He was once British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s right-hand man and a key architect of the drive to get Britain out of the European Union. But Dominic Cummings has turned on his former boss with a vengeance, and on Wednesday he unloaded a blistering attack, claiming Mr. Johnson was unfit for office and that his handling of the pandemic has cost tens of thousands of lives.
During more than seven hours of testimony before a parliamentary committee, Mr. Cummings painted a bleak picture of Mr. Johnson’s conduct throughout the pandemic. He said the Prime Minister “changed his mind 10 times a day,” ignored scientific advice and was initially so unconcerned about COVID-19 that he considered going on television and being injected with the virus to demonstrate to the public that “it’s nothing to worry about.”
“Fundamentally the Prime Minister didn’t think this was the big danger,” Mr. Cummings told the joint meeting of the House of Commons science and technology committee and the health and social care committee.
Mr. Cummings added that Mr. Johnson behaved “like a shopping trolley,” swinging from one policy idea to another, and became so enraged at the prospect of introducing another lockdown last fall that he said he’d rather see “bodies pile high” than impose restrictions.
“The whole thing just seemed like an out-of-control movie,” Mr. Cummings told the committee. “Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die.”
Mr. Johnson did not directly address the criticisms on Wednesday but he defended the government’s actions. “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,” he told the House of Commons. “We have at every stage tried to minimize loss of life, to save lives, to protect the [National Health Service] and we have followed the best scientific advice.”
The Prime Minister has previously come under fire for the government’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 127,000 people in Britain – one of the highest death tolls in Europe. But this was the first time a key insider, and onetime loyalist, had offered such an extensive look at how decisions were made.
Mr. Cummings is a flawed whistle-blower and he has made plenty of enemies among parliamentarians over the years.
He gained notoriety in 2016 for directing the successful Vote Leave campaign during the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union. Mr. Johnson co-chaired the campaign and when he became prime minister in July, 2019, he hired Mr. Cummings as a senior adviser, a controversial choice that ruffled many moderate Conservatives. Together they rammed Brexit legislation through Parliament and led the Tories to a thumping majority in the December, 2019, election.
Mr. Cummings earned a reputation as an abrasive manager who clashed with senior bureaucrats, Tory backbenchers, journalists and the Prime Minister’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds. He resigned last November after falling out with Mr. Johnson over the pandemic and other issues. By October, “I regarded him as unfit for the job,” Mr. Cummings told the committee.
Since his resignation, Mr. Cummings has posted bitter attacks on Mr. Johnson in a blog and on social media. During the hearing, several members of Parliament peppered Mr. Cummings about his resentments and his actions during the pandemic, which included ignoring lockdown rules in April, 2020, by travelling to Durham from London to see his parents.
Mr. Cummings acknowledged his failings and apologized for the trip, which caused a public outcry at the time. He said he and other advisers were the victims of “groupthink” that led to bad decisions. “The truth is that senior officials, senior advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect,” he said.
He insisted that by early March he had become convinced by outside experts that Mr. Johnson’s COVID-19 strategy was dangerous. At that time, he said, the government did not believe the British public would tolerate a lockdown, and thought it was better to effectively let the virus rip in order to achieve herd immunity as quickly as possible. It was only after Mr. Cummings and others convinced Mr. Johnson that the strategy could lead to 250,000 deaths that the Prime Minister agreed to a national lockdown on March 23, which lasted until June.
Mr. Cummings insisted that he had come forward so that MPs and the public could learn lessons from the pandemic. “The scale of the disaster is so big that people need to understand how the government failed them,” he said.