Dominic Cummings' 5 Most Controversial Moments

From Barnard Castle to the Brexit bus, here’s a rundown of career “highlights” of Boris Johnson’s former top adviser.
Dom and dusted.
Dom and dusted.
Victoria Jones - PA Images via Getty Images

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former top adviser and one of Downing Street’s most polarising figures, is no stranger to controversy. Here are five of his most disagreeable moments:

1. Barnard Castle

The scandal surrounding Cummings’ lockdown-breaking trip to Durham is etched into everyone’s memory.

On May 22 2020 it emerged that the PM’s top adviser had broken lockdown rules to travel hundreds of miles from London to Durham at least once with his family while the UK was living under the strictest lockdown rules – despite contracting Covid-19.

Number 10 said the first trip was to guarantee childcare for Cummings’ four-year-old son, but Cummings has flatly denied a second trip.

Dominic Cummings delivering a statement in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street following the news of his trip to Durham.
Dominic Cummings delivering a statement in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street following the news of his trip to Durham.
JONATHAN BRADY via Getty Images

In a bizarre press conference that firmly cemented Barnard Castle as a punchline for Downing Street critics, the adviser said he had travelled to the popular tourist spot whilst he was supposed to be self-isolating in order to test his eyesight.

A number of Tory ministers, as well as swathes of opposition MPs, called for Cummings’ resignation in the wake of the revelations, arguing that his conduct weakened the government’s authority to set strict lockdown rules.

Studies have since shown that the adviser’s actions had indeed undermined public confidence in the nation’s leadership.

The Lancet published a paper by University College London in August looking at the so-called Cummings effect, finding a “clear decrease in confidence starting on 22 May [when the story of his trip to broke] and continuing to fall quickly in the days following”.

2. *That* Vote Leave bus

The infamous bus.
The infamous bus.
Jack Taylor via Getty Images

As campaigns director for Vote Leave, Cummings’ was behind one of Brexit’s most visible, and most widely-derided, symbols.

Now regularly referred to simply as the ‘Brexit bus’, it carried a slogan – “we send the EU £350m a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” – that has since become known as one of the Leave campaign’s most successful messages.

Despite being thoroughly debunked more than three years ago, the idea that Brexit would result in more money for the UK’s health service is still repeatedly cited by Brexiteers.

The UK Statistics Authority slammed the claim as a “clear misuse of official statistics” while Full Fact, which investigates misinformation and works to correct the public record, highlighted the fact that the UK has never paid the EU £350m a week.

Cummings himself suggested in 2017 that the bus was one of the key reasons behind Vote Leave’s success.

“Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests no,” he said.

3. Appeals to the ‘weirdos and misfits’

Cummings once again attracted headlines in January 2020 when he issued a call out for “misfits and weirdos” to apply for jobs in government.

Perhaps the approach, widely viewed as an attempt to shake up the status quo in Whitehall could have worked, if it didn’t apparently lead to the hiring of Andrew Sabisky who promptly quit after being accused of sympathising with eugenics.

He wrote: “One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty.”

In one Twitter post he said: “I am always straight up in saying that women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s”, and another comment was also uncovered in which he suggested Black Americans have a lower average IQ than white Americans.

4. Joining Sage meetings

In April, as the UK battled lived through the first peak of the Covid-19 crisis, members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) raised concern that Cummings had taken an active role in meetings.

One member of the group told The Guardian that they felt the advisers’ presence and interventions “had sometimes inappropriately influenced” what is intended to be an impartial process.

Concerns were widely raised about political interference in scientific discussions, the findings of which would then go on to inform the government’s response to the pandemic.

The Guardian also revealed that Ben Warner, who also worked on Vote Leave with Cummings, had attended the meetings.

A Downing Street spokesperson downplayed concerns at the time, saying: ”“It is factually wrong and damaging to sensible public debate to imply [Sage] advice is affected by government advisers listening to discussions.

“It is entirely right that No. 10 advisers attend to better understand the scientific debate and the decisions that need to be taken.”

5. Sacking Sonia Khan

Sonia Khan (right), pictured with Philip Hammond in 2018.
Sonia Khan (right), pictured with Philip Hammond in 2018.

Taxpayers were forced to foot the bill for an out-of-court settlement after a Treasury aide was summarily sacked by Cummings and escorted by police out of Downing Street.

The five-figure agreement came to light just hours after Cummings said he would leave No. 10 before Christmas, and is believed to be worth between £50,000 and £100,000.

Sonia Khan’s departure from Downing Street and Boris Johnson’s subsequent decision to take control over key Treasury appointments later led to Javid’s own resignation from the cabinet.

HuffPost UK exclusively broke the news in August 2019 that Cummings had fired Khan, taken her pass from her and got police officers to escort her out of Downing Street.

The PM’s chief adviser accused Khan of leaking government information and having unauthorised contacts with former colleagues, claims which she strenuously denied and for which Cummings appeared to have no evidence.

Backed by the FDA civil service union, she was due to appear at an employment tribunal next month to put her case. Cummings would have faced key questions at the tribunal over his conduct but it will not now go ahead.


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