Cummings Calls PM Johnson ‘Unfit for Job’: U.K. Politics Update

Boris Johnson is “unfit” to be U.K. prime minister and made a series of disastrous pandemic decisions that meant “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die,” his former aide Dominic Cummings said.

Over close to seven hours of testimony to Parliament, the ex-adviser delivered a withering verdict on the way Johnson’s administration handled the pandemic and ended up with the worst death toll in Europe. The government was an example of “lions led by donkeys,” he said.

The risk for Johnson is that the revelations bring an abrupt end to the run of positive headlines he’s received over the U.K.’s successful vaccine rollout, and optimism over the end of lockdown.

Key Developments:

  • Cummings says Johnson isn’t fit to be PM and made “very bad” decisions
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired for lying: Cummings
  • Ex-aide says if government had acted sooner many people would still be alive, and he’s “sorry”
  • He explains he drove his family 250 miles to Durham during lockdown because of security threats at his London home
  • Johnson rejects Cummings’s criticism
Cummings Calls PM Johnson ‘Unfit for Job’: U.K. Politics Update

Hancock Rejects Allegations (5:15 p.m.)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who is due to appear at the same parliamentary committee in the coming weeks, rejected the allegations made by Cummings.

“The health secretary will continue to work closely with the prime minister to deliver the vaccine rollout, tackle the risks posed by variants and support the NHS and social care sector to recover from this pandemic,” Hancock’s spokesman said in a statement. “We absolutely reject Mr. Cummings’s claims.”

Earlier Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, refused to deny the prime minister considered firing Hancock in April 2020, but insisted the premier has “full confidence” in his health secretary now (see 2:05 p.m.). Cummings accused Hancock of lying over the pandemic, including over whether people sent from hospitals to care homes would be tested for Covid first (see 1:05 p.m.).

Johnson ‘Unfit for the Job,’ Cummings Says (15:40 p.m.)

Explaining why he quit last year, Dominic Cummings said his professional relationship with Boris Johnson was “essentially already finished” by the end of October 2020. Cummings also accused the prime minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, of acting in a way that was “not only completely unethical but also was clearly illegal” by overturning staff appointments.

“Fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job,” Cummings said of Johnson. “I was trying to create the structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes. And he had the view that he was prime minister and I should just being doing as I wanted him to -- and clearly that is not sustainable.”

Cummings: Johnson Did Say ‘Bodies Pile High’ (3:25 p.m.)

Dominic Cummings told MPs he heard Boris Johnson say last fall that he would rather see “bodies pile high” than take the U.K. into another lockdown. “I heard that in the prime minister’s study,” he told the committee.

Johnson believed that Britain should never have gone into the first lockdown and said he didn’t want to “make the same mistake again,” Cummings said. The prime minister said “on many, many occasions ” he wanted to be like the mayor in the “Jaws” movie who kept the beaches open, Cummings said.

“After the first lockdown, his view was he was cross with me and others for what he regards as pushing him into lockdown,” Cummings said, adding that the premier didn’t believe there would be a new wave of infections in the fall.

Johnson Backed Vaccine Plan in 90 Seconds (2:10 p.m.)

Officials told Cummings the government would need to procure and develop vaccines outside the normal state spending regime. Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance came up with the idea of a vaccine task force, outside the remit of the Department of Health.

Cummings said he and others then put the plan to Johnson, who agreed to it in about 90 seconds.

Some were arguing the U.K. should take part in the European Union vaccine program but it seemed like a “classic EU bureaucracy thing” that was destined to fall short, Cummings said. “It’s one of the few things we got right,” he said.

Spokesman Won’t Deny PM Considered Firing Hancock (2:05 p.m.)

Johnson’s official spokesman Max Blain refused to deny the prime minister considered firing Hancock in April 2020, but insisted Johnson has full confidence in his health secretary now.

“I don’t plan to get into every allegation or claim made today,” Blain told reporters when asked about the claims from Cummings. “At all times the prime minister and the health and care secretary have been working closely to protect public health during the pandemic, that’s been the case throughout and continues to be so.”

On the same call, one of Johnson’s political advisers told reporters there are no plans for a Cabinet reshuffle.

Symonds Was ‘Desperate’ to Get Rid of Cummings (1:55 p.m.)

Cummings claimed Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds had been “desperate to get rid of me and my team.” He said he should have resigned last September.

Cummings Fled to Durham Amid Security Threats (1:30 p.m.)

The former aide gave a new explanation for his notorious decision to drive his family more than 250 miles north of London while the rest of the country was told to stay home in the first national lockdown.

He said his family had been threatened by a gang outside his home and police advised him to move them out. Cummings said it was a “terrible mistake” not to “come clean” about the real reason for his trip at the time.

People With Covid Were Sent Back to Care Homes (1:05 p.m.)

Cummings said the government rhetoric that they were putting a “shield around care homes” in the early stages of the pandemic was “complete nonsense”. “Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes,” he said.

He said Health Secretary Matt Hancock had promised ministers in the cabinet room of Number 10 that “all these people would be tested before they went back into care homes”.

When Johnson realized what had happened in April, he said “What the hell happened?”, Cummings added.

Johnson Liked System in Chaos, Cummings Says (12:50 a.m.)

Cummings said Johnson “came close” to removing Hancock as health secretary last April but “fundamentally wouldn’t do it”. That was despite calls from “pretty much every senior person around Number 10” to fire him, Cummings said, adding: “There’s certainly no good reason for keeping him.”

Cummings said he told Johnson in July he planned to leave government himself in December that year. He said he told the premier: “This whole system is chaos, this building is chaos. You are more frightened of me having the power to stop the chaos than the chaos.”

He said the prime minister “laughed and said, ‘You’re right, I am more frightened of you having the power to stop the chaos than I am of the chaos -- chaos isn’t that bad, chaos means that everyone has to look to me to see who’s in charge.’”

That was a “fundamental problem” in their relationship and how Number 10 was governed, Cummings added.

Cummings: Hancock Damaged Test Program (12:25 p.m.)

After a short break, Cummings has resumed his marathon evidence session, and renewed his attack on the Health Secretary.

He accused Hancock of pursuing his “stupid target” for 100,000 daily Covid tests at the expense of getting an effective test and trace operation up and running. The minister was “interfering” in the test and trace program and set back progress.

A lack of an effective testing regime has been blamed for the U.K.’s failure to get to grips with the pandemic. If the U.K. had adopted the Singapore or Taiwan models of rigorous enforcement of quarantine rules, “everything would have been better,” Cummings said.

Johnson Rejects Cummings Attacks (12:10 p.m.)

In the House of Commons, about a five-minute walk from the room where Cummings is giving evidence, Boris Johnson is taking questions from Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Starmer asked if Johnson’s mistakes led to excess deaths from Covid. He replied: “No.”

“I don’t think anybody can accuse this government about being complacent about this virus at any point,” Johnson said. “We have worked flat out to to minimize loss of life.”

Johnson Made ‘Very Bad’ Mistakes (11:50 a.m.)

“There is no doubt the prime minister made some very bad misjudgments and got some very serious things wrong,” Cummings told the hearing. “It’s also the case that he was extremely badly let down by the system failure -- and I include myself in that.”

The former aide said he went to work for Johnson in 2019 to help save the country from chaos and avoid a second referendum on Brexit, in a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government.

At that time, the U.K. was consumed with deadlocked Brexit negotiations and the toxic politics of a hung parliament.

Cummings: It’s ‘Crackers’ That Johnson Is PM (11:10 a.m.)

Cummings Calls PM Johnson ‘Unfit for Job’: U.K. Politics Update

In a damning aside, Cummings made clear that he does not believe Johnson should be prime minister. He said it was “crazy” that he should have been appointed to such a senior role advising the premier, “just as it’s crackers that Boris was there and Jeremy Corbyn was up at the election.”

He said he briefed the BBC during the pandemic to correct the record and knock down untrue media reports. But he didn’t tell Johnson about all his contacts with journalists because “the prime minister is already about 1,000 times too obsessed with the media” to be able to focus properly on his job.

Cummings Says Hancock Should Have Been Fired (10:50 a.m.)

Cummings said he advised Johnson to fire Health Secretary Matt Hancock over his handling of the pandemic, including for allegedly lying over the pandemic. He said even the Cabinet Secretary said he’d lost confidence in Hancock’s honesty in internal meetings.

“The Secretary of State for Health should have been fired for 15/20 things,” Cummings said. “I said to the prime minister he should have been fired; so did the Cabinet Secretary; so did many other senior people.”

Cummings Calls PM Johnson ‘Unfit for Job’: U.K. Politics Update

‘Disaster Movie’ Lockdown Idea Felt ‘Surreal’ (10:35 a.m.)

Cummings gave a dramatic account of the sense of panic that gripped Johnson’s team as the full scale of the pandemic threat dawned on them in mid-March 2020.

He told MPs it was clear that a lockdown should have been imposed weeks earlier than it was, but the idea of hitting the public with such draconian restrictions seemed “surreal.” He likened the briefings that took place inside Downing Street to scenes from the disaster movie, Independence Day.

Only when modeling was presented that forecast the NHS would be overwhelmed did Cummings and others realize that a “Plan B” was urgently required. One top official walked into the room and said: “We are absolutely f***ed,” Cummings recalled. “I said, ‘I think you’re right. I think it’s a disaster.’”

On Saturday March 14, Cummings told Johnson lockdown measures would be needed. “But there was no lockdown plan.”

Carrie Symonds Went ‘Crackers’ Over Dog Story (10:25 a.m.)

Cummings described a day of chaos in Johnson’s Downing Street office on March 12. He said the government’s emergency committee due to discuss Covid-19 was disrupted by national security concerns over a request from then U.S. President Donald Trump for the U.K. to join a military campaign in Iraq.

Meanwhile Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds was asking the press office to refute claims in a newspaper report about her dog, Dilyn, Cummings said.

“Part of the building was arguing about whether we were going to bomb Iraq, part was arguing about whether we were going to quarantine or not, and the prime minister’s girlfriend was going crackers about something completely trivial,” Cummings said.

Officials Thought Public Wouldn’t Accept Lockdown (10:20 a.m.)

Cummings said he texted Johnson and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance on the night of March 11 saying the government should move urgently to impose restrictions on the country.

But he said the view inside government at that time was that lockdown measures would simply delay the impact of the virus and “just mean a second peak later.”

He said both the Department of Health and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) assumed that both lockdowns and a proper testing and tracking program would not be accepted by the public.

Johnson Thought Covid Was ‘Scare Story’ (9:50 a.m.)

Boris Johnson regarded coronavirus as a “scare story” in February 2020 and described it as “the new swine flu”, Cummings told the MPs.

He said government officials thought it would be best if the prime minister did not chair emergency Cobra meetings.

“The view of various officials inside Number 10 was if we have the prime minister chairing Cobra meetings and he just tells everyone it’s swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get [chief medical officer] Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realizes it’s nothing to be frightened of, that would not help serious planning.”

‘People Were Literally Skiing’ as Crisis Unfolded (9:45 a.m.)

Cummings was critical of how slowly the government was to realize the scale of the crisis in the early months of 2020. He said Covid was raised with the prime minister in the first half of January but was not the administration’s top priority until the final days of February.

“In no way shape or form did the government act in January like it was the most important thing,” Cummings said. “The government and Number 10 were not operating in a war-footing in February. Lots of people were literally skiing in the middle of February.”

“In retrospect I should have hit the panic button much more than I was in February,” Cummings said.

Cummings: Ministers ‘Fell Disastrously Short’ (9:35 a.m.)

Dominic Cummings began his testimony to Parliament by telling MPs that “senior ministers, senior officials, advisers fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect in a crisis like this.”

“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” Cummings said. “I want to say sorry.”

Shapps: Cummings’s Appearance a ‘Sideshow’ (Earlier)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed Cummings’s appearance in Parliament as a “side show.”

“I’ll leave others to determine how reliable a witness to all this he is,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

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