Dominic Cummings appeared in parliament yesterday to give evidence in a marathon select committee session which lasted more than seven hours, after he had shared a number of claims on social media beforehand.
The prime minister’s former adviser made a number of controversial claims, accusations and admissions about the government's handling of the pandemic, based on his time at the heart of Downing Street throughout 2020.
Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds were in the firing line for Cummings yesterday, with both receiving more targeted criticism than anyone other than the health secretary Matt Hancock.
Why was Cummings giving evidence?
Cummings appeared at the Health and Social Care committee and Science and Technology committee joint inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The inquiry, titled “Covid-19: Lessons learnt,” has involved a number of sessions, including yesterday’s testimony from Cummings, with a view to assessing the government’s performance in terms of policy and delivery.
Cummings was invited to give evidence to the inquiry due to his senior role in government, particularly in late 2019 and for the majority of 2020.
Though he confirmed in yesterday’s session that his official job title while working in Downing Street had been ‘Assistant to the Prime Minister’, Cummings was widely understood to have been one of the most powerful figures in government, as it was assumed that he was Johnson’s most trusted adviser.
While some aspects of his testimony yesterday may call into question just how much Johnson valued his insight, it also confirmed just how instrumental Cummings was in the Downing Street operation, as he described liaising with senior scientists, officials and ministers about the Covid strategy.
What did Cummings say about Matt Hancock?
The health secretary Matt Hancock came under heavy fire from Cummings throughout yesterday’s testimony.
Cummings said there came a point when he was saying Hancock should be sacked, “almost every week, sometimes almost every day”.
He revealed that the health secretary almost lost his job in April last year, but the PM was advised that, “he’s the person you fire when the inquiry comes along”.
One of the most damning claims levelled against Hancock by Cummings was that he lied several times, to the public and to ministerial colleagues.
He said: “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.”
Asked to provide further details on these allegations, Cummings said: “There are numerous examples.
“In the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment 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.
“We were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”
Cummings also claimed that Hancock blamed the head of NHS England Simon Stevens and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak for issues with the procurement of PPE.
The PM’s former adviser asked Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary - the most senior civil servant in government - to investigate the health secretary’s allegations.
Cummings claimed that Sedwill came back to him and said: “It is completely untrue [that Stevens and Sunak lied], I have lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings.”
Matt Hancock is expected to respond to these allegations today.