Boris Johnson’s former chief aide said the entire government machine failed “disastrously” in its response to the pandemic — including himself.
He apologised to the families whose relatives “died unnecessarily”.
And in perhaps the most explosive parliamentary select committee evidence session ever, Cummings spared no one in his analysis of what went wrong.
Boris Johnson, Carrie Symonds, the cabinet secretary, Sage scientists and Donald Trump were all in Cummings’ crosshairs.
But his most concentrated fire was reserved for health secretary Matt Hancock.
Here are Cummings’ most jaw-dropping claims during his Wednesday appearance in front of the Commons health and science select committees:
1. The PM joked that Chris Whitty should inject him with the virus live on TV
The prime minister viewed Covid as a “scare story” and was more concerned about the impact on the economy than curbing the spread of the virus in the weeks leading up to the lockdown, Cummings claimed.
Johnson has faced criticism for missing five key Cobra emergency committee meetings in January and February 2020, but Cummings extraordinarily suggested this may have been part of a plan as the PM did not take the crisis seriously.
“The view of various officials inside No 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 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,” he said.
Downing Street refused to comment on the claims.
2. ‘The insane day’, featuring Donald Trump’s bombs and Carrie Symonds’ dog
Cummings claimed that the government initially pursued a strategy which did not include a lockdown, in the hope that the UK would eventually gain “herd immunity” to Covid after a single stretched out peak in infections and deaths.
But going into mid-March 2020, Cummings said he and others in government realised that plan was going badly wrong.
“I think we are absolutely fucked,” deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara apparently told Cummings.
“I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people.”
Cummings told Johnson on March 12 that self isolation measures were needed to avoid 100,000 to 500,000 deaths.
But he said on that day rather than focusing on Covid, No.10 was consumed with Donald Trump’s sudden demands for the UK to join the US in a Middle East bombing campaign and a “trivial” Times story about Johnson, his fiancee Carrie Symonds and their dog Dilyn.
“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 do quarantine.
“[And] the prime minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.”
It meant the press office was focused on Symonds’ dog, while No.10 officials were in concurrent meetings on Covid and the bombing and unable to give full attention to the pandemic.
3. Chicken pox parties, but Covid
During one of the “insane day” meetings in the PM’s office, then-cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill suggested Johnson should “go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties”, Cummings claimed.
He went on: “I said ‘Mark, you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right’.
“And [Sedwill] said ‘why’ and [No.10 aide] Ben Warner said ‘because chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people’.
4. ‘The aliens are here and your whole plan is broken’
Finally, the day after, Johnson was told that models showing the Covid peak was weeks away in June were “completely wrong”.
The PM was warned “the NHS is going to be smashed in weeks, really we’ve got days to act”, Cummings said.
“This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken… that is what the scene was like that morning”.
5. Hancock ‘lied’ and should have been sacked, but the PM was advised against it
Cummings repeatedly attacked health secretary Matt Hancock, claiming he lied in meetings, had lost the confidence of top civil servants and should have been sacked over Covid.
The former aide also claimed that Sedwill, while cabinet secretary, agreed with him and said to the PM after he recovered from his own bout with Covid that: “The British system is not set up to deal with a secretary of state who repeatedly lies in meetings”
Not content with that ferocious attack, Cummings peppered references to Hancock’s alleged incompetence into his evidence.
“I think the secretary of state for health should’ve 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,” Cummings said.
Later, the ex-aide claimed that Johnson was advised not to sack Hancock “because we need a person to fire when the inquiry happens”.
The PM’s official spokesperson has since denied that the cabinet secretary raised concerns about Hancock’s honesty, and said Johnson has full confidence in the health secretary.
In one of the most egregious allegations, Cummings claimed Hancock lied to the PM about testing hospital patients for Covid before being charged to care homes.
After coming out of hospital following his own bout with Covid, Johnson was said to be furious that untested patients were being sent to care homes in England, allowing the virus to spread among some of the most vulnerable people.
Cummings concluded: “Now all the government rhetoric of ‘we put a shield around care homes’ and blah blah, was complete nonsense.
“Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”
7. Trump sent the CIA to secure PPE from China
Cummings was scathing about Hancock’s Department for Health and Social Care and its efforts to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE), which was in desperate shortage in the UK.
He said he was told in meetings that vital masks and gloves were being sent by sea because it is “what we always do”.
Cummings said that grounded planes should have been used to urgently bring PPE back, revealing his thought process: “Leave this meeting, commandeer the planes, fly them to China, drop them at the nearest airfield, pick up our stuff, fly it back.
“At this point you had [then-US president] Trump sending the CIA round trying to gazump everybody on PPE.
“The whole system was just like wading through treacle.”
8. ‘All the different Spidermans’
One fundamental problem in government was that no one took responsibility, Cummings suggested.
He said ministers were responsible for certain issues, but only officials could hire or fire the staff in charge of delivering on them.
“So, as soon as you have some kind of major problem you have kind of that Spiderman meme with both Spidermans pointing at each other, it’s like that but with everybody.
“So, you have [Matt] Hancock pointing at the permanent secretary, you have the permanent secretary pointing at Hancock, and they are both pointing at the Cabinet Office, the Cabinet Office is pointing back at them and all the different Spidermans are all pointing at each other saying ‘you are responsible’ and the problem is that everyone is right and everyone is unhappy.”
Cummings added: “In my opinion, you would have had a kind of dictator in charge of this.”
9. Johnson wanted to be like the mayor from Jaws
Going into the summer, the prime minister rejected demands to toughen up border controls to stop the import of Covid cases, Cummings said.
Instead, he wanted to be like the mayor from the film Jaws, who kept the beaches open to protect the local economy despite a killer shark lurking in the water, Cummings said.
Johnson has previously described the fictional mayor as his political hero.
Cummings characterised Johnson’s attitude: “Lockdown was all a terrible mistake, I should’ve been the mayor of Jaws, we should never have done lockdown one, the travel industry will all be destroyed if we bring in a serious border policy.”
10. The Barnard Castle episode was a ‘major disaster’
Cummings was not going to get away from the committee meeting without being quizzed on his own lockdown breach, which can now be summed up in four words: Barnard Castle eye test.
The former aide acknowledged it was “weird” but said he stood by his justification for a non-essential drive during the height of lockdown, given during an infamous press conference in Downing Street’s Rose Garden.
Cummings meanwhile admitted that the episode was a “major disaster”, but offered a new rationale for breaching lockdown - claiming he moved his family to Durham due to security threats.
11. The delay to the public inquiry will lead to ‘lost’ evidence
Tory MPs told HuffPost UK on Wednesday they would wait until the public inquiry into Covid before drawing any conclusions on Cummings’ evidence, as witnesses will have to give testimony under oath.
But the former adviser said plans to delay the probe until spring 2022 was “intolerable”, and suggested those under the microscope could actually use the time to hide evidence.
“The longer it’s delayed, the more people will rewrite memories, the more documents will go astray, the more the whole thing will just become cancerous,” he said.
12. Johnson was ‘unfit for the job’
In perhaps the most damaging testimony for Johnson, Cummings said the PM rejected September advice from chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who urged him to impose a two-week lockdown.
Despite modelling showing the NHS was going to get “smashed again” in autumn and the “lesson” of spring being that delaying lockdown meant it had to be more severe, last longer and hit the economy harder, “the prime minister decided no and said basically we are just going to hit and hope”.
Ultimately when Cummings departed the government in December: “The heart of the problem was fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job and 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.
“He had the view that he was prime minister and I should just be doing what he wanted me to
13. ‘Bodies pile high’
Johnson DID said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than take the country into a third lockdown in last autumn, Cummings said.
The quote has been denied by No.10 but multiple sources have stood by it in various reports, including by the BBC, which Cummings said was accurate.
“I heard that in the prime minister’s study,” the ex-aide said.
“That was not in September though, that was immediately after he finally made the decision to do the lockdown on October 31.”
14. ‘Lions led by donkeys’
Ultimately, it is “completely crackers” that Johnson was PM, that he was the top adviser in No.10, and that the alternative in the prior election was Jeremy Corbyn, Cummings said.
“The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again,” he said.