The scenes in Downing Street in the early stages of the pandemic last year were “like a kind of out-of-control movie”, Dominic Cummings has said during a marathon evidence session to MPs today.
Boris Johnson’s former right-hand man kicked off his appearance by apologising to the families of those who died and said he deeply regretted that he didn’t “hit the emergency panic button earlier than I did” as the government delayed the first lockdown in March last year.
Chaos at No. 10
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Cummings laid bare the “chaos” in Downing Street during what The Guardian describes as an “extraordinary” committee session. Attention was focused elsewhere as the crisis emerged in January and February last year, with several key figures “literally skiing” in mid-February, he said.
The “whole logic of all the discussions in January and February and early March” was herd immunity, claimed Cummings, but this was finally abandoned when experts spelled out that this would lead to thousands of deaths and an overwhelmed NHS. He claims Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen McNamara told Johnson on 13 March: “I think we are absolutely f****d.”
Hancock was ‘lying to everybody’
In an “astonishing broadside at the health secretary”, Cummings accused Matt Hancock of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” and said he “should have 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”, reports the Daily Mail.
The newspaper calls it a “gobsmacking personal attack” from the “maverick” former No. 10 chief, who admitted that the government – and he personally – “fell disastrously short” in their response to the pandemic. He “saved some of his biggest regrets for the policy towards care homes”, confessing that the situation had been “completely catastrophic”, says the BBC’s Leila Nathoo. She notes that this is “completely at odds” with Hancock’s claim last year that ministers had tried to throw a “protective ring” around care homes from the beginning.
The Dilyn dog distraction
In “a swipe at the prime minister’s fiancee”, Cummings claimed Carrie Symonds went “crackers” about press coverage of her dog, Dilyn, just as the government was trying to plan its pandemic strategy, says The i newspaper.
“The Times had run a story about the PM, his girlfriend and their dog. She was angry and we had to deal with that,” he 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.”
The ‘truth’ about the Durham trip
Cummings admitted that the Durham episode, in which it emerged he had travelled 260 miles north during the first lockdown, was a “disaster” for government. But revealed that he had left out a key part of the story during a press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden in May, called to explain his actions.
Cummings said the “truth” was that his family had been victims of security threats, including a gang outside his house threatening to kill his wife and child in February, and that it had already been decided that they would leave the house when they travelled up to his parents’ home in March.
Johnson ‘a thousand times’ too obsessed with media
Cummings suggested Johnson was not fit to be prime minister as he “savaged the government”, says The Times. At one point, he said the PM was “about a thousand times too obsessed with the media in a way that undermines his own job” and that he initially dismissed coronavirus as a “scare story”. Johnson even suggested that he would get England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty to inject him with Covid live on television to reassure the public, claimed Cummings.
He said any political system that gives the electorate a choice between Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is “obviously a system that has gone extremely badly wrong”. Johnson responded to Cummings’ evidence during Prime Minister’s Questions today, saying: “None of the decisions have been easy, to go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country. We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life.”
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