded as an unavoidable fact which would either be achieved after a single wave in spring or later, during winter, when it would lead to even more deaths.
He also says vaccines could have been rolled out “much quicker” than they were.