The Prime Minister has come out fighting against Dominic Cummings’ claims that ‘don’t bear any relation to reality’. But as usual in Westminster, a lot of specific, detailed questions remain unanswered in full. We take you through the biggest ones
Boris Johnson has come out fighting today against Dominic Cummings’ claims he is “unfit for office”.
The Prime Minister said “I don’t think” it’s true that, in his former aide’s words, “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die”.
And he said “some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality”.
Matt Hancock also hit back at claims he repeatedly lied, saying: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true. I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”
But both the Tory leader and the Health Secretary have ducked and dived around addressing actual, specific allegations made by Cummings.
Tonight Mr Hancock was evasive over when, exactly, he promised to scale up tests for the thousands of frail, vulnerable Brits flooding into care homes.
And that is crucial – because the virus was “seeded” into care homes last Spring, contributing to a death toll that stands in the tens of thousands.
Layla Moran, chair of the all-party Parliamentary group on Covid, added: “Bereaved families and NHS workers on the frontline are desperate for answers about what went wrong during the pandemic.
“Instead all they got from Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock today were more attempts to duck scrutiny for the catastrophic errors that happened under their watch.”
So what questions are still unanswered in detail? We take a look at some areas where the nation needs some had evidence…
Why didn’t you act sooner with a first lockdown?
It’s well-known Boris Johnson made a huge U-turn and finally imposed lockdown on March 23, after several days of pressure.
Today he defended that decision, saying “we take decisions as fast as we can” but “we’ve followed to the best we can the data and the guidance we’ve had”.
Asked if tens of thousands of people died needlessly, he added: “No, I don’t think so. But of course, this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions.”
His answers, promising to follow the data, have long been his line. But they don’t account for the new evidence presented by his former aide.
Dominic Cummings said Helen Macnamara, one of Whitehall’s top civil servants, warned back on March 13 “I think we are going to kill thousands of people.” And he said he himself warned the PM on March 14 “you are going to have to lock down”.
We also already knew Imperial College predicted 250,000 to 500,000 deaths on March 16 – yet full lockdown took another week. Who is accountable for that?
Why didn’t you act sooner with a second lockdown?
It was also well-known that the Prime Minister rejected public calls for a second lockdown for more than a month, until finally imposing it on October 31.
Asked why the delay, the PM’s spokesman said today: “We are guided by the latest scientific advice throughout.
“It is the PM’s job and that of the Cabinet to take that advice and put it alongside wider implications of measures such as lockdowns and consider the longer-term impact of those measures. That’s what the PM did.”
But Dominic Cummings paints an utterly different picture of a PM obsessed ideologically with not locking down, and taking his lines from anti-lockdown newspapers.
He says the PM complained “I should have been the mayor of Jaws [who kept the beaches open], now I’m going to be, open everything up, get on with it.”
It’s also worth noting that SAGE recommended a shortlist of options including a two-week lockdown in September, more than a month before one happened.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Who promised what about tests in care homes – and why were patients allowed to arrive without them?
Matt Hancock tonight gave a new account of what happened in that crucial month last year, when arrivals from hospitals to care homes weren’t routinely tested.
That allowed elderly and frail people to “seed” the virus into care homes, contributing to a heartbreaking death toll.
The Health Secretary said his ‘recollection’ was that he DID promise there would be tests for new residents. But he claimed he only pledged them “when we could do it” – no deadline.
Cummings’ claims were very different: “Hancock told us in the Cabinet room that people were going to be tested in care homes. What the hell happened?
“It was only in April after the Prime Minister and I had both ourselves been ill that we realised that what we were told never did happen, or only happened very partially and sporadically”.
Boris Johnson today admitted “of course what happened in care homes was tragic”. But the question remains: Why did ministers sign off a plan to discharge thousands of patents from hospitals to care homes – without Covid tests?
Why were there no proper plans for a Covid pandemic or a lockdown?
Cummings gave a litany of evidence claiming there was simply no adequate plan for a Covid.
He quoted third-hand top official Mark Sweeney as saying: “I’ve been told for years there is a whole plan for this. There is no plan. We’re in huge trouble.”
“We had to adjust in order to deal with a new situation,” the Cabinet Office minister told the Public Administration Committee.
But asked if the Cabinet Office was “terrifyingly s***”, as Cummings claimed, he replied: “No.”
It’s not been disputed that the plans for a pandemic weren’t up to scratch. The big question for a public inquiry will be: Why?
Which of Dominic Cummings’ claims are you actually saying are untrue?
Mr Cummings claimed the PM was consistently anti-lockdown, ignored scientific advice and failed to take Covid seriously.
MPs heard No10 was warned the UK was “absolutely f****d” as Mr Johnson dragged his feet over bringing in the first lockdown last year.
Over seven hours of evidence, he painted a picture of a chaotic and dysfunctional Downing Street in denial over the scale of the disaster ahead.
Today Mr Johnson claimed “some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality”.
But in a classic tactic, he didn’t actually say which bits of Cummings’ claims he thinks are wrong. Asked if he was arguing with the facts as presented he said: “I make no comment on that.”
PRU/AFP via Getty Images)
Did you believe Cummings was trustworthy when you gave him a top job?
Boris Johnson today appeared to cast doubt on Cummings’ claims as not bearing “any relation to reality”.
Which begs the question – if he thinks Cummings is a fantasist, why did he give him a £140,000-a-year job at the top of Downing Street?
Asked if he regarded Cummings as trustworthy and honest when in post, the PM’s spokesman said today: “The Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings worked together for a number of months. I haven’t asked him that specific question.”
No answer, then.
Did you ever say Covid was a ‘scare story’, or words to that effect?
Mr Cummings made eyebrow-raising claims about Boris Johnson’s dismissal of Covid at the start of the pandemic.
He argued it would not have been helpful for his boss to attend emergency COBRA meetings in February – five of which he missed – because of his attitude.
“The basic thought was that in February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story,” said Mr Cummings. “He described it as the new swine flu.”
Is this true or false?
Did you ever joke about being injected with Covid on TV?
Mr Cummings told MPs: “The view of various officials inside No10 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 planning.”
It was unclear whether the former aide was actually accusing Mr Johnson of saying he’d get injected with Covid, or just speculating that he could say it.
If he did say it, that would put his utterances in league with the sort we saw from Donald Trump.
Did you tell aides you should never have imposed the first lockdown?
Mr Cummings told MPs that last summer, “he was back to ‘lockdown was all a terrible mistake, I should have 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 comment was flippant but demands an answer. Did the PM seriously believe he should never have imposed the first lockdown, despite the lives it saved?
Will you change your denial of the ‘bodies piled high’ comments?
Boris Johnson told the House of Commons, on the record, that he did not claim he’d rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third lockdown, or words to that effect.
When Keir Starmer last asked him, he fumed: “If he is going to repeat allegations like that, he should come to this House and substantiate those allegations and say where he heard them and who exactly is supposed to have said those things.”
Well, now Dominic Cummings has said he DID hear the PM make remarks to that effect in his study – straight after being forced into a second lockdown in October – albeit with some dispute over the wording.
And today the PM was evasive, saying “I’ve already made my position very clear on that point” and “I make no comment on that.”
If he won’t deny making the comments again, it begs the question: Did he lie to Parliament when he denied making them before?
Did you, or did you not, rant that Covid was ‘only killing 80-year-olds’?
The PM was accused of dismissing Covid as “only” killing 80-year-olds last autumn, when he was resisting calls for a second national lockdown.
A government source told the Mirror he added: “If I was 80 I wouldn’t care, I’d be more worried about the economy”.
Mr Johnson dodged questions from Keir Starmer at PMQs on Wednesday over whether he’d made the explosive remarks.
Instead he pointed to the circuit breaker in Wales, which he said “didn’t work”. He added: “I’m absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interest of the British people.”
Did your Cabinet Secretary tell you to fire Matt Hancock?
Dominic Cummings said the Health Secretary should have been sacked for “at least 15 to 20 things” – and claimed others agreed with him.
He told MPs that ex-civil service boss Sir Mark Sedwill had joined him in personally urging the PM to fire Mr Hancock last year.
Mr Cummings claimed the top mandarin said he had lost confidence in Mr Hancock after he tried to blame blockages in PPE supplies on the Chancellor and NHS boss Simon Stevens.
He said Sir Mark would back him up, who he said told the PM “the British system is not set up to deal with a Secretary of State who repeatedly lies in meetings”.
No10 refused to address the allegation but insisted Boris Johnson has full confidence in his Health Secretary.
Were you advised to say Brits should have ‘chicken pox parties’ to catch Covid?
The Prime Minister was supposedly told by Sir Mark Sedwill to urge people to mingle so they could catch the virus.
Mr Cummings claimed the-then Cabinet Secretary told the PM on March 12 “you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity 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’.
Mr Cummings said he told the top mandarin to stop using the analogy.
This is a serious question for the government machinery as a whole, but it is one the PM can answer.
Downing Street said it was not aware of any communication with the former Cabinet Secretary over whether he was allowed to speak publicly to deny the claims.
Has Carrie Symonds tried to fill No10 jobs with her friends?
Dominic Cummings lashed out at the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, accusing her of “illegal” acts to install her friends in Government positions.
Ms Symonds, a former Tory director of communications, was thought to have played a key role in ousting Mr Cummings from No10 last year.
Mr Cummings said his departure 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 was also clearly illegal.”
The PM’s spokesman said: “All appointments made in No 10 are done in the normal way, that’s always been the case.” But the specific claims were not addressed in a press briefing today.
Do you change your mind based on what the Daily Telegraph says?
Boris Johnson was painted as being obsessed with the media and allowing the attitudes of right wing newspapers to shape his lockdown decisions.
Mr Cummings told MPs the PM was a “communications disaster zone” who was changing his mind “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the island to the other”.
He added: “You cannot keep changing your mind every time the Telegraph writes an editorial on the subject”
Asked if the PM’s position on lockdowns was influenced by the Telegraph leader columns, the PM’s spokesman said: “At all times the decisions made by the PM were guided by the latest scientific advice balanced by wider implications of things like people’s long-term health, lives and livelihoods.”
Why don’t you have any regrets for standing by Cummings’ lockdown trip?
The PM backed his former aide during the furore over his infamous lockdown-busting trip to Durham.
Mr Cummings admitted to MPs it had been a “complete disaster” for the Government and Covid policy but tried to give a new excuse that he had made the 300-mile trip due to security threats.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister stood by his support for Mr Cummings, despite the explosive breakdown in their relationship.
Asked if he regretted standing by him over the trip, the spokesman said: “His words on that incident are on the record and we stand by them.”