Dominic Cummings: “When Public Needed Us Most, Government Failed”
Dominic Cummings has begun his evidence to MPs on the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic by claiming “when the public needed us most, the government failed”.
The Prime Minister’s former aide made an emotional mea culpa over how Number 10 dealt with coronavirus last year at the start of his much-awaited select committee appearance this morning.
He begun by saying: “The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisors like me, fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this.
“When the public needed us most, the government failed.”
Apologising for the deaths caused by the virus he added: “And I'd like to say to all the families of those who died, unnecessarily, how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made, my own mistakes.”
The ex-adviser’s evidence session follows a week of claims and counter-briefing over what really went on in Number 10 as Covid-19 hit the UK in early 2020.
Cummings has spent much of a 65-tweet thread in recent days attacking the PM, health secretary Matt Hancock and other senior advisers for pursuing a strategy of “herd immunity” against the virus, only to change tack to try and suppress its spread through lockdowns, a decision that was taken too late.
His most recent post, sent an hour before he was due to appear at the joint inquiry by the Health and Science Select Committees, appears to show a whiteboard inside Johnson’s Downing Street study with the competing plans to deal with the pandemic, to which he promises “details later”.
But Cummings has been criticised for claiming Hancock and others “lied” to the media about pursuing and then abandoning herd immunity, as it was reported this morning he sent messages to ministers telling them to deny this was the government’s strategy.
It had been reported over the weekend he would use today’s mammoth four-hour hearing to accuse the PM of missing key emergency Cobra meetings at the start of the crisis to try and finish a long-overdue book about Shakespeare.
Overnight it was reported Cummings will claim Johnson called Covid-19 "kung flu" in private, and considered being injected with coronavirus live on television to show it was nothing to be scared of.
This morning cabinet minister Grant Shapps denied Johnson ever used that term, telling LBC: "Never, no.”
The transport secretary said he had never heard the PM say he wanted to be publicly infected with the virus, and sought to discredit Cummings' account. "It's a bit of a circus from someone who was there at the time and had the facility and the ability to influence a lot of these decisions, of course," he added.
Shapps, who had defended the ex-advisor after his controversial lockdown-busting trip to Country Durham last year, admitted the incident had undermined trust in the government's public health message.
"I thought he was right at the time to stand by his family, to go into effective quarantine, and that's what he did," he told the BBC.
"I accept it was a moment which actually in the public's mind undermined the wider messages and I accept that.
"I thought he was doing what he thought was right by his family at the time."
Asked if Cummings is a liar, the minister replied: "I will leave it to others to judge how reliable a witness that former adviser happens to be.
"What I can tell you is what's happened: for example, previously it was said that the Prime Minister had made comments about not going into another lockdown.
"Not only did we go into a second lockdown in November, we went into a third lockdown in January – indeed we are still coming out of that third lockdown – and that will have saved many lives and given us the chance to get the vaccination into people's arms in the meantime."
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