Defiant 'hit and hope' PM rejected plea for 'circuit breaker' lockdown

Defiant ‘hit and hope’ PM rejected pleas from Whitty and Vallance for a second ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown and blamed them for forcing him into nationwide restrictions in Spring, says Cummings

  • Dominic Cummings has given a long-awaited evidence session before committee of MPs on coronavirus
  • He said government fell ‘disastrously short’ on response to pandemic and apologised for his role in ‘failure’
  • Ex-aide said ‘tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die’ due to the failures of the government   
  • He accused Boris Johnson of dismissing coroanvirus as a ‘scare story like Swine Flu’ as late as February 
  • Mr Cummings alleged PM offered to be injected with virus live on TV to show it was nothing to be scared of

Dominic Cummings’ bombshell evidence

The initial apology: ‘The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most the Government failed. I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.’

On the lack of preparation in February 2020: ‘We didn’t act like it was important in February, let alone January…. No10 and the government were not working on a war footing in February, it wasn’t until the last week of February there was any sense of urgency.’ 

On Boris Johnson’s attitude to Covid: ‘In February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story. He described it as the new swine flu… The view of various officials inside No10 was if we have the PM chairing Cobra meetings and he just tells everyone ”it’s swine flu don’t worry about it, I am going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realise it’s nothing to be frightened of”, that would not help actual serious planning.’

On the first lockdown timing: ‘In retrospect it is clear that the official plan was wrong, it is clear that the whole advice was wrong, and I think it is clear that we obviously should have locked down essentially the first week of March at the latest. We certainly should have been doing all of these things weeks before we did, I think it’s unarguable that that is the case.’

On his role in the lockdown delay: ‘There’s no doubt in retrospect that yes, it was a huge failure of mine and I bitterly regret that I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier then I did. In retrospect there’s no doubt I was wrong not to.’

On No10 in March 2020: ‘It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan.’

On Boris being distracted by Carrie and Trump: ‘It sounds so surreal couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog. The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that. 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, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.’

On the PM missing Cobra meetings: ‘Lots of Cobra meetings are just going through PowerPoint slides and are not massively useful.’ 

On Health Secretary Matt Hancock: ‘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. There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people. I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the Cabinet Secretary, so did many other senior people.’

On herd immunity: ‘It is not that people are thinking this is a good thing, it is that it is a complete inevitability, the only real question is one of timing. It’s either going to be by September or it’s herd immunity by January (2021) after a second peak.’

On not cancelling mass sports events like Cheltenham Festival: ‘The official advice at the time (March 2020)  was that that a) won’t make much difference to transmission, which seems absolutely bizarre in retrospect, the idea that we would keep mass events going on through this whole thing. But also secondly, it could be actively bad because you’d push people into pubs. Of course no one in the official system in the Department of Health drew the obvious logical conclusion which was well, shouldn’t we be shutting all the pubs as well?’

On Government secrecy: ‘There is no doubt at all that the process by which Sage was secret and overall the whole thinking around the strategy was secret was an absolutely catastrophic mistake, because it meant that there wasn’t proper scrutiny of the assumptions, the underlying logic. Actually Sage agreed with this, when I said on March 11 we are going to have to make all these models public and whatnot, there wasn’t pushback from sage or Patrick Vallance either. Patrick actually agreed with me.’ 

On Boris v Jeremy Corbyn at the 2019 election: ‘There’s so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two. And there’s obviously something terribly wrong with the political parties if that’s the best that they can do.’

Boris Johnson defied pleas from Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance to call a second ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in September, Dominic Cummings said today.

The maverick former No10 chief insisted the PM had opted to ‘hit and hope’ rather than impose restrictions amid rising coronavirus cases.

And Mr Cummings insisted he personally heard Mr Johnson say in his study on October 31 that he would rather let ‘the bodies pile high’ than trigger a third lockdown. Mr Johnson has flatly denied making the remark. 

In an extraordinary seven-hour marathon appearance before MPs, Mr Cummings accused Mr Johnson of being like ‘a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other’, changing his mind relentlessly on policies like quarantine.

Mr Cummings said Britons had been ‘lions led by donkeys’ during the pandemic and claimed that Mr Johnson viewed Covid as a ‘scare story’ just a month before the first lockdown.

He claimed the premier came to feel he had been ‘gamed’ into the initial brutal restrictions.  

Mr Cummings said ‘tens of thousands of people died who did not need to die’ as he conceded he should have been ‘hitting the panic button’ in mid-February but he had been ‘wrongly reassured’ by the WHO and others about the situation in China. 

In a detailed timeline, Mr Cummings laid out his version of how the government was far from a ‘war footing’ in February, with senior figures including Mr Johnson himself going on holiday. ‘Lots of key people were literally skiing in mid-February,’ he said.

He said Mr Johnson regarded the pandemic as a ‘scare story’ and the ‘new Swine Flu’ at that stage, and had even suggested he could be injected with the disease live on TV by medical chief Chris Whitty to show people it was not a threat. 

Mr Cummings said that on March 12 at 7.48am he texted the PM and said the Cabinet Office was ‘terrifyingly sh**’ and Covid restrictions should be stepped up immediately.

However, on the same day Donald Trump was trying to persuade the UK to join a bombing raid in the Middle East.

And Carrie Symonds was ‘going crackers’ at the PM over a ‘trivial’ story in the papers about their dog Dilyn.

Mr Cummings said on the evening of March 13 the second most senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office, Helen MacNamara, came in and relayed to him the view of another senior official that ‘there is no plan’ and ‘we’re in huge trouble’. 

Mr Cummings said she told him: ‘I think we are absolutely f*****’ and warned that ‘thousands’ of people could die.

Despite the rising alarm, at around the same time there were still meetings going on with officials suggesting people should be advised to have ‘chicken pox parties’ to spread the virus more quickly.

Mr Cummings suggested that after March he did not agree with Mr Johnson on any element of Covid policy.

He said by that stage the premier had decided lockdown was a mistake and he should have been like ‘the mayor in Jaws who kept the beaches open’.

‘I thought that perspective was completely mad,’ he said, adding that the PM was like a ‘shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other’.

Stressing that his influence had waned dramatically by that point, Mr Cummings said that Ms Symonds was also ‘desperate to get rid of me and all my team’. He was ousted in November along with most of the Vote Leave clique. 

He also raged at the government’s determination to delay the start of a public inquiry until next year, saying there was ‘absolutely no excuse’ for putting it off.

‘The longer it is delayed the more people will rewrite memories… documents will go astray.’  

Mr Johnson tried to shrug off the vicious onslaught at a bruising PMQs this afternoon, denying the government was ‘complacent’ and rejecting Keir Starmer’s calls to bring the promised public inquiry forward. 

‘None of the decisions have been easy,’ the premier said. ‘To go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a county. We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life.’ 

No10 refused to address the specific allegations levelled by his former ally.  

But the committee heard hours of damaging claims, including that even in the first half of March Mr Johnson was still of the view that the threat to the economy was more significant than the public health risk. 

Mr Cummings said the scenes were reminiscent of disaster movie Independence Day, where star Jeff Goldblum says the plan to resist the alien invasion has failed and there needs to be a new one.

The former aide also launched an excoriating attack on Matt Hancock, accusing him of ‘lying’ about PPE and access for treatment for those suffering from the disease.

He insisted the Health Secretary told ministers ‘categorically’ in March that people would be tested for Covid before being returned to care homes, but it later transpired that it not happened.

‘We sent people with Covid back to the care homes,’ he said. 

He claimed that the then-Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill told him he had ‘lost confidence’ in Mr Hancock’s ‘honesty’ during key meetings. 

Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock used scientists including Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick as a ‘shield’ for himself and told the PM they could be blamed if things went wrong. 

Mr Cummings said he went to Mr Johnson in July last year and said that he was going to leave because Downing Street was in ‘chaos’.

He said he told the PM that he was ‘not prepared to work with people like Hancock any more’, accusing Mr Johnson of being ‘frightened’ to give him enough power to set up a functional system.

The former Vote Leave chief said Mr Johnson retorted that ‘chaos isn’t that bad’ because it ‘means everyone has to look to me to see who is in charge’. 

‘The Prime Minister knew I blamed him for the whole situation and I did,’ Mr Cummings said.

‘By October 31 our relations were essentially already finished, the fact that his girlfriend also wanted rid of me was relevant but not the heart of the problem.

‘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.’

Boris Johnson defied pleas from Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance (pictured holding a press briefing together earlier this month) to call a second ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in September, Dominic Cummings said today

Dominic Cummings apologised for his own role as he started a marathon four hours of evidence to a joint session of the Commons health and science committees

Mr Cummings tweeted a picture of the whiteboard before his explosive grilling from MPs over how Downing St handled the pandemic. He captioned the image: ‘First sketch of Plan B, PM study, Fri 13/3 eve – shown PM Sat 14/4: NB. Plan A ‘our plan’ breaks NHS,>4k p/day dead min.Plan B: lockdown, suppress, crash programs (tests/treatments/vaccines etc), escape 1st AND 2nd wave (squiggly line instead of 1 or 2 peaks)… details later’


A masked Dominic Cummings arrived at Parliament this morning (left) as he prepared to rain fire on Boris Johnson (pictured right at PMQs today)

Dominic Cummings posted a chart claiming that COBR documents had the ‘optimal single peak strategy’ showing 260,000 dead because the system was ‘so confused in the chaos’ 

Mr Cummings posted another excerpt from a report suggesting that imposing a tough lockdown could merely have caused a second peak at a more dangerous time for the NHS 

According to Dominic Cummings’s testimony in Parliamentary committee today, this is a timeline of his actions behind closed doors at No.10:

January 25

Advised No.10 to ‘look at pandemic planning and soon’ after lacking confidence in the UK’s preparations following a talk with Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Cummings said he himself stopped talking to journalists. 

February

Cummings said he ‘wrote a note’ to Boris Johnson about Covid in February but the outbreak was not at the top of the Government’s agenda, even after the World Health Organization had warned it was an ‘international concern’. 

He was working on reforming government procurement processes and ‘dealing with other things like HS2, national security issues and the [Cabinet] reshuffle’. He and the Prime Minister did not regularly attend COBRA meetings.

Cummings and Mr Johnson realised at the end of the month that ‘claims about brilliant preparations and how everything was in order were basically completely hollow’. 

March 5

Was personally convinced and afraid that the situation was out of control and ‘was increasingly being told by people this is going wrong’. He admitted to being ‘incredibly frightened’ of taking the executive decision to tell the Prime Minister the plan needed to change. At this point SAGE recommended shielding elderly and vulnerable people.

March 11

Told the Prime Minister to change the policy because the country’s direction at the time – ‘mitigation’ – would lead to disaster. Stricter measures were needed to stop the outbreak from overwhelming the NHS, he warned.

March 12

Cummings rammed home the message that things needed to change. Cummings warned the Prime Minister there were ‘big problems coming’ if the Government didn’t immediately tell people that they must self-isolate and cut themselves off from others if they felt ill.

He described it as a ‘completely surreal day’ and said he sent a message to the PM saying: ‘We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly s***. No plans, totally behind the pace, we must announce today, not next week. We must force the pace. We’re looking at 100,000 to 500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.’

Mr Johnson was reportedly distracted because Donald Trump wanted him to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, was angry about a story in the media about the couple’s dog, Dilyn.

March 13

Whiteboard ‘Plan B’ was drawn up and shows Cummings realised hospitals wouldn’t be able to cope with the surge in people infected with Covid. The penny dropped that lockdown would be necessary to control the outbreak and he wrote the chilling question: ‘Who do we not save?’

That evening, he said, the second most senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office, Helen MacNamara, walked into Mr Johnson’s office and allegedly said: ‘I think we are absolutely f*****’, and warned that ‘thousands’ of people could die. Ms MacNamara had, Cummings said, been told by the director general at the Cabinet Office: ‘I have been told for years that there is a plan for this, there is no plan, we are in huge trouble’.

There was no plan for what to do with all the bodies of people who would die if there was a massive spike in fatalities, he said. 

March 14

Cummings showed the whiteboard to the Prime Minister, he said, and suggested to Mr Johnson that social contact would have to be limited and pubs closed.

March 16

Cummings and other officials were ramping up the pressure after realising the UK was headed for disaster, but there was still no reliable data to work out how bad the situation already was. He said Sir Simon Stevens, the chief of NHS England, was relying on intensive care data, which is known to come around three weeks later than changes in infection rates and people generally don’t start getting admitted until there are thousands of cases per day. Cummings said he was working out epidemic growth and possible numbers of cases and deaths using the calculator on his phone and writing on a whiteboard.

Cummings finds out that the Cabinet Office is not responsible for controlling or scrutinising pandemic response plans, after believing it was for over six weeks, he said.  

Mr Cummings revealed that neither he nor Mr Johnson attended Cobra meetings in the early stages of the crisis, and he did not advise the PM to do so. He said the sessions were often just ‘powerpoint presentations’ and ‘not massively useful’ and there were many leaks. 

‘In February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story, he described it as the new swine flu,’ Mr Cummings said.

When asked if he had told the PM it was not, Mr Cummings added: ‘Certainly, but the view of various officials inside Number 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 panic.’

In a damning assessment, Mr Cummings said: ‘The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this.

‘When the public needed us most the Government failed. I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.’

Mr Cummings accused Matt Hancock and other officials of briefing at the time that the strategy was to reach ‘herd immunity’, which was seen as an ‘unavoidable fact’. He insisted it is ‘completely wrong’ that the government is now denying it was their aim.    

He said that assurances given in January last year that pandemic preparations were brilliant ‘were basically completely hollow’.

He told the Commons committee he received a response from Mr Hancock assuring: ‘We’ve got full plans up to and including pandemic levels regularly prepared and refreshed, CMOs and epidemiologists, we’re stress testing now, it’s our top tier risk register, we have an SR bid before this.’

‘I would like to stress and apologise for the fact that it is true that I did this but I did not follow up on this and push it the way I should’ve done,’ he said.

‘We were told in No 10 at the time that this is literally top of the risk register, this has been planned and there’s been exercises on this over and over again, everyone knows what to do.

‘And it’s sort of tragic in a way, that someone who wrote so often about running red teams and not trusting things and not digging into things, whilst I was running red teams about lots of other things in government at this time, I didn’t do it on this.

‘If I had said at the end of January, we’re going to take a Saturday and I want all of these documents put on the table and I want it all gone through and I want outside experts to look at it all, then we’d have figured out much, much earlier that all the claims about brilliant preparations and how everything was in order were basically completely hollow, but we didn’t figure this out until the back end of February.’

Mr Cummings said it is ‘completely obvious’ that many institutions around the world failed in their response to Covid.

‘When it started, in January, I did think in part of my mind, ‘Oh my goodness, is this it? Is this what people have been warning about all this time?’ he said.

‘However, at the time the PHE (Public Health England) here and the WHO (World Health Organisation) and CDC, generally speaking, organisations across the western world were not ringing great alarm bells about it then.

‘I think it is in retrospect completely obvious that many, many institutions failed on this early question.’

Mr Cummings told MPs the Government ‘didn’t act like it (Covid) was the most important thing in February, never mind in January’, adding the Government was not on a ‘war footing’ and that ‘lots of key people were literally skiing’ in February. 

He suggested Cobra had been largely useless in the early phase of the crisis, and he avoided having ‘sensitive’ conversations there because it would leak.  

‘Bear in mind one of the huge problems we had throughout was things leaking and creating chaos in the media,’ he said.

When asked if these were leaks from Cobra, he said: ‘Leaking from Cobra, leaking from practically everything.

‘So when I wanted to have sensitive conversations that I didn’t want to see appear in the media I did not have those conversations in Cobra.’

Mr Cummings said he warned the PM on March 12 that there were ‘big problems coming’ if self-isolation measures were not announced immediately.

He said he told Boris Johnson: ‘We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly sh**. No plans, totally behind the pace, we must announce today, not next week. We must force the pace. We’re looking at 100,000 to 500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.’

But he said on that day rather than focusing on Covid the Government was consumed with a potential bombing campaign in the Middle East at the request of Mr Trump and a ‘trivial’ story in the Times newspaper about Mr Johnson, his fiancee Carrie Symonds and their dog.

He said: ‘And then to add to … it sounds so surreal couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog.

‘The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that.

Cummings brands Matt Hancock a ‘liar’ who should have been sacked 

Dominic Cummings accused Matt Hancock of ‘criminal, disgraceful behaviour’ during the early days of the Covid pandemic today as he launched an astonishing broadside at the Health Secretary.

During a no-holds-barred attack on the senior Cabinet Minister he accused him of being a serial liar whose behaviour directly hindered the Government’s ability to tackle the pandemic last year.

In a rollercoaster appearance in front of MPs today Mr Cummings outlined a series of failings by Mr Hancock and the Department of Health and Social Care. 

Mr Cummings told a joint committee of MPs today: ‘One thing I can say completely honestly is that I said repeatedly from February/March that if we don’t fire the Secretary of State and get testing into somebody else’s hands, we’re going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe.’

In a withering assessment of the Health Secretary’s abilities Mr Cummings: 

  • Branded the minister ‘stupid’ for boasting last year that the test-and-trace system would be able to do 100,000 tests per day by the end April, saying it slowed the much-maligned system’s long-term development. 
  • Alleged that the Health Secretary ‘categorically’ told the Prime Minister directly that elderly people in hospital would be tested for Covid before being discharged to care homes – something which did not happen and contributed to the death toll.
  • Accused Mr Hancock of overplaying the UK’s readiness for a massive infectious disease outbreak early last year, before Britain was affected. 
  • Claimed that Mr Hancock used scientists including chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance as a ‘shield’  who could be blamed if things went wrong. 
  • Alleged that Boris Johnson was advised to keep Matt Hancock as Health Secretary because ‘he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along’. 

Duiscussing mr Hancock’s interference in test and trace, Mr Cummings said:  ‘In my opinion he should have been fired for that thing alone and that itself meant that the whole of April was hugely disrupted by different parts of Whitehall fundamentally trying to operate in different ways completely because Hancock wanted to be able to go on TV and say ”look at me and my 100k target”.

‘It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm’.  

‘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, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.’

Mr Cummings said at one point Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill had suggested the PM go on television and tell people to catch coronavirus as if it was chicken pox.

‘We are sitting in the Prime Minister’s office, the Cabinet were talking about the herd immunity plan,’ he said.

‘The Cabinet Secretary said ”Prime Minister you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September”.

‘I said ‘Mark (Sedwill), you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right’ and he said ‘why’ and Ben Warner said ‘because chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people’.

‘To stress, this wasn’t some thing that Cabinet Secretary had come up with, he was saying what the official advice to him from the Department of Health was.’

Mr Cummings said the situation in Downing Street in mid-March was like ‘a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan’.

On March 14 Boris Johnson was told that models showing the peak was ‘weeks and weeks and weeks away’ in June were ‘completely wrong’.

He said the PM was warned: ‘The NHS is going to be smashed in weeks, really we’ve got days to act.’

Mr Cummings said it was’ obvious’ in retrospect that the UK should have locked down in the first week of March at the latest.

‘In retrospect it is clear that the official plan was wrong, it is clear that the whole advice was wrong, and I think it is clear that we obviously should have locked down essentially the first week of March at the latest,’ he said.

‘We certainly should have been doing all of these things weeks before we did, I think it’s unarguable that that is the case.’

Mr Cummings said through the first half of March the PM was convinced that an economic crisis was the biggest threat from Covid. 

‘At this time, not just the Prime Minister but many other people thought that the real danger is not the health danger but the overaction to it and the economy,’ he said.

‘The Prime Minister said all the way through February and through the first half of March the real danger here isn’t this new swine flu thing, it’s that the reaction to it is going to cripple the economy.

Boris rejected ‘obvious’ need to close borders in March ‘because he wanted to be like the mayor from Jaws who kept the beaches open’   

Boris Johnson rejected the ‘obvious’ case for closing UK borders last spring because he wanted to be like the mayor from Jaws who kept the beaches open, Dominic Cummings claimed today.

The former No10 chief insisted the PM was told early in the pandemic it was ‘madness’ that there were no tough travel constraints despite the domestic rules.

He said up until March the advice Mr Johnson was equivocal.

But he said: ‘After April, though, it’s a completely different story, once we’ve switched to plan b.

‘Fundamentally, there was no proper border policy because the Prime Minister never wanted a proper border policy.

‘Repeatedly in meeting after meeting I and others said all we have to do is download the Singapore or Taiwan documents in English and impose them here.

‘We’re imposing all of these restrictions on people domestically but people can see that everyone is coming in from infected areas, it’s madness, it’s undermining the whole message that we should take it seriously.

‘At that point he was back to, ”lockdown was all a terrible mistake, I should’ve been the mayor of Jaws, we should never have done lockdown 1, the travel industry will all be destroyed if we bring in a serious border policy”.

‘To which, of course, some of us said there’s not going to be a tourism industry in the autumn if we have a second wave, the whole logic was completely wrong.’

Mr Johnson said Mr Johnson was being berated by Tory MPs and the media to be less harsh.

‘We never won the argument,’ he said.

Mr Cummings said in his view the UK ‘still doesn’t have a proper border policy’.

In retrospect, he said: ‘Obviously we should have shut the borders in January.’ 

‘To be fair to the Prime Minister, although I think he was completely wrong, lots of other senior people in Whitehall had the same view, that the real danger was the economic one.’

Mr Cummings gave a far more glowing account of Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who has often been seen as a Cabinet ‘hawk’ against lockdowns. 

‘There have been lots of reports and accusations that the Chancellor was the person who was kind of trying to delay in March. That is completely, completely wrong,’ Mr Cummings said.

‘The Chancellor was totally supportive of me and of other people as we tried to make this transition from plan A to plan B.’ 

When it was put to Mr Cummings that he looked to be angling for a job if Mr Sunak took over as PM, he said: ‘I think everyone from my wife to everybody in Westminster and Whitehall will agree that the less everyone hears from me in the future, the better.’ 

Turning his fire on Mr Hancock, Mr Cummings said he should have been fired for multiple offences – claiming Sir Mark agreed.

‘Like in much of the Government system, there were many brilliant people at relatively junior and middle levels who were terribly let down by senior leadership,’ he said.

‘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.

‘There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people.

‘I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people.’

Mr Cummings said one of Mr Hancock’s ‘lies’ was that everybody got the treatment they deserved in the first peak when ‘many people were left to die in horrific circumstances’.

Pushed for evidence to back up his claims about the health secretary, he said: ‘There are numerous examples. I mean in the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required.

‘He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.’

Later in the session, Mr Cummings said he warned Mr Johnson that ‘if we don’t fire the Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) and we don’t get the testing in someone else’s hands, we are going to kill people and it will be a catastrophe’.

Mr Cummings told MPs there was ‘constant, repeated lying’ about PPE during the pandemic.

He said Sir Mark had told Mr Johnson ‘the British system is not set up to deal with a Secretary of State who repeatedly lies in meetings’.

Health committee chair Jeremy Hunt said they were ‘very serious allegations said under parliamentary privilege’ and urged Mr Cummings to provide evidence of his claims before Mr Hancock appeared in front of MPs in a fortnight. 

Cummings says Boris’s ‘crackers’ fiancee Carrie engaged in ‘clearly ILLEGAL’ behaviour to get her friends jobs in No10 – and distracted him as pandemic broke

Dominic Cummings today accused Boris Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds of ‘unethical and clearly illegal behaviour’ when trying to get Downing Street jobs for her friends – as he admitted her dislike of him was a factor in his firing.

The former No10 top aide referred to her only as ‘the PM’s girlfriend’ as he accused her of distracting Mr Johnson and leading him into bad decisions during key moments in the pandemic. 

As well as the lead up to his resignation late last year Mr Cummings also claimed she occupied the Prime Minister’s attention at a crucial stage of the pandemic in March 2020 by ‘going completely crackers’ over a story in the press about their dog Dilyn.

He described the toxic atmosphere in Downing Street amid claims the pair were at war for months until Mr Cummings and several of his allies were forced out last November.

In his marathon evidence session in parliament today Mr Cummings was asked if he was forced out after a ‘power struggle’ in which his ally, Mr Johnson’s director of communications Lee Cain, was blocked from replacing him as a top adviser. 

‘My resignation was definitely connected to the fact that the Prime Minister’s girlfriend was trying to change a whole bunch of different appointments in No10 and appoint her friends to particular jobs,’ he said.

‘In particular she was trying to overturn the outcome of an official process about hiring a particular job in a way which was not only completely unethical but which was clearly illegal.

‘I thought the whole process about how the PM was behaving at that point was appalling and all of that was definitely part of why I went.’

However he said that although Ms Symonds ‘wanted rid of me’ his relationship with Mr Johnson had already collapsed by that point.  

Mr Cummings alleged that Mr Johnson was advised to keep Mr Hancock on because ‘he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along’.

‘It’s definitely the case that the Prime Minister was told that, contrary to my view… I said sack him, I said sack him almost every week, sometimes almost every day,’ he said.

‘He was told though that you should not sack him, you should keep him there because he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along.

‘My counterargument to that was if you leave him there we’re going to have another set of disasters in the autumn, and that’s the critical thing.

‘Forget the inquiry, the inquiry, God knows when that’ll bloody happen, we’ve got to get rid of this guy now because every single week things are going disastrously wrong.’

The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘I don’t plan to get into every allegation or claim made today.

‘At all times the Prime Minister and the Health and Care Secretary have been working closely to protect public health during the pandemic, that’s been the case throughout and continues to be so.’

Pressed if Mr Johnson still had confidence in Mr Hancock, the spokesman said: ‘Yes, the Health Secretary has been working closely with the Prime Minister throughout and has been fully focused on protecting the health and care system and saving lives.’

Mr Cummings said that as of March 19 – just four days before the first lockdown – there was no plan for shielding.

‘Not only was there not a plan, lots of people in the Cabinet Office said we shouldn’t have a plan, we shouldn’t put out a helpline for people to call because it will all just be swamped and we don’t have a system,’ he said.

‘The shielding plan was literally hacked together in two all-nighters after the 19th, I think, Thursday the 19th.

‘There wasn’t any plan for shielding, there wasn’t even a helpline for shielding, there wasn’t any plan for financial incentives, there wasn’t any plan for almost anything in any kind of detail at all.’

He also added: ‘There wasn’t any plan for furlough at all, nothing, zero, nada.

‘The problem you are describing about the financial incentives on Covid and isolation, you are obviously completely correct, there should’ve been a whole plan but like on testing, like on shielding, there was no plan.’

Mr Cummings said the Cabinet Office’s civil contingencies secretariat had ‘completely collapsed’ and ‘imploded’ during the pandemic. 

In one surreal exchange, he compared the blame game between departments and ministers over who was responsible for pandemic planning to the famous internet meme of Spiderman clones pointing at each other.

Mr Cummings said he had wanted to implement ‘the same as had happened in South Korea and Taiwan’ for the UK’s test and trace system.

He said when the PM returned to work after recovering from coronavirus that there was the idea to set up a separate agency for the test and trace effort and to ‘rejig the whole Whitehall paraphernalia around this’.

Dominic Cummings branded Matt Hancock a serial liar today in an astonishing broadside against the Health Secretary, saying he should have been fired at the height of the pandemic

PM rejects Cummings’ claim that he ‘fell disastrously short’ 

Boris Johnson has rejected Dominic Cummings’ claim that ministers ‘fell disastrously short’ of public expectations in their response to the coronavirus crisis.

The Prime Minister hit back at Mr Cummings after his former chief aide made a series of bombshell claims about the Government’s handling of the pandemic in a lengthy evidence session with MPs this morning.

The evidence was seized upon by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions as he claimed Mr Johnson’s ‘inaction led to needless deaths’ at the start of the crisis last year.

But Mr Johnson defended himself and said ‘none of the decisions have been easy’ and the Government’s focus has always been on trying to ‘minimise loss of life’ at every stage.

Sir Keir began PMQs by asking Mr Johnson if he agreed with Mr Cummings’ claim that ministers had ‘failed’.

The PM replied: ‘The handling of this pandemic has been one of the most difficult things this country has had to do for a very long time and none of the decisions have been easy, to go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country to deal with a pandemic on this scale has been appallingly difficult.

‘We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life, to save lives and protect the NHS and we have followed the best scientific advice that we can.’

But he said GDPR and data privacy laws caused issues in developing the system he wanted to use.

‘What I wanted to do was essentially the same as had happened in South Korea and Taiwan and places where you start using bank data, you start using mobile phone data to triangulate where people are, use the data coming off cell phone towers and things like that,’ he told MPs.

‘So it wasn’t just the testing system you had to get built up. It was also the whole data architecture as well.

‘And, of course, we had huge legal problems because you had a whole bunch of people coming back in the legal system saying first of all, EU data law or GDPR basically means all of this stuff is illegal, medium term.

‘Secondly, a whole bunch of things around European Convention of Human Rights, right to privacy, etcetera etcetera.

‘So you had … we’ve got to build this testing, we got to build this data, we’ve then got to think about all these complexities about the legal side.’

He also said it was ‘crackers’ that he and Mr Johnson were in power, suggesting that voters had been given an awful choice in December 2019 between the Tory leader and Jeremy Corbyn.

‘What is it about your parties that gives choices like Johnson vs Corbyn?’ he asked the MPs.  

Mr Cummings denied there were major communications issues throughout the pandemic, laying the blame at the door of the PM saying it was ‘bad policy, bad decisions, bad planning, bad operational capability’.

‘It doesn’t matter if you’ve got great people doing communications, if the Prime Minister changes his mind 10 times a day, and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy day after day after day, you’re going to have a communications disaster,’ he said.

Pointing to the row with footballer Marcus Rashford over free school meals, he said: ‘For example, the whole thing with Rashford, the director of communications said to the Prime Minister twice, ‘do not pick a fight with Rashford’. Obviously, we should do this instead.

‘The Prime Minister decided to pick a fight and then surrendered twice.

‘After that everyone says ‘oh, your communications is stupid’. No, what’s stupid was picking a fight with Rashford over school meals, and what should have happened is just getting the school meals policy right. So it’s easy to blame communications for bad policy and bad decision-making.’

Ahead of his appearance before MPs, Mr Cummings tweeted a picture of a whiteboard on which the Government’s ‘plan B’ for the first wave of the virus was sketched out.

One note visible on the board said ‘who do we not save?’  

The ‘first sketch’ was drawn up in Boris Johnson’s study on the evening of Friday March 13 and shown to the Prime Minister the following day.

Plan A ‘breaks’ the NHS and results in a daily death toll of more than 4,000, Mr Cummings said.

Plan B was for ‘lockdown, suppress, crash programs’ – the accelerated drive to boost tests, treatments and develop vaccines in order to escape both the first and second waves, he said.

Mr Cummings’ claim that Mr Johnson referred to Covid as ‘Kung-Flu’ will be seized on by those who criticise the Prime Minister’s politically incorrect language. 

The term was coined by Donald Trump in June last year, at which stage the full force of the pandemic had not hit America. By contrast, it had claimed 40,000 lives in the UK.

Dom’s doomsday dossier

Dominic Cummings set up his appearance before MPs today with a series of revelations – all of them contested by No10 – about the handling of the pandemic in recent days. Among them are: 

  • Boris Johnson said ‘Covid is only killing 80-year-olds’ when he delayed a national lockdown last autumn.
  • The Government’s ‘Plan A’ in the early months of the pandemic was to pursue a strategy of ‘herd immunity’.
  • The initial response to the crisis was ‘total and utter chaos’ and the original plan was only ditched after Number 10 was warned it would lead to a ‘catastrophe’.
  • Matt Hancock was talking ‘bullsh*t’ when he denied herd immunity was an official policy.
  • Mr Johnson said ‘I’m going to be the mayor of Jaws’ in reference to the local politician in the film who ordered beaches to be kept open despite a deadly shark attack.
  • The PM had no plan for a Covid lockdown last year before experts started ‘screaming’ that hundreds of thousands of people could die. 
  • All three country-wide lockdowns could have been entirely avoided if there were ‘competent people in charge’ and ministers had ‘the right preparations’. 

Mr Trump’s ‘Kung-Flu’ jibe was part of his attempt to pin the blame for the pandemic on China.

Mr Cummings’ allegation that Mr Johnson said he was willing to be injected with Covid to reassure the public is likely to cause a major controversy. 

The Mail has learned that Mr Cummings will claim the PM said: ‘I’m going to get Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) to inject me with it live on national TV so everyone can see it’s nothing to be scared of.’ He will tell MPs the PM made the remark on repeated occasions.

In April, Mr Johnson nearly died after he was infected with Covid.

Mr Cummings will also argue that while publicly urging everyone to take the pandemic seriously, privately Mr Johnson downplayed the risks it posed to most people. He will tell the committee the PM said: ‘Covid is only killing 80-year-olds.’

While being at odds with Mr Johnson’s public comments, the statement is borne out by statistics which show the overwhelming majority of people who have died from Covid are over 80.

Mr Cummings will also claim that despite agreeing to order the first lockdown, Mr Johnson later said he regretted having done so.

This was one of the reasons Mr Johnson delayed ordering a second lockdown in the winter, his former aide will claim.

It was after finally agreeing to a second lockdown that Mr Johnson reportedly said: ‘No more f****** lockdowns, let the bodies pile high in their thousands.’

Mr Cummings will say that he and others heard a frustrated Mr Johnson make the remark, first reported last month by this newspaper, moments after leaving the Downing Street meeting where he had approved the second lockdown.

Mr Cummings will also say that before the decision, Mr Johnson vowed: ‘I’m going to be the mayor of Jaws, like I should have been in March (when the first lockdown was ordered).’

The Prime Minister has said that he regards the mayor in the Jaws movie – who refuses to close the resort’s beach even after a shark has killed tourists, for fear of damage to the local economy – as one of his ‘heroes’.

Boris Johnson (L) is given the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, March 19

In a round of interviews this morning , Mr Shapps dismissed Mr Cummings’ appearance before MPs as a ‘sideshow’ and suggested the former No 10 aide ‘has his own agenda’.

‘I’ll leave others to determine how reliable a witness to all this he is,’ Transport Secretary Mr Shapps told Sky News.

‘He was there at the time, what his motives would be I will leave to others.’

Most people are interested in getting their vaccine rather than the ‘sideshow over a former adviser who has his own agenda, presumably’, Mr Shapps said.

Mr Shapps was asked on LBC radio if he had ever heard the Prime Minister use the term ‘kung flu’.

‘Never, no,’ he said. 

Asked if he had heard the Prime Minister say he wanted to be infected live on TV, Mr Shapps said: ‘No, never, again no.’

Mr Shapps added: ‘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.’

Meanwhile, WhatsApps from March last year leaked to Politico are said to suggest that Mr Cummings ordered ministers to deny that the government had a ‘herd immunity policy’. 

Instead he reportedly suggested they should portray it as a secondary, long-term effect of the ‘mitigation’ approach of limiting the spread of the virus. 

A source close to Mr Cummings told the Mail: ‘From March through to the autumn, the PM said we should never have locked down. That was why he was so reluctant to do it again in November.

‘He said, ‘the big danger is not Kung-Flu but the harm caused in trying to stop it. I was right all along and should not have been pushed into the first lockdown. The economic damage caused by lockdowns is more damaging than the loss of life caused by Covid’.’  

Dominic Cummings reveals how the wheels came off inside Number 10: Extraordinary timeline of chaos as coronavirus spread across Britain… before civil servant screamed ‘we’re f*****’ and aides drew up ‘plan B’ on a whiteboard asking ‘who do we not save?’ 

Dominic Cummings today laid out a damning timeline of the battle to convince the Government to lock down in March 2020 and take Covid seriously in his blockbuster testimony to MPs that has seen him savage the UK response.

The No10 adviser turned loose cannon today presented a sketch of the ‘Plan B’ he and other Government aides hashed together when they realised Boris Johnson’s original ‘mitigation’ Covid policy was going to kill hundreds of thousands of people.

It asks the chilling question ‘who do we not save?’ and was drawn up on the same day one of the UK’s most senior civil servants marched into the PM’s office and warned ‘there is no plan… we’re absolutely f****d.’

A furious Mr Cummings today slammed the Health Secretary Matt Hancock as incompetent and said everyone in Government made terrible mistakes during the pandemic, bearing some responsibility himself and admitting he was ‘incredibly frightened’ of being the one who forced the PM’s arm into into a lockdown in March.

He lifted the lid on how Downing Street refused to take the crisis seriously until spring, claiming senior figures were still holidaying in February, and laid out a timetable of his alleged battle to get a lockdown imposed in Britain to prevent.

Here is Cummings’s chaotic version of events: 

Mr Cummings tweeted a picture of the whiteboard before his explosive grilling from MPs over how Downing St handled the pandemic. He captioned the image: ‘First sketch of Plan B, PM study, Fri 13/3 eve – shown PM Sat 14/4: NB. Plan A ‘our plan’ breaks NHS,>4k p/day dead min.Plan B: lockdown, suppress, crash programs (tests/treatments/vaccines etc), escape 1st AND 2nd wave (squiggly line instead of 1 or 2 peaks)… details later’

Mr Cummings posted another excerpt from a report suggesting that imposing a tough lockdown could merely have caused a second peak at a more dangerous time for the NHS 

Dominic Cummings posted a chart claiming that COBR documents had the ‘optimal single peak strategy’ showing 260,000 dead because the system was ‘so confused in the chaos’ 

Lack of pandemic plans exposed in February – Cummings scrambled to get expert advice

What Cummings said: Cummings said he had urged the Government to look into pandemic preparedness plans at the start of the year after not having any confidence in them after talking to Matt Hancock.

It emerged at the end of February that ‘claims about brilliant preparations and how everything was in order were basically completely hollow,’ he said. 

By the beginning of March Cummings was personally convinced and afraid that the situation was out of control and ‘was increasingly being told by people this is going wrong’. 

He spent much of the first two weeks of the month, however, ‘having meeting after meeting with people trying to figure out where we were’ instead of ‘pressing the panic button’ and forcing the PM to act.

What was happening in the UK: On January 31, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak – by that time confined mostly to China with cases among travellers in other countries – was a ‘public health emergency of international concern’. 

The first cases of coronavirus in the UK were recorded on the same day and, that weekend, the Government started an advertising campaign to encourage people to use tissues and wash their hands more often.

There had been a total of 23 confirmed cases in the UK by the end of February. The first death was recorded on March 6. 

Cummings foresaw spiralling outbreak in March but was ‘frightened’ to force Johnson to act 

What Cummings said: In early March Cummings said he was personally convinced and afraid that the situation was out of control and ‘was increasingly being told by people this is going wrong’. 

He admitted to being ‘incredibly frightened’ of taking an executive decision to tell the Prime Minister the plan needed to change because he claimed many others were not taking the threat as seriously as he was. 

At this point, SAGE recommended shielding elderly and vulnerable people, but not more drastic action.

Boris Johnson held a TV press conference on March 3 and encouraged people to wash their hands more often. There had been 51 confirmed Covid cases by that date

What was happening in the UK: Prime Minister Boris Johnson held his first TV press conference – unprecedented for many people in the UK – on March 3, three days before the first Covid death on March 6. 

He admitted: ‘It is highly likely we will see a growing number of UK cases’ and said that keeping the country safe was the Government’s ‘overriding priority’.

The PM said people should wash their hands with soap as often as possible for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

Despite there having been confirmed cases in the country for more than a month, no stricter measures were in place. By March 3 there had been 51 confirmed cases. This doubled to 114 within two days and was at 373 a week later.

March 11: Cummings takes the plunge and piles pressure on Johnson for a lockdown 

What Cummings said: It wasn’t until March 11 that Cummings finally took the plunge and worked to convince the Prime Minister to put the country in a lockdown. 

He warned that the ‘mitigation’ policy being pursued by No10 would kill thousands and likely hundreds of thousands – this policy had been announced publicly just two days earlier.

In today’s meeting he revealed that, at this point, he was planning to threaten to resign if Mr Johnson didn’t do something more drastic, and said he would have quit the job and held a press conference to reveal that the official plan could kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Over the following week Cummings rammed home the message that things needed to change in No10.

What was happening in the UK: By March 11 there had been 456 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and seven people had died. There was still a lack of public testing and the death toll three weeks later – 2,450 by the end of March – suggests hundreds of thousands of cases had gone undetected.

Boris Johnson had held a Downing Street press conference on March 9 and again encouraged people to wash their hands more often but failed to introduce any tougher measures to control the disease. 

He publicly announced his plan to ‘Contain, Delay, Research and Mitigate’ the virus – which modelling later suggested could have killed over 250,000 people in a massive first wave. The PM added: ‘There is no hiding from the fact that the coronavirus outbreak will present significant challenges for the UK.’ 

The Cheltenham Festival horse racing event went ahead on March 10 despite concerns that the virus could spread there, and Liverpool FC played a Champions League match against Atletico Madrid at Anfield on March 11.

Liverpool FC played a Champions League match against Atletico Madrid to a packed stadium at Anfield on March 11. By this time there had already been 456 coronavirus cases in the UK and seven people had died. It later turned out those figures were just the tip of the iceberg

March 12: ‘Surreal day’ forcing PM’s attention to Covid as it emerges there are ‘no plans’

What Cummings said: He described March 12 as a ‘completely surreal day’ and said he sent a message to the PM saying: ‘We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly s***. No plans, totally behind the pace, we must announce today, not next week. We must force the pace. We’re looking at 100,000 to 500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.’

Mr Johnson was reportedly distracted that day because he was being pushed and pulled over Covid, Donald Trump wanted him to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East, and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, was angry about a story in the media about the couple’s dog, Dilyn.

What was happening in the UK:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson held another TV press conference and finally introduced a self-isolation rule for anyone testing positive for coronavirus, but not their households. Schools remained open and ministers only committed to ‘considering the question of banning major public events’. Mr Johnson advised over-70s not to go on cruise ships and said schools shouldn’t go on international trips.

He admitted: ‘We’ve all got to be clear, that this is the worst public health crisis for a generation’ and warned the number of people infected was far higher than data were showing.

On that day 134 new coronavirus cases were recorded – more than double the 52 two days earlier – and there had been a total of 590 confirmed infections in less than two weeks, even without publicly available testing. Nine people had died to this date. The number of infections is since known to have been significantly higher and 2,450 people had already died by the end of March.  

The Cheltenham Festival was ongoing. 

This MailOnline graphic from March 12 shows how the virus had already spread to every region of England 

March 13: Cummings realises threat to NHS and civil servant warns: ‘We’re f****d’ 

What Cummings said: Whiteboard ‘Plan B’ was drawn up on March 13 by Cummings and No10 colleagues and shows they realised hospitals wouldn’t be able to cope with the surge in people infected with Covid. The penny dropped that lockdown would be necessary to control the outbreak and they wrote the chilling question: ‘Who do we not save?’

This shows how Cummings and other Downing Street insiders already knew the outbreak was out of control and that deaths and hospital admissions would inevitably soar in the coming weeks and months.

The former adviser repeatedly claimed during his evidence session that the Government had no plans in place for how to deal with a disease outbreak and had to make most of its response up on the hoof.

Lockdown was an alien concept at the start of the outbreak and ministers did not want to consider it because they didn’t believe people would follow the rules or accept the levels of control.

There are scraps of what lockdown could mean on the whiteboard from mid-March, with suggestions of ‘everyone stays home, pubs etc close’; ‘except certain infrastructure people’; ‘who looks after the people who can’t survive alone?’. It adds choice between for ‘less contact’, ‘no contact’ and ‘contact illegal’.

That evening, he said, the second most senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office, Helen MacNamara, walked into Mr Johnson’s office and allegedly said: ‘I think we are absolutely f*****’, and warned that ‘thousands’ of people could die. 

Ms MacNamara had, Cummings said, been told by the director general at the Cabinet Office: ‘I have been told for years that there is a plan for this, there is no plan, we are in huge trouble’.

There was no plan for what to do with all the bodies of people who would die if there was a massive spike in fatalities, he said. 

It was on the night of Friday 13 that officials began to agree the UK was heading for ‘the biggest disaster since 1940’ when the country entered the Second World War. 

What was happening in the UK: By March 13 coronavirus cases were clearly surging out of control. There were 207 new cases confirmed, quadrupling from 52 just three days earlier, and there were a total of 797 to date.

The Cheltenham Festival horse racing event went ahead on March 10, 2020, despite concerns that the virus could spread there. Pictured: A race on March 13, by which time Boris Johnson had already admitted: ‘There is no hiding from the fact that the coronavirus outbreak will present significant challenges for the UK’

March 14: Realisation dawned on need for lockdown but it needed planning on the hoof 

What Cummings said: Cummings showed the March 13 whiteboard to the Prime Minister the following day, on March 14, he said, and suggested to Mr Johnson that at a minimum social contact would have to be limited and pubs closed, for example.

He said it had become clear by this point that a lockdown was necessary because the virus was already out of control but that there was no plan or blueprint they could use and it had not been seriously considered until shortly before. 

What was happening in the UK: The UK had recorded a total of 1,061 cases, with 264 on March 14, and 28 people had died. Both numbers appeared to be growing exponentially.

Critics were growing angry about the lack of proper restrictions and calling for a lockdown at the same time that Dominic Cummings claims he was trying to hammer home the message in Downing Street. 

One frustrated scientist warned on March 12: ‘Now is the time for the UK government to ban large gatherings, ask people to stop non-essential travel, recommend employers shift to home working and ramp up the response.’ 

March 16: Still no proper data or concrete plans, but Boris calls for country to stay home 

What Cummings said: Cummings and other officials were ramping up the pressure after realising the UK was headed for disaster, but there was still no reliable data to work out how bad the situation already was.

He said Sir Simon Stevens, the chief of NHS England, was relying on intensive care data, which is known to come around three weeks later than changes in infection rates and people generally don’t start getting admitted until there are thousands of cases per day. 

Cummings said he was working out epidemic growth and possible numbers of cases and deaths using the calculator on his phone and writing on a whiteboard.

Cummings finds out that the Cabinet Office is not responsible for controlling or scrutinising pandemic response plans, after believing it was for over six weeks, he said.

What was happening in the UK: The Prime Minister held another press conference and made his first substantial step towards locking down the country, urging people to stop ‘non-essential contact’ with others and to ‘stop all unnecessary travel’. He also added a 14-day self-isolation period for people living with someone with the virus.

He added: ‘We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.’

Venues and offices remained open, however, and large gatherings could still go ahead just without the usual support from the emergency services. The next day Mr Johnson held another briefing with the caution: ‘I stress that although the measures announced are already extreme, we may well have to go further and faster in the coming days to protect lives and the NHS.’

There had been 1,543 coronavirus cases and 64 deaths across the UK.

On March 16 Boris Johnson advised people to stop going to the pub but did not go as far as to make them close or impose and limits on capacity. Pictured: Punters in a bar in Manchester on March 20

March 19: Still no shielding plan and Government didn’t want a helpline for vulnerable

What Cummings said: Cummings said the Government still did not have a proper plan by March 19 for the shielding programme, even though SAGE had recommended that elderly and vulnerable people should protect themselves at home.

He said: ‘The shielding plan was literally hacked together in two all-nighters after the 19th, I think, Thursday the 19th.’

Whitehall had said they didn’t want to have a phone helpline for people on the shielding list because the Government didn’t have the capacity to cope with it. There were more than three million people on the list at its peak at the end of the 2021 lockdown.

Mr Cummings said: ‘Not only was there not a plan, lots of people in the Cabinet Office said we shouldn’t have a plan, we shouldn’t put out a helpline for people to call because it will all just be swamped and we don’t have a system.’

Dominic Cummings’ evidence in full: Every answer Boris Johnson’s fired chief of staff gave to MPs in bombshell evidence 

Westminster is gripped today as Dominic Cummings gives evidence to MPs about Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid crisis. 

The maverick former No10 chief adviser is delivering four hours of testimony to a joint session of the Commons health and science committees in which he is handing a bruising to his former friend and boss. 

Mr Cummings is expected to be accused by Tory MPs of using today’s appearance to ‘avenge’ his sacking in November after he lost a power struggle with Ms Symonds.

But Labour will seize on the claims as evidence that Mr Johnson could have done more to save lives.

Below is Mr Cummings’ evidence in full: 

SESSION ONE

Q – Greg Clark, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee 

On January 22, Wuhan, a city the size of London, was sealed off. Did this set alarm bells ringing? 

The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most the Government failed. I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that. 

When it started, in January, I did think in part of my mind, ‘Oh my goodness, is this it? Is this what people have been warning about all this time?’ However, at the time the PHE (Public Health England) here and the WHO (World Health Organisation) and CDC, generally speaking, organisations across the western world were not ringing great alarm bells about it then.

I think it is in retrospect completely obvious that many, many institutions failed on this early question. The Taiwanese his the panic button some time around New Year’s Eve and immediately closed the borders and introduced a strict quarantine system. I think it’s obvious that the Western world including Britain completely failed to see the smoke and hear the alarm bells. 

Q – Do you remember a time when you personally were seized of the important of it?

On something like January 25 I said to the private office at Number 10 that we should look at pandemic planning and soon after I asked Matt Hancock where we were with scanning the pandemic operation plans. 

I would like to stress and apologise for the fact that it is true that I did this but I did not follow up on this and push it the way I should’ve done.

We were told in No 10 at the time that this is literally top of the risk register, this has been planned and there’s been exercises on this over and over again, everyone knows what to do.

And it’s sort of tragic in a way, that someone who wrote so often about running red teams and not trusting things and not digging into things, whilst I was running red teams about lots of other things in government at this time, I didn’t do it on this.

If I had said at the end of January, we’re going to take a Saturday and I want all of these documents put on the table and I want it all gone through and I want outside experts to look at it all, then we’d have figured out much, much earlier that all the claims about brilliant preparations and how everything was in order were basically completely hollow, but we didn’t figure this out until the back end of February. 

Q – When did you talk to the PM about it first?

It was definitely raised with the PM in the first half of January in a chat with me and other people. 

Q – In the months that followed was Covid the most important matter that you dealt with?

At the time the government, in no way shape of form, acted like it was the most important thing going on in January, nor in February. The Government itself and Number 10 was not operating on a war footing in February on this in any way, shape or form. Lot of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February. 

Obviously in retrospect I should have been hitting the panic button more than I did in February, I did more as the month went on.  

Q – Give a brief summary of the principle things you were dealing with during February. 

I was working very much on the science and technology agenda and procurement reform. I was dealing with other things like HS2, national security issues and the reshuffle. 

Q – Did you have to book meetings with the PM?

I could just pop in and out of his office. I sometimes wrote notes but most of our interaction was talking. I wrote a note to him about the Covid situation in February, I’m not sure if I did in January. 

Q – Did you attend Cobra meetings in February?

I don’t think that I did. What I did was hire a guy to run data for No10. [Additional Q – Did you choose not to go?] It was a question of dividing people’s time. I don’t remember if I attended any of the Cobra meetings. 

[Additional Q – Did you advise the Prime Minister to go?] No. [Additional Q – Why didn’t you?] The best use of people’s time was to send Ben Warner, a physicist I hired, and a Downing Street adviser. A lot of Cobra meetings are just PowerPoint slides and aren’t very useful.

Also bear in mind one of the huge problems we had throughout was things leaking and creating chaos in the media. Things were leaking from Cobra, leaking from practically everything. 

‘So when I wanted to have sensitive conversations that I didn’t want to see appear in the media I did not have those conversations in Cobra.’

I was having meetings about it with people like Patrick Vallance [chief scientific adviser] in a way I knew wouldn’t leak. In February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story, he described it as the new swine flu.

The view of various officials inside Number 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 panic.

I’m not a technical person, I’m not a smart person. I couldn’t understand a lot of the things that were being discussed and the modelling that was being done so I thought it was more useful to have a PhD physicist there [at the Cobra meetings]. A lot of it was over my head. 

Q – Why did you change your 2019 blog to refer to coronaviruses?

There have been a lot of media stories saying that I changed what I wrote but that’s all false. Not a single letter of what I wrote was changed. Not a single word was changed. [Additional Q – But you added to it?] Correct. [Additional Q – How did you have time to do that?] Pasting over a blog takes 90 seconds or so. 

Q – Could you explain the thinking on the issue of herd immunity?

Essentially the logic of the official plan from the Department of Health was that this disease is going to spread, vaccines are not going to be relevant in any way, shape or form over the relevant time period, we were told it was essentially a certainty that there would be no vaccines available in 2020, something else which turned out to be completely wrong because, as I think we’ll come onto, it actually turns out we could’ve done vaccines much faster than happened.

PM ‘focused on Trump’s bombing plan and dog story as top civil servant admitted the UK was absolutely f*****’ 

Dominic Cummings laid out a detailed timetable of the disastrous response to the coronavirus threat last March.

The former aide said he warned the PM on March 12 that there were ‘big problems coming’ if self-isolation measures were not announced immediately.

He said he told Boris Johnson: ‘We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly sh**. No plans, totally behind the pace, we must announce today, not next week. We must force the pace. We’re looking at 100,000 to 500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.’

But he said on that day rather than focusing on Covid the Government was consumed with a potential bombing campaign in the Middle East at the request of Mr Trump and a ‘trivial’ story in the Times newspaper about Mr Johnson, his fiancee Carrie Symonds and their dog.

He said: ‘And then to add to … it sounds so surreal couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog.

‘The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that.

‘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, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.’

Mr Cummings said on the evening of March 13 the second most senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office, Helen MacNamara, came in and relayed to him the view of another senior official that ‘there is no plan’ and ‘we’re in huge trouble’. 

Mr Cummings said she told him: ‘I think we are absolutely f*****’ and warned that ‘thousands’ of people could die.

However, at around the same time there were still meetings going on with officials suggesting people should be advised to have ‘chicken pox parties’ to spread the virus more quickly.

Even in the first half of March Mr Johnson was still of the view that the threat to the economy was more significant than the public health risk. 

Mr Cummings said it was like something out of disaster movie Independence Day, where star Jeff Goldblum says the plan had failed and there needs to be a new one.

But at the time the whole plan was based on the assumption that it was a certainty that there would be no vaccines in 2020. So the logic was you can either have … if it’s unconstrained it will come in and there will be a sharp peak like that, and it will completely swamp everything and huge disaster.

The logical approach therefore is to introduce measures which delay that peak arriving and which push it down below the capacity of the health system.

In response to the argument. ‘But hang on a second, look at what they’re doing in Wuhan, Taiwan and South Korea’, the assumption in Whitehall was that it wouldn’t work for them… secondly, that it was inconceivable that the British public would accept Wuhan-style measures. 

Even if we therefore suppress it completely all you’re going to do is get a second peak in the winter when the NHS is already every year under pressure, so we only actually have a real choice between one peak and herd immunity by September – terrible but then you’re through it by the time the next winter comes – if you try and flatten it now the second peak comes up in winter time that’s even worse.

So, horrific as it looks in the summer, the numbers will be even worse if this happens in October, November, December-time.

It’s important to bear in mind on this whole herd immunity point, obviously no one is saying that they want this to happen, the point is it was seen as an inevitability – you will either have herd immunity by September after a single peak or you will have herd immunity by January with a second peak, those are the only two options that we have. 

That was the whole logic of all of the discussions in January and in February and early March. [Additional Q – So when Matt Hancock said on March 15 that herd immunity was not a policy, was that wrong?] Completely wrong. That was the plan. I’m completely baffled as to why No 10 has tried to deny that because that was the official plan.

Q – Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary   

On the Sage meeting on March 5 it was five weeks since the WHO had said Covid was an issue of international concern. But the minutes say that the only measures recommended were shielding the vulnerable and elderly. Did you advise him that Sage were wrong?

No I didn’t. In the first ten days of March I was increasingly being told by people things were going wrong, but I was also really worried about smashing my hand down on a button saying ‘ditch the official plan’. By the 5th I was still reluctant to do that. 

I was really torn about the whole thing because in the first 10 days of March. I was increasingly being told by people I think this is going wrong but I was also really, really worried about kind of like smashing my hand down on a massive button marked ‘ditch the official plan, stop listening to the official plan, I think there’s something going wrong’. I did do that as we’ll come on to but on the fifth I was reluctant to do that. 

[Additional Q – Did you advise that Cheltenham be cancelled?] No, the official advice was that it wouldn’t make much difference to transmission, which was bizarre in retrospect, and that cancelling it could be actively bad as it would just push people into pubs. No one in the official system, in the Department of Health, drew the obvious logical conclusion, which was ‘shouldn’t we be shutting all the pubs as well?’

There was push back from within the system against advising on the 12th to say stay at home if you’ve got symptoms. 

And me and others were realising at this point the system is basically delaying announcing all of these things because there’s not a proper plan in place. 

As far as I could tell from Sage, and as far as the minutes show, the fundamental assumption remained we can’t do lockdown, we can’t do suppression, because it just means a second peak. 

Prior to giving evidence, Cummings posted a chart on Twitter claiming that COBR documents had the ‘optimal single peak strategy’ showing 260,000 dead because the system was ‘so confused in the chaos’ 

Q – Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary 

How would you change the structures and systems to stop this happened in a future pandemic?

The way in which Sage and the whole thinking around the strategy was secret was a huge mistake because there wasn’t proper scrutiny. 

Anyone who has been involved in the political world knows the whole thing is riddled with duff studies to make people believe things that weren’t true. And that was one of the problems behind the group-think, which was that the British public would not accept a lockdown or an Asian-style track and trace system. Those assumptions were central to the official plan and obviously completely wrong. 

[Additional Q – did you advise going further with the lockdown?] We need to understand the crucial period between Thursday 12th and the Sunday, when things started to change. 

On the 12th – it was a completely surreal day… I sent a message to the PM at 7.48 that morning and, forgive the language this is expressed in, ‘We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly s***. No plans, totally behind the pace, we must announce today, not next week. We must force the pace. We’re looking at 100,000 to 500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.’

So the day started with that but we then got completely derailed when in the morning of the 12th the people of the National Security Committee came in and said Trump wanted us to join in a Middle East bombing campaign. 

And then to add to … it sounds so surreal couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog. The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that. 

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, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.

Fortunately thank God the Attorney General persuaded the PM not to join in with the Middle East bombing campaign.

The evening of Friday 13th, I’m sitting with Ben Warner [data scientist] and the PM’s private secretary in the PM’s private study and we discussed about how we would have to speak to him tomorrow about needing to ditch the official plan. This is the white board [pictured below] which has plan B sketched on it. 

At this point, deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen McNamara said she had been talking to the official Mark Sweeney, who was in charge with coordinating with the Department of Health and he said, ‘I have been told for years that there is a plan for this, there is no plan, we are in huge trouble’. 

Helen McNamara said ‘I think we are absolutely f****d’ I think this country’s in a disaster and we are going to kill thousands of people. I said ‘I think you’re right, it is a disaster, we are going to sketch out plan b’. 

On March 14, the Prime Minister was told ‘You are going to have to lock down’. But there is no lockdown plan. Sage haven’t modelled it, DH don’t have a plan, we are going to have to figure out and hack together a lockdown plan. This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying, ‘the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken, and you need a new plan’… that is what the scene was like that morning, with Ben Warner in the Jeff Goldblum role.

He took the Prime Minister through all the graphs, and through the NHS graphs, and showed him that the system is thinking this is all weeks and weeks and away… but this is all completely wrong… The NHS is going to be smashed in weeks.

Mr Cummings teed up his evidence by tweeting this chart of the government’s Plan B this morning

Q – You didn’t advise the PM to change tack until March 11, you didn’t advise him to cancel Cheltenham, the Champions League, to close the borders. Do you not recognise that was a massive failing on your part?

There’s no doubt in retrospect that yes, it was a huge failure of mine and I bitterly regret that I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier than I did. In retrospect there’s no doubt I was wrong not to. All I can say is my worry was, my mental state at the time was, on the one hand you can know from the last week of February that a whole many things were wrong.

But I was incredibly frightened, I guess is the word, about the consequences of me kind of pulling a massive emergency string and saying the official plan is wrong and it’s going to kill everyone and you have got to change path because what if I’m wrong? What if I persuade him to change tack and that’s a disaster?’

We are sitting in the Prime Minister’s office, the Cabinet were talking about the herd immunity plan. The Cabinet Secretary said ‘Prime Minister you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September’.

I said ‘Mark (Sedwill), you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right’ and he said ‘why’ and Ben Warner said ‘because chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people’.

To stress, this wasn’t some thing that Cabinet Secretary had come up with, he was saying what the official advice to him from the Department of Health was. 

Q – Mark Logan, MP for Bolton North East  

You are seen as very successful, but why were you not able to nail an earlier lockdown?

I didn’t pay enough attention to it early enough, for sure. It was the classic group think bubble. But what is inarguable the case was that part of my job was to challenge things and I didn’t do that early enough. If this process had been opened up to outside smart people we would have figured out at least six weeks earlier that there was an alternative plan. 

At this time, not just the Prime Minister but many other people thought that the real danger is not the health danger but the over-reaction to it and the economy. The Prime Minister said all the way through February and through the first half of March the real danger here isn’t this new swine flu thing, it’s that the reaction to it is going to cripple the economy.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, although I think he was completely wrong, lots of other senior people in Whitehall had the same view, that the real danger was the economic one. 

Mr Cummings posted another excerpt from a report suggesting that imposing a tough lockdown could merely have caused a second peak at a more dangerous time for the NHS 

Q – During January, February and March time, how was the international situation being fed into the system?

It was essentially completely discarded by the system. During January, February and March, even after we went into lockdown on the 23rd, the view was that it is inconceivable to do a Taiwan-style lockdown.  

Q – Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire

What were the barriers to having the Sage papers published?

There was no push back from Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty or Sage. But what should have happened is we would have had the conversation in January. What happened is we waited until when we were already dangling over the cliff. 

How would you rate the performance of the Department of Health and secretary of state?

Like in much of the Government system, there were many brilliant people at relatively junior and middle levels who were terribly let down by senior leadership. 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.

There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people. I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people. 

Why were the financial incentives for people to self-isolate so fatally weak?

Not only was there not a plan, lots of people in the Cabinet Office said we shouldn’t have a plan, we shouldn’t put out a helpline for people to call because it will all just be swamped and we don’t have a system. The shielding plan was literally hacked together in two all-nighters after the 19th, I think, Thursday the 19th.

There wasn’t any plan for shielding, there wasn’t even a helpline for shielding, there wasn’t any plan for financial incentives, there wasn’t any plan for almost anything in any kind of detail at all. There wasn’t any plan for furlough at all, nothing, zero, nada. The problem you are describing about the financial incentives on Covid and isolation, you are obviously completely correct, there should’ve been a whole plan but like on testing, like on shielding, there was no plan.    

Why did you describe the Department of Health as a smoking ruin?

There wasn’t any system set up [at the Department of Health] to deal with emergency procurement. When the PM tested positive we were told that the Department of Health had been turning down ventilators because the price was marked up. It completely beggars belief that this kind of thing was happening. 

We were told the PPE would not arrive for months because it would take that long to ship. ‘But why are you shipping it?’… ‘That’s what we always do.’ I told them to fly it… at that point you had Trump getting the CIA involved to get the fast track on PPE. Everything was like wading through treacle, that’s why I described it as a smoking ruin.  

Q – Greg Clarke

Saying Matt Hancock lied is a serious accusation, can you provide evidence to back that up?

There are numerous examples. I mean in the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required. He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.

In mid-April, just before the Prime Minister and I were diagnosed with having Covid ourselves, the Secretary of State for Health told us in the Cabinet room everything is fine with PPE, we’ve got it all covered, etc, etc. When I came back, almost the first meeting I had in the Cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how we were actually completely short, hospitals all over the country were running out. 

The Secretary of State said in that meeting this is the fault of Simon Stevens, this is the fault of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it’s not my fault, they’ve blocked approvals on all sorts of things. I said to the cabinet secretary, please investigate this and find out if it’s true.

The cabinet secretary came back to me and said it’s completely untrue, I’ve lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings. The cabinet secretary said that to me and the cabinet secretary said that to the Prime Minister.

[Did you make a note of that at the time, could you supply that to the committee?] Yes. 

Q – Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for for Salford and Eccles 

Who in government was arguing against taking action for economic reasons?

The Prime Minister’s view, throughout January, February, March, was – as he said in many meetings – the real danger here is not the disease, the real danger here is the measures that we take to deal with a disease and the economic destruction that that will cause. He had that view all the way through.

‘In fact, one of the reasons why it was so rocky getting from the 14th, when we suggested plan B to him, to actual lockdown was because he kept basically bouncing back to ‘we don’t really know how dangerous it is, we’re going to completely destroy the economy by having lockdown, maybe we shouldn’t do it’. Fundamentally the Prime Minister just never … didn’t really think that this was the big danger.

Now, there have been lots of reports and accusations that the Chancellor was the person who was kind of trying to delay in March. That is completely, completely wrong. The Chancellor was totally supportive of me and of other people as we tried to make this transition from plan A to plan B… 

There is a very profound question about our political system that at the last election we could a choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. It shows things have gone extremely, extremely badly wrong.  

There’s so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two. And there’s obviously something terribly wrong with the political parties if that’s the best that they can do. 

It is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position in my personal opinion. I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world. It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn. It’s also the case that there are wonderful people inside the Civil Service, there are brilliant, brilliant officials all over the place. But the system tends to weed them out from senior management jobs. And the problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again.

Q – Greg Clark

Did you engage in any unauthorised briefings?

Yes, I did talk to people unauthorised in the sense of actually pretty rarely did I speak to the Prime Minister before I spoke to any journalists. I just got on with things because because my view was the Prime Minister already is about a thousand-times too obsessed with the media. 

I did occasionally talk to people but the main person I spoke to was Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC because the BBC has a special position in the country during a crisis and because I was in the room for particular crucial things I could give guidance to her on very big stories.  

[Additional Q- Will you share all your communications with the media?] With all respect, chairman, I am not going to hand over my private phone and let you judge what you decide should be in the public domain. Anything that I think is significant to decisions that were made, including decisions that were made, then I will share those. But when you get to that stage you are getting into that territory because you are also sharing things that journalists themselves would think was private. 

Q – Laura Trott, MP for Sevenoaks

Did anyone mention a risk register or a pandemic to you before 2020?

Yes, I had conversations with people about the risk register in general and some specific issues. And also during my time in government I had various specific meetings with people about the question of bioterrorism, which obviously overlaps with pandemic planning. [Additional Q – Did you have any views on the quality of the pandemic plans at that point?] 

I thought that many of the plans seemed to me to fall very short of what was actually needed. A lot of things are just power points and they lack detail. But most importantly, I think, I think the process around them as with the pandemic plan is just not open, there’s is not a culture of talking to outside experts. I was talking to some people who said ‘did you ever go read the plan on solar flares’ and I said ‘no’, and they said ‘if you get some expert advice to that you will see that the current Government plan on that is just completely hopeless, if that happens we are all going to be in a worse situation than Covid’.

One thing that I did say to the Cabinet Secretary last year in the summer, and which I ardently hope is actually happening, is there ought to be an absolutely thorough, total review of all such risk register programmes, there ought to be an assumption of making this whole process open and only closed for specific things. For example, one of the other things very high on risk register is the anthrax plan, what happens if terrorists attack with anthrax. Personally, I would be extremely concerned that the plan is as robust as it should be. 

Who is responsible for monitoring future threats?

One of the fundamental problems that we find in this whole thing, it is a general problem in Whitehall but it was very, very clear and disastrous during Covid, is you have this system where on the one hand ministers are nominally responsible in various ways for a, b, c. But ministers can’t actually hire and fire anybody in the department. The officials are actually in charge of hiring and firing a, b, c.

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.’

In my opinion, you would have had a kind of dictator in charge of this. If I was PM I would have said Mark Warner is in charge of the whole thing, he has as close to kingly authority as the state has legally to do that, and you’re pushing the boundaries to legality. He is in charge, and he can fire anybody and jiggle people around. 

Q – Katherine Fletcher, MP for South Ribble

I’d like to return to the data and the raw numbers that you had between January and May last year. What’s your assessment of it?

Concerns is like saying ‘we have concerns about the situation in May 1940’. In all sorts of ways it didn’t exist. The data system on Monday March 16 was the following. It was me wheeling in that whiteboard you’ve seen from the photo, Simon Stevens [head of the NHS] writing down data from the ICUs. Then I’d get my iPhone out and go times two times two times two, then I’d say that if it was doubling every five days these are the numbers we’d be looking at… and everybody would say ‘Jesus, could this possibly be correct?’

There was no functioning data system. And that was connected with, there was no proper testing data.

Because we didn’t have testing, all we could really do was look at people arriving in hospital. So, the whole thing, therefore, is weeks and weeks out of date. Once you’re looking at ICU numbers as your leading indicator, you know that you’re in a world of trouble… By the time I came back from being ill on Tuesday April 14 they then had an absolutely brilliant data system and were starting to build models and predictions… that completely transformed decision making. 

Q – Aaron Bell, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme

What were you doing in the first two weeks of March when you had said there wasn’t a plan. 

I was having meeting after meeting with people trying to figure out where we were.

[…] I have been critical of the Prime Minister. But… if you dropped, you know, Bill Gates or someone like that into that job on the 1st of March, the most competent people in the world you could possibly find, any of them would have had a complete nightmare. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister made some very bad misjudgments and got some very serious things wrong. It’s also the case, there’s no doubt, that he was extremely badly let down by the whole system. And it was a system failure, of which I include myself in that as well, I also failed. 

Are you here today to help learn lessons or settle scores?

I was invited here to try and explain the truth about what happened. I think the families of the thousands of people who died deserve the truth. [Additional Q – What was your motivation for working for the PM?] I went in because in summer 2019 the situation that the country was facing was either to sort out the constitutional crisis and have a new agenda, or have Jeremy Corbyn and a second referendum which would have been absolutely catastrophic… that’s why I got involved. 

I do think that one way in which this could have been even worse than it was, if you imagine that Parliament of 2019, that hung parliament. If you imagine that Parliament colliding with this disaster in January 2020, God only knows what would have happened. If that broken Parliament had limped on into 2020 and confronted this crisis, I think that we’d be now be looking at … I think, frankly, the whole system would have would have melted down and fallen apart. 

Q – Greg Clark

You were a person of significant influence… what you’ve described is being like a whistle blower in a sense… did you forget to blow the whistle?

It’s true that I hit the panic button and said we’ve got to ditch the official plan, it’s true that I helped to try to create what an official plan was. I think it’s a disaster that I acted too late. The fundamental reason was that I was really frightened of acting.

If you’ve got an official plan, you’ve got all the Sage advice, you’ve got the Cabinet Office, the Cabinet Secretary, everyone saying you’ve got to do this and if we don’t do it and if we try and do something different and stop it now it’s going to many times worse in the winter, I was asking myself in that kind of two-week period if I hit the panic button and persuade the Prime Minister to shift and then it all goes completely wrong, I’m going to have killed god knows how many hundreds of thousands of people.

I only had the confidence to do that once I knew that people who are much smarter than me had looked at it and said basically the Sage groupthink is wrong, the DH groupthink is wrong, we’ve got to change course. I apologise for not acting earlier and If I had acted earlier then lots of people might still be alive. 

SESSION TWO 

Q – Jeremy Hunt

On March 12 we stopped community testing following very clear Sage advice that when there was sustained community transmission is would no longer be useful. Sage didn’t even model Korean-style test and tracing until May, so why was there such a long delay?

Fundamentally it goes back to what we discussed in the previous session. The logic was that if you were going for herd immunity for September, you wouldn’t take testing as an urgent priority. 

That’s why the Department of Health said in that week that we didn’t need to test anybody any more. The view was that 60/70% of the country are going to get it, that’s going to happen for sure, so why would you bother testing people. 

No one challenged that idea strongly until we challenged it strongly during the shift to Plan B. 

The core of the Government kind of collapsed when the Prime Minister got ill himself, because he’s suddenly gone and then people are literally thinking that he might die. 

By the time I came back on April 13 we had this terrible situation where Alex Cooper (senior civil servant) and his team were trying to build a whole new test and trace system. In my view disastrously, the Secretary of State had made – when the PM was on his near deathbed – this pledge to do 100,000 tests by the end of April. This was an incredibly stupid thing to do because we had already had this conversation internally… that we wanted to head to a million tests a day or more. 

What happened when I got back on the 13th was I was getting calls saying Hancock was interfering in the building of the test and trace system because he he’s telling everybody what to do to maximise his chances of hitting his stupid target by the end of the month. So we had half the government calling around frantically saying ‘Do not do what Hancock says, do the thing properly for the medium term’. Then we Hancock calling them all saying ‘Down tools on this, do this, hold tests back so I can hit my target’. In my opinion he should have been fired for that alone. 

So the whole of April was hugely disrupted by different parts of Whitehall trying to operate in different ways purely because Hancock wanted to go on TV and say ‘Look at me and my 100k target’. It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.  

That was one of the reasons why the Cabinet Secretary and I agreed that we had to take testing away from Hancock and put it in a separate agency.    

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