Dominic Cummings has given a searing assessment of incompetence, failure and arrogance at the top of government as the Covid-19 pandemic killed thousands of people “who didn’t need to die”.
In a seven-hour marathon appearance at a joint Committee of MPs, Boris Johnson ’s former top aide said his old boss had ‘ignored advice’ and was late to introduce both the first and second lockdowns.
Mr Cummings claimed the PM was consistently anti-lockdown, ignored scientific advice and failed to take Covid seriously – even ranting last summer that he should never have done Lockdown 1.
MPs heard that No 10 was warned the UK was “absolutely f****d” and coronavirus would “kill thousands of people” as Mr Johnson dragged his feet over bringing in the first lockdown last year – something Cummings said he “bitterly” regrets.
He painted a picture of a chaotic and dysfunctional Downing Street in denial over the scale of the disaster ahead.
Mr Cummings also turned his guns on Carrie Symonds, suggesting she had pursued “completely unethical and clearly illegal” attempts to pack No 10 with her own friends.
But his most vicious broadsides were reserved for Health Secretary Matt Hancock, whom he branded “disgraceful” – and potentially “criminal.”
Mr Cummings said there were around 20 reasons why Mr Hancock should have been thrown out of the Cabinet – including, he claimed, lying both in meetings and publicly.
With Mr Sunak long touted as a future leader, and Mr Cummings having a string of personal scores to settle, that will raise questions over the motivation behind his claims today.
Questions also remain over Mr Cummings reliability, after he introduced yet another explanation of his trip to Durham at the height of the first lockdown, and claimed the borders should have been shut since January despite doing little work on Covid by then.
That said, his evidence raises serious questions for Boris Johnson – and is almost impossible to wade through.
So to break things into bite-sized chunks, here are the all most explosive moments in his testimony to Parliament
Tens of thousands of Brits died needlessly due to government failure
In what’s ultimately his most damning admission, the ex-adviser said bluntly: “Tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die.”
Mr Cummings claimed the PM was consistently anti-lockdown, ignored scientific advice and failed to take Covid seriously.
The former top aide began his evidence with a mea culpa: “The truth is senior ministers, officials and advisers like me fell short of standards the public has a right to expect.
“When the public needed us most, we failed. I’d like to say to all the families how sorry I am for the mistakes we made”.
PM had no idea for weeks that Covid was flowing into care homes
Mr Cummings revealed Boris Johnson had no idea for weeks that people leaving hospital into care weren’t being routinely tested in late March.
That led to the virus being seeded into care homes and tens of thousands of residents dying.
Blaming the Health Secretary, he told MPs: “[Matt] Hancock told us in the Cabinet room that people were going to be tested in care homes. What the hell happened?”
He added: “It was only in April after the Prime Minister and I had both ourselves been ill that we realised that what we were told never did happen, or only happened very partially and sporadically”.
He went on: “The government rhetoric was ‘we put a shield around care homes, blah blah blah’ – that was complete nonsense.
“Quite the opposite of putting a shield round them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”
A top official admitted ‘we’re f*****, we’re going to kill thousands’ – 10 days before lockdown
A top No10 official warned “we’re absolutely f****d” as the Covid response descended into chaos, he claimed – but it still took another 10 days to lock down.
Until the second week of March the consensus in No10 was that there was no point locking down because it would only delay the inevitable peak.
But he claimed former Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen Macnamara voiced early doubts. She allegedly said another top official, Mark Sweeney, had told her: “I’ve been told for years there is a whole plan for this. There is no plan. We’re in huge trouble.”
Mr Cummings said Ms Macnamara told him on March 13: “I think we are absolutely f****d. I think this country is heading for a disaster, I think we are going to kill thousands of people.”
Boris Johnson thought it was all just a ‘scare story’
Mr Cummings argued it would not have been helpful for his boss to attend emergency COBRA meetings in February – five of which he missed – because he would have had flippant responses to the crisis.
“The basic thought was that in February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story,” said Mr Cummings.
“He described it as the new swine flu.”
He could’ve boasted he would be injected with Covid on TV
Mr Cummings insisted he “definitely” told Mr Johnson the coronavirus was not just a scare story.
But in a shocking claim, he told MPs: “The view of various officials inside No10 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 Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of’, that would not help actually serious planning.”
Boris Johnson was told to encourage ‘chicken pox parties’ for herd immunity
Mr Cummings made an equally explosive allegation about then-Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill.
On March 12, he said, “the Cabinet Secretary said ‘Prime Minister, you should go on TV tomorrow ad explain to people the herd immunity and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties – we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September’.
“And I said Mark you’ve got to stop using this chicken pox analogy it’s not right, and he said ‘why’.
“And [data scientist] Ben Warner said ‘because chicken pox isn’t spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people.’”
Mr Cummings added: “He was saying what the official advice to him from the Department of Health was.”
That day, Chief Scientist Patrick Vallance told the nation suppressing the virus completely was not “desirable” because some immunity was needed. And Boris Johnson told the nation “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
The nation’s top civil servant wanted Matt Hancock sacked for ‘lies’
Matt Hancock “should have been fired for at least 15-20 things” during the Covid crisis, Mr Cummings told MPs.
In an extraordinary attack, he accused the Health Secretary of “lying to everybody on multiple occasions” – including in the Cabinet room.
He said he and Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, had both personally urged the Prime Minister to sack Mr Hancock after he “performed far, far disastrously below the standards the country has a right to expect”.
He said the “lies” included claiming everyone had got the treatment they needed in the first wave, despite being “explicitly told” that was untrue and “many people were left to die in horrific circumstances”.
They also included telling Cabinet “everything is fine on PPE, we’ve got it all covered”, before then blaming blockages on the Chancellor and NHS chief Simon Stevens.
Mr Cummings said he asked Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill to investigate Mr Hancock’s blame claims, but “the Cabinet Secretary came back to me and said ‘it’s completely untrue, I have lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings.’”
No10 today insisted Boris Johnson has full confidence in his Health Secretary but refused to comment on specific claims. Mr Hancock’s team said they reject Mr Cummings’ claims, but didn’t specify which ones exactly.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “We absolutely reject Mr. Cummings’ claims about the Health Secretary.
“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.”
No10 were distracted because Donald Trump wanted Britain to bomb Iraq
Mr Cummings said March 12 was the most “surreal” day of his time in government.
Just as he was waking up to the danger of No10’s “delay the peak” plan, he claimed, “suddenly the national security people came in and said Trump wants us to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East tonight.
“And we need to start having meetings about that through the day with COBRA as well.
“So everything to do with COBRA that day on Covid was completely disrupted.”
He added: “Fortunately, thank God, the attorney general persuaded the PM not to go along with the whole bombing campaign.”
Carrie Symonds demanded No10 staff divert their time to concentrate on her dog
Mr Cummings went on: “And then to add, it sounds so surreal it couldn’t possibly be true, that day the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog.
“And the Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story.and demanding that the press office deal with that.
“So we had this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying are we going to bomb Iraq, part of the building was arguing about whether or not we’re going to do quarantine or not, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial, and you have all these meetings going on through the course of the 12th.”
He accused Carrie Symonds of ‘illegal’ acts
Mr Cummings, who eventually quit in November, said: ”My resignation was definitely connected to the fact that the Prime Minister’s girlfriend was trying to change a whole bunch of different appointments in No10 and appoint her friends to particular jobs.
“In particular she was trying to overturn the outcome of an official process about hiring a particular job in a way which was not only completely unethical but was also clearly illegal.
“I thought the whole process about how the Prime Minister was behaving at that point was appalling and all of that was definitely part of why I went.”
He branded the PM ‘unfit for the job’
Mr Cummings said the main reason was because his relationship with Boris Johnson was “already finished” by October.
He said he “blamed” the PM for the second wave thanks to his flat refusal to lock down for a second time in September.
He told MPs: “Fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job.
“I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions, and push other things through against his wishes.”
Cummings raised alarm over PM’s strategy – 12 days before lockdown
Mr Cummings said his “mounting panic” began on March 11 last year when he sent a text to a group including the PM.
The next morning, at 7.48am, he said he texted Mr Johnson: “We’ve got big problems coming.
“The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly s***, no plans, totally behind the pace.
“We must announce today not next week – if you feel ill with cold or flu, stay home… We are looking at 100,000-500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.”
He said he then sat down with his favoured experts at 9pm on March 12, when they “hit the total panic button” and told him “we’re heading for total and utter catastrophe, we need to have Plan B.”
Yet he said he only then told Mr Johnson on March 14 – nine days before lockdown – “you are going to have to lock down”.
He admitted this three-day gap was not good enough. “It was a huge failing of mine and I bitterly regret that I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier than I did,” he told MPs.
There was simply no plan for lockdown
Mr Cummings said he told the PM on March 14: “There is no lockdown plan. It doesn’t exist. SAGE haven’t modelled it. [The Health Department] don’t have a plan. We are going to have to figure out and hack together a lockdown plan.”
He said by March 11, when there was “pushback” about ordering people with coughs to stay at home, he believed “the system is basically delaying announcing all of these things because there’s not a proper plan in place.”
Officials also dodged locking down because they thought the public wouldn’t accept it. But that was clearly “false”, and he said he realised that when family members were texting pleading for information.
Key people were off skiing when coronavirus took hold
“The government itself and No10 was not operating on a war footing in February on this in any way, shape or form,” he said.
“Lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February. It wasn’t until the last week of February that there was any sense of urgency, I would say.”
Mr Cummings said claims about extensive preparations for a pandemic were ”basically completely hollow” and “we didn’t figure this out until the back end of February”.
Boris Johnson’s refusal to lock down in September was a personal crusade
Dominic Cummings rehearsed the well-known arguments that Boris Johnson refused pleas to lock down for a second time in September, only doing it from November 5.
“He wasn’t taking any advice. He was making the decisions himself,” he said.
“The Cabinet wasn’t involved…there wasn’t any formal Cabinet meeting to discuss it. Or if there was, it was a purely Potemkin exercise.”
The PM had decided he was protecting the economy, and Mr Cummings said “we could not persuade him that if you basically took the view of ‘let it rip’”, it would lead to an economic and health “disaster.”
Mr Johnson later used the phrase “let it rip” as a catchphrase to showcase the kind of approach he would not take.
The government was turning down ventilators in late March because prices were jacked up
Mr Cummings told MPs: “I think it was the day the PM tested positive… the 27th [of March] I think.
“In that meeting we were told at the Cabinet table by officials that the Department of Health had been turning down ventilators because the price had been marked up.
“It completely beggars belief that that sort of thing was happening.”
No10 staff drew up a whiteboard asking who they couldn’t ‘save’
Mr Cummings spent the days in the run-up to his appearance dripping information on his Twitter feed – including a photo of a whiteboard last March.
He said the scribblings were the “first sketch of a Plan B, PM study”.
One noticeable line at the bottom has caused a stir – where it said ‘who do we not save?’. ‘Not’ has been underlined.
Explaining the remark, Mr Cummings said “we were already partly over the cliff” and it reflected the reality of the unfolding pandemic.
Cummings accused Hancock of ‘criminal behaviour’ over his ‘stupid target’
Mr Cummings accused the Health Secretary of “criminal, disgraceful” interference with the Test and Trace scheme to meet a “stupid” testing target of 100,000 per day.
Mr Cummings told MPs: “In my opinion, disastrously, [Matt Hancock] had made – while the PM was on his near deathbed – this pledge to do 100,000 [tests a day] by the end of April.
“This was an incredibly stupid thing to do because we already that goal internally.”
When he returned to work after having Covid himself, Mr Cummings said he started receiving calls from people who said: “Hancock is interfering with the building of the Test and Trace system because he’s telling everybody what to do to maximise his chances of hitting his stupid target by the end of the month”.
He added: “In my opinion he should’ve been fired for that thing alone.
“That itself meant the whole of April was hugely disrupted by different parts of Whitehall fundamentally trying to operate in different ways completely because Hancock wanted to be able to go on TV and say ‘look at me and my 100k target’.
“It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.”
Cummings thought about quitting and going on TV to accuse PM of killing thousands
The ex-aide said he should have resigned much earlier, and “I thought about it in March.
“If we hadn’t successfully bounced things in March 16 I had talked to various people during that week about saying to him that I will resign and hold a press conference and say the government’s going to kill hundreds of thousands of people.
“I had similar conversations with people in September.”
In the end, though, he quit in what critics say is a childish power struggle over who pulled the strings at No10.
‘Thousands’ of people would do a better job than ‘donkey’ Prime Minister
Mr Cummings said it was “crackers” that either he or Boris Johnson had their jobs, “thousands” of Brits could do it better, and hero nurses were “lions led by donkeys”.
He added: “There’s a very profound question about the nature of our political system that means we got at the last election a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson.
“I think any system which ends up giving a choice between two people like that to lead is obviously a system that’s gone extremely badly wrong.”
He added: “In any sensible rational government it is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position in my personal opinion.
“I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world. It’s completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just as it’s crackers that Boris was in there and the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.”
“The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again.”
The PM DID say ‘let the bodies pile high’
Boris Johnson DID make infamous comments about ‘bodies piling high’, Dominic Cummings declared.
He said he heard the Prime Minister make the remarks, originally reported as “no more f*****g lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, in the PM’s study shortly after his decision to implement a second lockdown on 31 October 2020.
That raises serious questions over Boris Johnson’s honesty.
The PM has denied on the record and to Parliament that he made the remarks, saying the claims were “total, total rubbish”.
“There was a version of it in the Sunday Times, which was not accurate. But the version that the BBC reported was accurate,” Mr Cummings said.
“I heard that in the Prime Minister’s study. That was not in September though, that was immediately after he finally made the decision to do the lockdown on October 31.”
Boris Johnson wanted to be like the mayor in Jaws – with no border controls
Mr Cummings said he had a fractious meeting with the PM in July 2020 when he flat refused to introduce border controls to stop a second wave.
He said: He added: “He had the Daily Telegraph with their stupid campaign on the whole subject, he had Tory MPs going crackers about it at the same time.
“And essentially at that point he was in ‘we should never have done lockdown, I should have been the mayor of Jaws [who kept the beaches open], now I’m going to be, open everything up, get on with it’.
“And me and others just could not win that argument.
“We never won the argument – as of today. Look at the whole thing about variants. We still don’t have a proper border policy.”
No10 said it would “obviously refute” that the border policy was too weak now, saying: “We have some of the toughest border measures in the world and we have taken action whenever necessary to keep the public safe.”
Boris Johnson ranted that the first lockdown should never have happened
He also explosively claimed the PM ranted “we should never have done lockdown 1” and any border control would ruin the travel industry.
Mr Cummings went on: “To which of course some of us said, there’s not going to be a tourism industry in the Autumn if we have a second wave.’ The whole logic is completely wrong.
“There was just no fundamentally good logic to not shutting the borders in January in my opinion and there was never any logic to it after April.”
Boris Johnson is a ’disaster zone’ who changes his mind constantly like a ‘shopping trolley’
In a blistering personal attack, he said Mr Johnson “made some terrible decisions and got things wrong and then constantly U-turned on everything”
Mr Cummings told MPs: “The reason for all these problems was bad policy, bad decisions, bad planning, bad operational capability.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve got great people doing communications if the Prime Minister changes his mind 10 times a day and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy day after day.
“You’re going to have a communications disaster zone.”
He added: “You cannot keep changing your mind every time the Telegraph writes an editorial on the subject… nobody could find a way around the problem of the PM like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the island to the other.”
The PM ‘laughed’ and said chaos is good because it makes him look more powerful
In his summer 2020 conversation with the PM, Mr Cummings claimed he said: “This whole system is chaos, this building is chaos, You are more frightened of me having the power to stop the chaos than you are afraid of the chaos.”
He told MPs: “The PM 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 everyone has to look to me to see who’s in charge.’”
‘Stupid’ Boris Johnson personally decided to ‘pick a fight’ with Marcus Rashford
The “stupid” PM personally decided to defy footballer Marcus Rashford’s plea for free school meals over half term, against aides’ advice, he said.
Mr Cummings told MPs: “The Director of Communications said to the PM twice ‘do not pick a fight with Rashford, obviously we should do this instead’.
“The PM decided to pick a fight and then surrendered twice.
“After that everyone says ‘your communications are stupid’ – what’s stupid is picking a fight with Rashford over school meals and what should have happened is just getting the school meals policy right.”
People in government thought Covid was over and done with last summer
Mr Cummings said: “From the summer fundamentally the view was ‘we’re past it now, Covid is history’ – which was a terrible, terrible mistake.”
Yet curiously he avoided criticising Rishi Sunak, the architect of the ill-fated ‘Eat out to Help Out’ scheme.
Cummings just couldn’t help referring to films
At one point he told MPs: “You know that Spiderman meme with both Spidermans pointing at each other? It’s like that, but with everybody.”
At another he said: “This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan.”
Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice, set up in the wake of the pandemic, blasted Mr Cummings saying: “That this information is being unveiled in a pantomime-style spat between Cummings and Johnson, littered with independence day, Jeff Goldblum and spiderman references, is utterly inappropriate and makes this even more appalling.”
Boris Johnson slammed for ‘terrible’ decision to delay Covid inquiry
Boris Johnson today angrily rejected Labour ’s demand to bring forward a Covid inquiry to this summer, saying: “No! As I’ve said before I’m not going to concentrate valuable official time on that now while we’re still battling a pandemic.”
But Mr Cummings said: “I think the idea that a serious inquiry, a lessons learned, doesn’t start until next year is completely terrible.
“The families… tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die. There’s absolutely no excuse for delaying that.
“Because a lot of the reasons for why that happened are still in place now. Look at the whole debate about variants and what not. This has to be honestly explained.”
He added: “If Number 10 today won’t tell the truth about the official [herd immunity] plan which they briefed the media about and explained on TV a year ago, what on earth else is going on in there now?”
Cummings finally admits his lockdown trip undermined public trust
Dominic Cummings admitted the debacle over his March 2020 lockdown road trip “undermined public confidence” in the government.
The former aide “deeply apologised” for the way he presented his farcical press conference in the No10 rose garden.
Mr Cummings said “that whole episode was definitely a major disaster for the government and for the Covid policy.”
He added: “I know that my misjudgement caused huge trouble. I deeply apologise for it.”
But he refuses to apologise for his 300-mile road trip last March
However, Mr Cummings refused to apologise for his actions – instead revealing he “couldn’t tell the whole story” last year about why he drove 300 miles in a national lockdown to Durham.
He told MPs he had already discussed moving his family out of their London home due to security threats, including a few days before he fell ill with Covid.
Around March 22, he said, he said to his wife: “We’ve been discussing it for months – we’ve got to get out of here on Friday”.
For that reason, he said, he decided to “stonewall” the Mirror’s story before U-turning and giving a press conference three days later in the No10 rose garden, due to demands from Boris Johnson.
But he decided not to go into any detail about the security threats because he was still in government.
He told MPs: “I ended up giving the whole rose garden thing where what I said was true, but we left out a crucial part of it all. The whole thing was a complete disaster. It undermined public confidence in the whole thing.”
Cummings wanted a ‘dictator’ as Prime Minister
One of the most revealing quotes about his personality, Mr Cummings said: “In a well-run entity what would have happened is, essentially in my opinion, you would have had a kind of dictator in charge of this.
“If I’d been Prime Minister I would have said [data expert] Marc Warner is in charge of this whole thing.
“He speaks with my authority. He has as close to kingly authority as the state has legally to do stuff, and pushing the barriers of legality.”
And to sum it all up… Cummings was branded a ‘disingenuous little f*****’
MP Paul Bristow quoted to Mr Cummings an anonymous No10 claim that he’s a “disingenuous little f*****”.
He was actually distracted in mid-February by his ambitions to put “Cummings acolytes in every post of power”, the MP suggested.
Mr Cummings insisted most stories about his dealings with the civil service were “99% nonsense”.
But it’s true that large parts of the hearing were eaten up by Mr Cummings talking about his own self-importance and sense of right.
One lengthy argument was over whether he did or didn’t retrospectively edit his blog to insert a warning about Covid.