Boris Johnson failed to take the threat of Covid-19 seriously and took a series of “disastrous” decisions that resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths, his former aide Dominic Cummings has claimed.
In a sensational seven hour House of Commons appearance, Mr Cummings was scathing about his former boss, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the UK civil service and the nation’s top scientists.
The former adviser told MPs that Number 10 “didn’t act like Covid was the most important thing in February, never mind in January”, adding that “lots of key people were literally skiing” in February.
Mr Cummings claimed the prime minister had initially dismissed Covid as a “scare story” and said the UK had been too slow to lockdown.
“Tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die,” said Mr Cummings.
Appearing before the science committee, Mr Cummings apologised to the public, saying that ministers, officials and advisers had fallen “disastrously short” of the standards they should expect in a crisis.
Mr Cummings, who left government after a behind-the-scenes power struggle in November, 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.”
He added: “It’s obvious that the western world, including Britain, just completely failed to see the smoke and to hear the alarm bells in January, there’s no doubt about it.”
Mr Cummings told MPs Whitehall made a series of wrong assumptions in the planning of the pandemic.
He said: “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, to 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’.”
The aide said he warned Mr Johnson on March 12 that there were “big problems coming” if self-isolation measures were not announced immediately.
He said he told the prime minister: “We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly sh*t. 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 Donald Trump and a “trivial” story in the Times newspaper about Boris Johnson, his fiancée Carrie Symonds and their dog.
He said: “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 it was “completely crackers” that Boris Johnson was in charge and that thousands of people in the country could provide better leadership than the prime minister.
He said the fact that the public had to choose between Mr Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 election meant it was clear that the electoral system had “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,” he said.
“And there’s obviously something terribly wrong with the political parties if that’s the best that they can do.”
He also said that “in any sensible, rational government” he would have not had the power he did.
“It is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position in my personal opinion,” he said.
“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.
“The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again.”
Asked if he thought Mr Johnson was a “fit and proper person” to get the UK through the pandemic, Mr Cummings replied: “No.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, responding to the evidence session, said: “We know the Prime Minister has made a series of catastrophic errors throughout this crisis. He went on holiday when he should have been leading efforts to tackle the pandemic; he was too slow to go into lockdown; he failed to secure our borders and he sent millions of people back to the office prematurely.
“There is no doubt that these mistakes cost many thousands of lives.
“The evidence we have heard is extraordinary but sadly not surprising. It paints a familiar pattern of behaviour – a negligent prime minister more concerned with his own self-interest than the interests of the country he governs.”