Boris Johnson Faces Barrage of Criticism by Ex-Aide Cummings
(Bloomberg) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, facing an onslaught of criticism from the man he until recently relied on as his most powerful adviser, denied he’d blocked an inquiry into leaks of sensitive information from within his government.
In a blog post on Friday, former top aide Dominic Cummings cataloged a litany of alleged failings by Johnson and his current senior team, from the way the premier handled the coronavirus pandemic to the top-level leaks.
Cummings called on Parliament to investigate how Johnson’s administration responded to the Covid outbreak, and said he’d be happy to give evidence under oath.
“It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,” wrote Cummings, 49, who departed in November as Johnson’s chief adviser.
Speaking to LBC Radio, Johnson denied he’d tried to block an inquiry into leaking, saying, “no, of course not,” while also minimizing the importance of the issue to regular U.K. citizens.
Earlier, Johnson’s office said in a statement that the prime minister had “never interfered” in a government leak inquiry. “At all times, the Government and Ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law,” a spokesman said.
Others named in the blog didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cummings resigned after a tumultuous period in Johnson’s government, in which he clashed with other officials, ripped up conventions of government, and sparked a national outcry with a 250-mile (400 km) road trip at the height of the first pandemic lockdown.
Series of Leaks
His post on Friday follows claims in British newspapers that he’d been the source of a series of leaks from within Johnson’s inner circle. Cummings denied responsibility.
Asked on LBC if he believed his former adviser had been the leaker, Johnson said, “I don’t think people give a monkey’s about this issue.”
“What they care about is what were we doing to protect the health of the British public, and that’s what I care about,” he added.
Among the explosive allegations in his 1,000-word post, Cummings said:
- Johnson ordered his officials to accuse Cummings of leaking text messages between the premier and billionaire James Dyson.
- Johnson wanted to halt a leak inquiry into who disclosed plans for a national lockdown to the media because he feared it would implicate a close friend of his fiancee. “I told him that this was ‘mad’ and totally unethical,” Cummings writes.
- Johnson’s alleged plan to have secret donors pay for a renovation to his official Downing Street apartment would have been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations.”
“All reportable donations are transparently declared and published – either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law,” Johnson’s spokesman said in response. “Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns.”
The allegations threaten to damage Johnson’s authority at a highly sensitive time. The government is already battling accusations of sleaze after a row involving lobbying by former prime minister David Cameron on behalf of Greensill Capital.
In a further blow, Edward Lister, the Prime Minister’s special envoy for the Gulf, is leaving the role and departing the government, the Telegraph reported late Friday.
Lister’s private work had drawn media scrutiny in recent months. The Times of London reported he’d held talks about taking on a six-figure contract with a public relations and lobbying firm and was considering still serving in his government role. He subsequently rejected the position. There was no link between the disclosures and Lord Lister’s departure, the newspaper reported, citing a Downing Street source.
For Cummings to level accusations against Johnson’s own integrity risks reopening the wounds and undermining the prime minister, two weeks before crucial elections in Scotland, London and other key political battlegrounds.
Cummings published his blog after the Times, The Sun and The Telegraph newspapers all cited unnamed officials in Johnson’s office as saying that the premier believes his former aide earlier leaked a text exchange between the premier and Dyson.
“I was not directly or indirectly a/the source for the BBC/Kuenssberg story on the PM/Dyson texts,” Cummings wrote, referring to BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg. He said that while he did have some WhatsApp messages between Johnson and Dyson forwarded to him by the premier, they were not the ones leaked to the BBC.
The text messages published by the BBC appeared to show Johnson agreeing to “fix” a tax issue for Dyson concerning the treatment of overseas staff brought to the U.K to work on the government’s drive to mass-produce ventilators to help with the pandemic.
Dyson has said “it is absurd to suggest that the urgent correspondence was anything other than seeking compliance with rules” and that neither he nor his company had benefited from that project.
Johnson earlier this week said he makes “absolutely no apology” for promises made to Dyson, a position he reinforced on Friday.
“We talked to people from Dyson, from JLR, we talked to JCB, we talked to, I think, Williams Formula One people,” Johnson told LBC. “We talked to just about every British manufacturing company you could think of because we didn’t know how many ventilators we were going to need.”
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