Dominic Cummings Says Cabinet Office Was A "Bombsite" During Covid Response
Dominic Cummings openly criticised government operations while giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry (Alamy)
Dominic Cummings, former top advisor to Boris Johnson during the Covid-19 pandemic, has told the Covid Inquiry that the Cabinet Office was a "bombsite" that operated with "inconsistent data and facts".
Cummings follows a number of senior politicians, including former prime minister David Cameron, ex-chancellor George Osborne and the current deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden, who have already given evidence to the inquiry.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lee Cain, the former Director of Communications at No.10 between 2019 and 2020, told the inquiry that the government ignored advice from scientists and businesses and went ahead with implementing the Eat Out to Help Out scheme after the first lockdown period, when it was "incredibly clear" the UK would have to enter lockdown again after that point.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Cummings described the Cabinet Office as having "many fundamental problems" in its structural organisation.
"The Cabinet Office was a bombsite, we had a huge problem of quality control of documents going into meetings, inconsistent data, inconsistent facts being read out," he said.
He went on to describe the government response to the Covid-19 pandemic as everyone “looking at everyone like the spiderman meme”, unclear of what was accurate and who had responsibility for what.
The former adviser suggested there should have been a “formalised system” to grip this issue as cabinet office was a “dumpster fire”.
“No.10 is not configured to be the nerve centre of a national crisis such as Covid," he continued.
The inquiry discussed a series of damning WhatsApp exchanges between Cain, Johnson, and Cummings.
One message from Cummings described government ministers as "useless fuckpigs in charge" and said the Cabinet was "feral".
“I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or should believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the cunt in charge of NHS still," Cummings wrote in one message.
Asked about whether he felt ministers and advisers fell short of what was required in response to such a serious national emergency, Cummings told the inquiry that this remained his view.
“There were many exceptional people, but they were all enmeshed in a fundamentally dysfunctional structure which meant even great people were unable to do great work," he said.
He stuck by his own previous comments that "someone like him" should not have been in No.10 at all, confirmed he had been directly appointed by the Prime Minister.
Defending his use of coarse language, Cummings argued it was "reflecting a widespread view amongst competent people at the centre of power".
“My appalling language was obviously my own but my judgement of a lot of senior people was widespread," he said.
Much of the evidence considered by the inquiry has shown the level of influence that officials such as Cummings held over the government response, rather than ministers.
In one email shown to the inquiry, Cummings spelt out to No.10 staff that "no papers go to PM on anything related to C19 including from CABOFF and HMT unless they are cleared by Shinner, [another senior adviser to Johnson], or me".
Cummings had also handed Gove – then minister for the Cabinet Office – the responsibility of briefing the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the UK government's Covid response, rather than the prime minister doing it himself.
“I thought Gove would handle it ten times better," Cummings said.
In the early months of 2020, there were calls to close the UK’s borders to prevent the virus spreading from abroad, but the UK government resisted this action.
Defending this decision, Cummings told the inquiry that "the reaction from a lot of people was closing the borders is racist" and that the government was told by experts that it would delay infections by a "relatively trivial amount".
"If you're going for a single-wave 'herd immunity by September' fundamental strategy, then faffing around at the borders wasn't regarded as relevant or coherent," he said.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe