Boris Johnson’s Ex-Aide Prepares to Lift Lid on U.K. Pandemic Failures
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson is braced for an onslaught of criticism from his former adviser Dominic Cummings, who is set to reveal what he knows about government missteps that contributed to the U.K. suffering the worst pandemic death toll in Europe.
Cummings, who was Johnson’s most powerful adviser until his acrimonious departure in November, has set the scene by sending a string of tweets making plain his disapproval of the way ministers handled the crisis. He will give evidence to a committee of members of Parliament investigating the U.K.’s pandemic response on Wednesday morning.
For Johnson, the danger is that Cummings’s revelations tarnish the government’s recent record of a successful vaccine rollout and a gradual easing of restrictions that is so far on track. The premier rode the wave of optimism over the end of lockdown to a series of important local election victories this month and recent economic data put the U.K. on course for a strong recovery.
But Cummings’s evidence threatens to bring the public debate back to a far more troubled period in Johnson’s tenure, a time when he initially brushed aside the dangers posed by Covid and then almost died from the disease himself.
In recent days, Cummings has claimed that the government initially pursued a strategy of “herd immunity” -- exposing a proportion of the population to the virus -- which Johnson’s office has denied. He also spoke of the “almost total absence of a serious plan for shielding/social care” for around one million vulnerable people.
Last month Cummings published a blog saying Johnson had fallen far below “the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves.”
The Daily Mail reported Wednesday Cummings is set to claim Johnson offered to be injected with the virus live on television to “show it’s nothing to be scared of.” According to the newspaper, he will also allege Johnson was slow to react to the pandemic because he was on a long vacation in February 2020.
The question is whether Cummings has enough insider information to seriously wound Johnson, who has come through recent controversies unscathed. The government’s successful vaccine program has seen almost three-quarters of U.K. adults given at least one dose. People aged 30 and 31 will be invited to book their shots from Wednesday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed Cummings’s appearance in Parliament as a “side show,” insisting that voters care more about getting vaccinated and leaving lockdown behind.
“I’ll leave others to determine how reliable a witness to all this he is,” Shapps told Sky News Wednesday. “He was there at the time, what his motives would be I will leave to others.”
Most people are interested in getting their vaccine rather than the “sideshow over a former adviser who has his own agenda, presumably” Shapps added.
Despite a surge in cases of the so-called India variant, Johnson is now looking ahead to the full reopening of the economy on June 21, which remains on course after data showed vaccines remain effective against the strain.
Johnson’s allies will also argue that the public won’t put much weight on Cummings’ comments, given the former aide’s own errors of judgment last year. Cummings was widely condemned during the first lockdown for driving more than 250 miles from London to another home in northeastern England.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.