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
Last updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2021, 12:22
March 12: Trump, Carrie Symonds, Dilyn the dog and the quarantine question
He says on 12 March the preparations for COVID were completely derailed because Donald Trump wanted the UK to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East that evening.
He then adds, saying it sounds “so surreal it couldn’t possible be true,” that “that day, the Times had run a huge story about the PM, his girlfriend and their dog. And the PMs girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the Press Office deal with that.
“So we had this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying ‘are we going to bomb Iraq’ part of the building was arguing about whether or not we’re going to do quarantine or not, the prime minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.
“So we had the meeting on Covid and we decided to push ahead with household quarantine pretty quickly. Fortunately, thank god, the attorney general persuaded the PM not to go along with the whole bombing campaign. And then at the end of all this, at roughly 9pm that night I sat down with Ben Warner and Mark Warner and that’s essentially when they hit the total panic button with me.”
‘We are absolutely f*cked... I think we’re going to kill thousands of people’
Cummings holds up a printout of an image he has shared on Twitter, of what he claims was ‘Plan B’ which was drafted up on Friday 13 March at 8pm.
“Essentially what’s happening at this point is, we’re thinking what do we do on this, at this point the second most powerful official in the country, Helen MacNamara is the deputy cabinet secretary, she walked into the office while we’re looking at this whiteboard, she says “I’ve just been talking to the official, Mark Sweeney, who is in charge of coordinating with the department for health, he said, quote, “I’ve been told for years that there’s a whole plan for this. There is no plan. We’re in huge trouble.”
“’I’ve come through here,’ Helen MacNamara says, “I’ve come through to the prime minister’s office to tell you all” quote, “I think we are absolutely fucked. I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we’re going to kill thousands of people. As soon as I’ve been told this I’ve come through to see you and it seems from the conversations you’re having that that’s correct.’”
“And I said, ‘I think you’re right, I think it is a disaster, I’m going to speak to the prime minister about it tomorrow. We’re trying to sketch out here what plan B is”.
Hunt interjects, says on the 16th March we did not close pubs and restaurants or stop public events for another week. He asks whether Cummings advised that?
“Yes and no,” says Cummings.
He says he advised the PM on 14th March that lockdown would be needed, but, he says, there was no lockdown plan.
He says the situation in Downing Street 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”.
Mr Cummings said on March 14 Boris Johnson was told that models showing the peak was “weeks and weeks and weeks away” in June were “completely wrong”.
He said the PM was warned: “The NHS is going to be smashed in weeks, really we’ve got days to act.”
Cummings: ‘a huge failure of mine’ not to ‘hit the emergency panic button’ sooner
Asked if he should have acted earlier to convince the PM to change tack, Cummings strikes a fairly regretful tone.
He says: “There’s no doubt in retrospect that yes, it was a huge failure of mine and I bitterly regret that I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier then I did.
“In retrospect there’s no doubt I was wrong not to.
“All I can say is my worry was, my mental state at the time was, on the one hand you can know from the last week of February that a whole many things were wrong.
“But I was incredibly frightened, I guess is the word, about the consequences of me kind of pulling a massive emergency string and saying the official plan is wrong and it’s going to kill everyone and you have got to change path because what if I’m wrong?
“What if I persuade him to change tack and that’s a disaster?”
Chicken Pox parties
Cummings: “We are sitting in the Prime Minister’s office, the Cabinet were talking about the herd immunity plan.
“The Cabinet Secretary said ‘Prime Minister you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that 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’.
“I said ‘Mark (Sedwill), you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right’ and he said ‘why’ and Ben Warner said ‘because chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people’.
“To stress, this wasn’t some thing that Cabinet Secretary had come up with, he was saying what the official advice to him from the Department of Health was.”
‘A classic historical examples of groupthink in action'
Cummings says he “didn’t pay enough attention early enough” to the pandemic.
Says it is obvious in retrospect that he left it too late.
“It was a classic historical example of groupthink in action, because the process was closed, that’s what happens in closed groupthink bubbles, everyone just reinforces themselves, and the more people from the outside attacked, the more people internally said they don’t understand because they don’t have access to this information.”
He says part of his job was to challenge things, and although he did it on other things and on this eventually, he feels he didn’t do it soon enough.
He says: “At this time, not just the Prime Minister but many other people thought that the real danger is not the health danger but the overaction to it and the economy.
“The Prime Minister said all the way through February and through the first half of March the real danger here isn’t this new swine flu thing, it’s that the reaction to it is going to cripple the economy.
“To be fair to the Prime Minister, although I think he was completely wrong, lots of other senior people in Whitehall had the same view, that the real danger was the economic one.
“There was a fundamental misunderstanding about how far this already was in the country, how fast it was spreading in the country.
“The lack of testing data was an absolutely critical disaster because we didn’t realise early enough how far it had already spread.
“The testing data was wrong, the graphs we were shown and the models were all wrong because they were all pushed out to the right, and that massively contributed to the whole lack of urgency.”
Hancock “should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things,” says Cummings
Asked about procurement and the performance of the department of health, including secretary of state, Matt Hancock, Cummings says: “Like in much of the Government system, there were many brilliant people at relatively junior and middle levels who were terribly let down by senior leadership.
“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.
“There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people.
“I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people.”
No plan for financial incentives to self-isolate, or shielding
Cummings is asked why the financial incentives for people to self-isolate were “so fundamentally weak”.
He says that the Chancellor did an “outstanding job” on furlough, but that his team had to create it out of thin air in just a few days.
He says there should have been a plan for financial incentives, but there wasn’t.
The shielding plan was “literally hacked together in two all-nighters” after March 19.
“There wasn’t any plan for shielding, there wasn’t even a helpline for shielding, there wasn’t any plan for financial incentives. There wasn’t any plan for almost anything in any kind of detail at all.”
PPE procurement was “completely hopeless"
Procurement system in Department for health was “completely hopeless” says Cummings.
Says Department for Health had been turning down ventilators because the price had been marked up.
Describes plans to ship PPE from China which would take months when a peak was expected within weeks.
“The whole system was like wading through treacle,” he says.
Hancock lied about people receiving treatment they required, despite knowing many were left to die in “horrific circumstances"
Asked to clarify his claim that the Health Secretary lied, Cummings says he can evidence the allegation and says there are “numerous examples”.
“In the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required.
“He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”
Hancock also lied about PPE, Cummings claims
Continuing his assault on Hancock, Cummings says he lied about PPE procurement being under control.
“In mid-April, just before the Prime Minister and I were diagnosed with having Covid ourselves, the Secretary of State for Health told us in the Cabinet room everything is fine with PPE, we’ve got it all covered, etc, etc.
“When I came back, almost the first meeting I had in the Cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how we were actually completely short, hospitals all over the country were running out.
“The Secretary of State said in that meeting this is the fault of Simon Stevens, this is the fault of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it’s not my fault, they’ve blocked approvals on all sorts of things.
“I said to the cabinet secretary, please investigate this and find out if it’s true.
“The cabinet secretary came back to me and said it’s completely untrue, I’ve lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings.
“The cabinet secretary said that to me and the cabinet secretary said that to the Prime Minister.”
Cummings backs Sunak against criticisms
“There have been lots of reports and accusations that the Chancellor was the person who was kind of trying to delay in March. That is completely, completely wrong.
“The Chancellor was totally supportive of me and of other people as we tried to make this transition from plan A to plan B.”
Also says he had complete faith in Sunak’s team to handle the economic side of the issue.
“I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world"
Cummings says any political system which ends up giving people a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson - as at the last general election - is “obviously a system that has gone extremely, extremely badly wrong”.
“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.
He also said he believed this applies to himself.
“I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world.
“It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.
“It’s also the case that there are wonderful people inside the Civil Service, there are brilliant, brilliant officials all over the place. But the system tends to weed them out from senior management jobs.
“And the problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again.”