Dominic Cummings: The key admissions and evidence at the UK Covid inquiry - on Boris Johnson, Cobra meetings and dealing with Scottish Government
Dominic Cummings this week appeared before the UK Covid inquiry and appeared to throw numerous colleagues under the bus.
Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser was scathing about his old colleague, and deeply critical of ministers, Government departments, and the handling of the pandemic as a whole.
Mr Cummings made a series of criticisms about the former prime minister during the appearance, while his emails and WhatsApp messages were also read out.
Here are the key comments and claims made during an extraordinary evidence session on Tuesday.
A series of WhatApp messages from Mr Cummings’ time in Government were read out, where he called ministers “ morons, and c***s”.
Mr Cummings denied his language contributed to any failings, but apologised for it regardless.
He said: "I think I was reflecting a widespread view amongst competent people at the centre of power at the time about the calibre of a lot of senior people who were dealing with this crisis extremely badly.”
Wrong people at the Cabinet Office
Mr Cummings claimed the Cabinet Office had made it very difficult for Downing Street to know what was happening at the beginning of the pandemic, and there were a lot of people “in the wrong job”.
He said: “The Cabinet Office over a long period of time has accumulated more and more power, formal and informal. It’s become incredibly bloated. It’s acquired huge numbers of people, huge numbers of teams. And particularly on the whole, the sort of deep state, national security side, crisis management has become in all sorts of ways extremely opaque and effectively completely invisible to any political figure, including the prime minister.
“So it was extremely difficult to know in Number 10 who exactly in the Cabinet Office was doing what, whose responsibility it was, who were we supposed to talk to to get action and that was critical, particularly in the first couple of months [of the pandemic].”
The “Trolley” nickname
The inquiry heard everyone called Mr Johnson a “trolley” because of his constant changes of direction.
So chaotic was the former prime minister’s decision making, Mr Cummings claimed he was forced to call post-meeting interventions to undermine Mr Johnson’s advice “pop-ins”.
Mr Cummings told the inquiry: “Pop-ins are what people in the private office referred to when the prime minister would make a decision about something. Some elements of the system, often the Cabinet Office would not like what had been agreed.
“And in the best Sir Humphrey Yes Minister style, they would wait for me and other people to not be around the prime minister and they would pop in to see the prime minister and say: ‘Dear Prime Minister, I think that this decision really wasn’t the best idea, very brave prime minister. Perhaps you should trolley on it’.”
Missing Cobra meetings
Mr Johnson was accused of not being “enormously keen” on Cobra, and would regularly try to skip the emergency meetings over Covid.
Asked by inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC whether Mr Johnson was averse to attending the meeting because of its physical location, Mr Cummings said: “It’s hard to say. I mean, he certainly preferred to be in his study and he didn’t like going to Cobra.”
Making Michael Gove deal with the devolved administrations
Mr Johnson could not be trusted to deal with the devolved administrations (DAs) in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as he couldn’t be trusted to organise anything, Mr Cummings claimed.
He said meetings to “figure out the truth” would be far better with senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove in charge, as he was far more capable of dealing with multiple issues, and could deal with them “ten times better”.
Mr Cummings said: “I thought it preferable to have the prime minister actually focused on the impending catastrophe that we faced on that day. Generally speaking, him talking to the DAs did not advance any cause.”
Pressed on whether the DAs had a right to be able to confer with the prime minister, Mr Cummings said: “They did, and they did confer, but generally speaking it was better for them to confer either with officials or with Michael Gove than with the PM.”
Accusing the devolved administrations of leaking
A WhatsApp message was shown from Mr Cummings to Mr Johnson about the Cobra system, which said: “You need to chair daily meetings in the Cabinet room – not Cobra – on this from tomorrow. I’m going to tell the system this. Not with the DAs on the f****** phone all the time either, so people can’t tell you the truth.”
After showing Mr Cummings the message, Counsel to the Inquiry Hugo Keith KC then said: “You did run down the Cobra system, Mr Cummings.
“You thought that if the Cobra system continued, people either wouldn’t tell the truth or the devolved administrations would brief the media or leak to the media thereafter.”
Mr Cummings replied: “I certainly thought that the Cobra meetings we had with the PM were very Potemkin, they were extremely scripted – and then having had these pointless things, we then had all sorts of people running straight out and yabbering to the media about what’s been said in a completely undisciplined way, which then undermined public confidence in things and caused a lot of trouble”.
Saying Matt Hancock had to be sacked as his decisions were killing people
In a WhatsApp message shared with the inquiry, Mr Cumming accused former health secretary Matt Hancock of killing people.
He said: “You need to think through timing of binning Hancock. There’s no way the guy can stay. He’s lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it.
“He will have to go the question is when and who replaces.”
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