Covid Inquiry LIVE: Dominic Cummings says handling of Barnard Castle by Downing Street was 'absolute car crash'

Covid Inquiry LIVE: Dominic Cummings says handling of Barnard Castle by Downing Street was 'absolute car crash'

Dominic Cummings said that Downing Street's handling of the fallout from his trip to Barnard Castle was an "absolute car crash" and "did cause a lot of people pain".

He was quizzed on the high-profile controversy and the impact it had on confidence in the Government during his appearance at the Covid inquiry.

He said: "It was certainly a disaster, the whole handling of the situation. But there were other factors involved with it all as well - testing and PPE and many other things were all going haywire at the time."

He said it was "completely reasonable" for security reasons to move his family out of his house, but on the Barnard Castle revelations he said the way it was "handled it was an absolute car crash and disaster and did cause a lot of people pain".

But he added: "In terms of my actual actions in going north and then coming back down I acted entirely reasonably and legally and did not break any rules."

Earlier he told the inquiry vulnerable groups such as family violence victims and children in care were "appallingly neglected" during the pandemic.

WhatsApp messages showed how Mr Cummings had texted the then-Prime Minister to say that Matt Hancock, who was Health Secretary at the time, had "lied his way through this and killed people'.Meanwhile, Boris Johnson argued that the government should let older people get coronavirus to protect the rest of society from the damaging impact of a lockdown, the inquiry heard earlier.

Follow latest updates below

What's happening today?

Tuesday 31 October 2023 08:17 , Miriam Burrell

Good morning.

Lee Cain will be first to give evidence to the inquiry from 10am, followed by Dominic Cummings for the rest of today.

10:00 am

  • Lee Cain (Former Director of Communications at No. 10)

  • Dominic Cummings (Former Adviser to the Prime Minister)

2:00 pm

  • Dominic Cummings (Former Adviser to the Prime Minister)

Who is Lee Cain?

Tuesday 31 October 2023 08:24 , Miriam Burrell

The former director of communications at Downing Street resigned at the end of 2020.

He and Dominic Cummings had worked together on the 2016 EU referendum campaign fronted by Boris Johnson and were regarded as close political allies.

After the Brexit referendum, he worked as a special adviser for Mr Johnson at the Foreign Office.

When Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, Mr Cain became his head of communications.

The former prime minister said Mr Cain was a "good friend and ally" when Mr Cain resigned.

He resigned just hours after he was offered to be Mr Johnson's then chief of staff, which he turned down after "careful consideration".

Read more on Lee Cain here.


Who is Dominic Cummings?

Tuesday 31 October 2023 08:32 , Miriam Burrell

Dominic Cummings was Boris Johnson's chief adviser during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He became well known to the public when it emerged he had driven to County Durham beauty spot barnard Castle during the first lockdown.

Martin Reynolds, who gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday, said Mr Cummings was "the most empowered chief of staff Downing Street has seen" and brought an "unusual dynamic" to Number 10.

Mr Cummings is already on the record being fiercely critical of Mr Johnson's approach to the pandemic, not least his reluctance to sign off a second nationwide lockdown in late 2020.

It is being reported that sexist messages allegedly sent by Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson are set to become public at the inquiry this week.

He left Downing Street in November 2020 after a dispute with Mr Johnson.

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

Pictured: Dominic Cummings arrives at Inquiry

Tuesday 31 October 2023 08:42 , Miriam Burrell

Dominic Cummings has arrived to give a statement to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London.

 (James Manning/PA Wire)
(James Manning/PA Wire)

Boris Johnson and aides sought 'to blow up' No10

Tuesday 31 October 2023 08:59 , Miriam Burrell

Boris Johnson’s No10 try to “blow up” the British way of running the Civil Service during the Covid pandemic, a former health minister said on Tuesday.

Lord Bethell claimed there was a “power grab from the centre” and an attempt for “every decision” to be made in Downing Street by a small group of people hand-picked by the Prime Minister and his top aide Dominic Cummings.

The peer explained how he saw Government was being run during those chaotic times.

He told Times Radio: “What I did see was an attitude that had no fact was seeking to blow up the British way of doing the Civil Service, of blowing up the procedural, bureaucratic, empirical approach and to replace it with a power grab from the centre.

“This was an explicit plan that Dom Cummings and others have talked about in a specific way and it took the form of trying to turn their back on the processes around COBRA, submissions, red boxes, and all of that and instead trying to make every decision within Downing Street by a very small group of people who were hand picked by Boris and by Dom."

What happened at the inquiry yesterday?

Tuesday 31 October 2023 09:20 , Miriam Burrell

The senior aide who arranged the bring-your-own-booze garden party during coronavirus restrictions apologised “unreservedly” duringhis appearance at the Covid-19 Inquiry yesterday.

Former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds said: “I would first like to say how deeply sorry I am for my part in those events and for the email message which went out that day.

“And I would like to apologise unreservedly to all the families of all those who suffered during Covid for all the distress caused.”

Read more about what Mr Reynolds told the inquiry here.

Martin Reynolds (PA Wire)
Martin Reynolds (PA Wire)

Covid-19 Inquiry set to begin

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:00 , Miriam Burrell

Today's Covid-19 Inquiry session will begin shortly, with Lee Cain first to give evidence.


Lee Cain described himself as 'senior adviser' to Johnson

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:09 , Miriam Burrell

Lee Cain is describing his career with Boris Johnson.

He was apppointed director of communications at Downing Street when Mr Johnson became prime minister in July 2019.

He described himself as one of Mr Johnson's "most senior advisers".

He said it was "broadly correct" that he advised Mr Johnson on decisions, not just how they were presented to the public.

UK was 'well prepared' for pandemic, Cain says

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:14 , Miriam Burrell

The UK was "well prepared" for a pandemic and was "one of the best in the world to deal with a pandemic", Lee Cain claimed health officials said at the onset of the pandemic.

The former director of communications told the inquiry at the start of the pandemic Downing Street "was complacent" that work was being done in other departments and No10 did not need to take the lead.

Johnson's two-week holiday in 2020 'wasn't irrational', Cain says

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:21 , Miriam Burrell

Lee Cain was asked about Boris Johnson’s early approach to the pandemic.

At the beginning of 2020 the former prime minister did not attend a series of early COBRA meetings and took a two-week holiday, the inquiry heard.

Mr Cain said Mr Johnson had received assurances that everything was being "well prepared" and the UK was "in a good situation to handle things".

"No one was sending up warning flares to him," he said, adding that Mr Johnson's behaviour "isn't irrational".

He said Mr Johnson was worried about the Government being caught up in "media hysteria" and causing more harm.

Boris Johnson got assessment of virus 'wrong'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:25 , Miriam Burrell

Lee Cain said that the Government got the assessment of the virus “wrong” before it arrived in the country in early 2020.

Under questioning from counsel to the inquiry Andrew O’Connor KC, Mr Cain said: “I think at first Covid, when we were informed… we were obviously having conversations with the Department of Health.

“So I think it was quite rational at that point to think it was a departmental lead and they would continue to inform us as and when required and when it needed more attention.

“You can see it goes up the agenda in Number 10 as we move through January and into February.

“Clearly we got that assessment wrong, but I think you can see why we made the judgments that we did at the time.”

Government 'had no plan' to deal with pandemic

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:32 , Miriam Burrell

The Government had a strategy but “no plan” to deal with the pandemic in early 2020, Lee Cain has told the inquiry.

Mr Cain said he would not have been challenging “scientific assumptions” at the time.

Dominic Cummings was demanding to see the plans and calling for the Department of Health to provide these plans, the former director of communications said.

“It was probably only Dominic who was forcefully being agitated and kicking the tyres robustly. I don’t think he got a lot of information back.”

Cabinet Office 'terrifyingly sh*t', Boris Johnson says

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:34 , Miriam Burrell

In a WhatsApp message to Lee Cain on March 12 , 2020, Boris Johnson said the Government had "big problems coming" and was "totally behind the pace".

Mr Lee told the inquiry: "There were periods when a lot of the policy was having to be shaped by communication professionals because nobody else was doing it to a very great level."

Mr Cain agreed that the Cabinet Office was "terrifyingly sh*t" at the time, as Boris Johnson said in the WhatsApp message.

Cain: 'Indecision' was a theme inside No10

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:45 , Miriam Burrell

A meeting was held on Saturday March 14, 2020 with Boris Johnson and his advisers at the time, the inquiry heard.

There was a "collective agreement" in the room that a lockdown was "inevitable", Mr Cain's evidence suggests, but it was not announced until Monday March 23 - 10 days later.

Asked if that was a longer period than expected between the meeting and announcement, Mr Cain said: "Yes, but you also have to consider quite a big undertaking to lockdown the entire country."

Mr Cain said Mr Johnson would "oscillate" between a lockdown and another response to the pandemic during this time.

"Indecision" was a theme of Covid that people struggled with inside No10, Mr Cain added.

'I'm exhausted with Boris Johnson' Lee Cain said

Tuesday 31 October 2023 10:54 , Miriam Burrell

"I'm exhausted with him," Lee Cain wrote about Boris Johnson in a WhatsApp message to Dominic Cummings on March 19, 2020.

Mr Cummings was in a meeting with Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, then Chancellor, at the time of the message exchange.

Mr Cummings had asked Mr Cain to "get in here, he's melting down," in apparent reference to Mr Johnson.

"I’ve literally said the same thing 10 f***ing times. He won’t absorb it," Mr Cummings said.

Mr Cain said at that point, said the pandemic was "the wrong crisis" for Mr Johnson's "skillset".

Mr Johnson would "often delay making decisions" and seek counsel from lots of sources, he said.

"If you look at something like Covid you need quick decisions...and not constantly unpick things.

"I felt it was the wrong challenge for him mostly."

Watch: Cain says Johnson 'should have done more'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 11:03 , Miriam Burrell

Watch Lee Cain give evidence to Andrew O’Connor KC.

Protesters gather outside inquiry

Tuesday 31 October 2023 11:07 , Miriam Burrell

As Lee Cain gives evidence this morning protesters have gathered outside.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Inquiry takes a break

Tuesday 31 October 2023 11:18 , Miriam Burrell

The Covid-19 Inquiry has paused for 15 minutes.

Cain: Decision makers were 'white and middle aged'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 11:40 , Miriam Burrell

The inquiry has resumed and Lee Cain's statement on a lack of diversity among decision makers during the pandemic is being discussed.

The former director of communications said law makers were often "white and middle aged" and he feared without diversity, some policies "had slipped through the cracks".

He pushed for "bubbles" for families that had split, for example, to deal with lockdowns.

He said diversity would have improved "policy making".

'Tension' arose between aides over easing of lockdown

Tuesday 31 October 2023 11:48 , Miriam Burrell

Lee Cain's statement described how a tension rose in the summer of 2020, following the initial lockdown, between advisers who wanted to take a slow and cautious approach to easing the lockdown, compared with others who wanted to get out of lockdown much more quickly.

Mr Cain said getting out of lockdown quickly was favoured by right-wing politicians and right-wing newspapers, but the general public mood was to be cautious.

"It was incredibly clear we were certainly having to do supressoin measures again," he said.

"Government seemed to be on its own demanding people go to work" when research showed that people wanted to be cautious, Mr Cain added.

Boris Johnson didn't implement lessons from first lockdown, Cain says

Tuesday 31 October 2023 11:54 , Miriam Burrell

Boris Johnson was indecisive about whether or not to put the UK back into another lockdown after the summer of 2020, Lee Cain has told the inquiry.

His indecision was "most pronounced" over these months because "he did not want to do harder measures" but most of the advisory team "knew it was an inevitability", Mr Cain said.

He said errors made at the start of the year - invcluding indecision, denial and delays - could be forgiven but he felt Mr Johnson was then repeating them.

"There’s a real frustration that we weren’t just gripping things," he said, adding that he vented these frustrations to Mr Johnson.

Johnson: Data showed 'we don't go for nationwide lockdown'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:13 , Miriam Burrell

In a message to Lee Cain the former Prime Minister said that the "median" age of Covid fatalities was 82 and this was above average life expectancy.

"So get Covid and live longer," Mr Johnson said in a message sated October 15, 2020.

He added that the data showed "we don't go for nation wide lockdown".

 (Covid-19 Inquiry)
(Covid-19 Inquiry)

Cummings said Matt Hancock was 'proven liar'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:15 , Miriam Burrell

Dominic Cummings told Boris Johnson his Cabinet ministers were “useless f*******” and criticised then-health secretary Matt Hancock as a “proven liar”, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

Calling for a reshuffle, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser said in a WhatsApp message in August 2020: “At the moment the bubble thinks youve taken your eye off ball, you’re happy to have useless f******* in charge, and they think that a vast amount of the chaotic news on the front pages is coming from no10 when in fact it’s coming from the Cabinet who are feral – if you maintain your approach of last few months, your authority will be severely weakened and you will lose good people cos (sic) they dont want to be part of something that looks like mayhem.”

Mr Cummings added: “I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or shd (sic) believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the c*** in charge of NHS still.”

Dominic Cummings gives evidence

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:25 , Miriam Burrell

Dominic Cummings is now giving evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry.

Dominic Cummings stands by comments that Cabinet was 'useless'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:30 , Miriam Burrell

Dominic Cummings referred to Cabinet ministers as "useless" and used many profanities to describe them in WhatsApp messages during 2020.

He has told the inquiry that his views were widespread about the "calibre of people dealing with the crisis extremely badly".

Cummings says Johnson to blame for 'wrong people' in Cabinet

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:39 , Miriam Burrell

Boris Johnson was to blame for "the wrong people" remaining in Cabinet Office during the time of the pandemic, Dominic Cummings has told the inquiry.

There was a culture of hiding scrutiny among top officials and management "was bad and bloated", he said.

Cummings apologies for 'apalling' language about Cabinet ministers

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:46 , Miriam Burrell

Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, said “we’re going to have to coarsen our language somewhat” as he read out some of the terms used by Mr Cummings in WhatsApp and email messages, including “useless f*******, morons, c****.”

“I apologise,” Mr Cummings said.

He conceded his language was “appalling”, but said his “judgment of a lot of senior people was widespread”.

Pressed on whether his opinion of the Cabinet overstated the position, the former key aide said: “No, I would say, if anything, it understated the position as events showed in 2020.”

Cummings controlled papers seen by Johnson

Tuesday 31 October 2023 12:51 , Miriam Burrell

Dominic Cummings sent an email to Downing Street staff that "too much time" had been wasted in "crap meetings", the inquiry heard.

He said no documents relating to Covid-19 should be sent to then prime minister Boris Johnson unless it was seen first by advisers Tom Shinner or Dominic Cummings.

"We must start cancelling meetings," Mr Cummings said in the meeting.

'Overall widespread failure' in 'dysfunctional' Government

Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:05 , Miriam Burrell

There was "overall widspread failure" within a "dysfunctional" Government, Dominic Cummings has told the inquiry, but there were "pockets of excellent people".

Boris Johnson's former top aide's scathing review of the Government at the time of the pandemic was summarised to the inquiry.

It said the Cabinet Office was "not good for anyone", and "blame games" and "bloating" riddled the "low performing entity".

When asked if there was any part of the Government machine where he did not find fault, Mr Cummings said he spoke to the British special forces in the summer of 2020.

Cummings says Cabinet Office was 'bomb site'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:32 , Matt Watts

Dominic Cummings described the Cabinet Office as a “bomb site” and a “dumpster fire” when he took up his role as adviser to Boris Johnson, in his evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

'Overall dysfunctional system' was in place in Government during Covid, says Cummings

Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:33 , Matt Watts

Dominic Cummings said an “overall dysfunctional system” was in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Asked if there was any part of the Government machine in which he “did not find fault”, Mr Cummings replied: “In the summer of 2020 I spent a lot of time talking to special forces and I found that they were exceptional.”

After Mr Keith told him to focus on the structure in place that was dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Cummings said: “I would say, overall, it’s widespread failure but pockets of excellent people and pockets of excellent teams doing excellent work within an overall dysfunctional system.”

Everyone in Downing Street called Boris Johnson a 'trolley'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:34 , Matt Watts

Everyone in Downing Street called Boris Johnson a “trolley”, his former chief adviser has said.

Dominic Cummings replied affirmatively when lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry Hugo Keith KC asked whether the term was used by officials to describe the then-prime minister’s propensity to change direction.

“Pretty much everyone called him a trolley, yeah,” Mr Cummings said.

The former aide also called post-meeting interventions to undermine his advice “pop-ins”.

Mr Cummings told the inquiry: “Pop-ins are what people in the private office referred to when the prime minister would make a decision about something.

“Some elements of the system, often the Cabinet Office would not like what had been agreed.

“And in the best Sir Humphrey Yes Minister style, they would wait for me and other people to not be around the prime minister and they would pop in to see the prime minister and say: ‘Dear Prime Minister, I think that this decision really wasn’t the best idea, very brave prime minister. Perhaps you should trolley on it’.”

Johnson's attitude to older people in Covid like being 'punched in the stomach'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:45 , Matt Watts

Brenda Doherty, whose mother died aged 82 in March 2020 after contracting Covid-19 in hospital, said reading comments made by Boris Johnson about older people in the pandemic was like being “punched in the stomach”.

Speaking as part of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK campaign group, she accused the former prime minister of having had a “callous and brutal attitude”.

She said: “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach after reading Boris Johnson’s messages this morning.

“They are psychotic.”

She added: “He clearly didn’t see people like my mum as human beings, and thousands others died unnecessarily after the same mistakes were repeated because of Johnson’s callous and brutal attitude.

“I’d do anything to spend another day with my mum, and now we know that we might have had years and years together if only the country had a more humane prime minister when the pandemic struck.”

Entries from the diary of Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, revealed to the inquiry from Boris Johnson argued that the government should let older people get coronavirus to protect the rest of society from the damaging impact of a lockdown, the Covid inquiry has heard.

Inquiry to resume shortly with more evidence from Dominc Cummings

Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:47 , Matt Watts

The inquiry has broken for lunch but is due to resume shortly.

Dominic Cummings continues his evidence

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:01 , Matt Watts

The inquiry has resumed with Dominic Cummings continuing his evidence.

Cabinet Office were 'looking at each other like the Spiderman meme'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:02 , Matt Watts

Dominic Cummings told the inquiry people in the Cabinet Office were “looking at each other like the Spiderman meme” when asked whether papers were blocked from reaching Boris Johnson without going through him first during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Cummings said: “Essentially what I was trying to do here was say there has to be someone who actually takes responsibility for saying that they and the team have checked the information and we are certifying that it’s accurate, so that we could get away from these nightmare meetings that we’ve had all the way through the previous few weeks of documents coming up, people saying this is wrong, this is out-of-date, everyone looking at each other like the Spiderman meme, not being clear who was actually responsible.

“So I was trying to say… establish a proper structure for this with someone who everybody respected.”

PM 'preferred to be in his study' instead of attend emergency Cobra meetings

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:05 , Matt Watts

Boris Johnson “preferred to be in his study” over attending emergency Cobra meetings on Covid-19, Dominic Cummings has said.

The then-prime minister “wasn’t enormously keen” on Cobra, his former chief adviser told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Asked by inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC whether Mr Johnson was averse to attending the meeting because of its physical location, Mr Cummings said: “It’s hard to say. I mean, he certainly preferred to be in his study and he didn’t like going to Cobra.”

The former top aide also said Cobra, usually used to deal with “relatively small things like floods, like a terrorist attack with five people getting killed”, “just didn’t scale” to the coronavirus crisis, which was “much more on the scale of a war”.

Save the Children says Lee Cain admissions 'striking'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:16 , Miriam Burrell

It is "striking" to hear the Government did not understand the impact the pandemic had on families when making key decisions, a leading children's charity has said.

Earlier today the inquiry heard ex Communications Director Lee Cain admit there should have been more diversity reflected in decision making and there was “a lack of understanding of what families were potentially going through at that time”.

Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children, said: “It is striking to hear Lee Cain admit today that the UK government did not understand the impact of Covid-19 on families.“

It has been clear to us for some time that decisions to impose such strict rules on children in England were not evidence based, and we did not have the right structures and systems in place to make good decisions.

"That’s why we’ve made clear recommendations so that next time there is a crisis, politicians can make better decisions which help rather than harm children."

No10 'completely unsuitable' for handling crisis

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:18 , Miriam Burrell

No 10 “is not configured to be the nerve centre of a national crisis like Covid,” Dominic Cummings has said.

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry No 10 was “completely unsuitable” for handling the crisis “in every way”, including “in terms of the physical layout and the lack of proper rooms that you would have for a crisis centre, in terms of the personnel, in terms of the power”, which was held “almost entirely in the Cabinet Office”.

Mr Cummings told the inquiry the Government’s pandemic response improved once the Covid taskforce was created.

“That brought in a lot more clarity,” he said. “But certainly until we did that, it was extremely chaotic."

A refresh: Who is Dominic Cummings?

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:23 , Miriam Burrell

If you're just joining us, Dominic Cummings began giving evidence to the inquiry just before lunch.

Boris Johnson's former top adviser has been scathing of the Cabinet Office and the "overall dysfunction" of the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read more about Cummings' career and his time at Downing St here.

 (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/AFP via Gett)
(UK Covid-19 Inquiry/AFP via Gett)

Vulnerable groups 'appallingly neglected' during pandemic

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:35 , Miriam Burrell

Vulnerable groups who were affected by a nationwide lockdown, such as family violence victims and children in care, were "appallingly neglected", Dominic Cummings has suggested.

He told the inquiry "the entire question" around vulnerable groups during the pandemic was "entirely appallingly neglected by the planning system".

At-risk groups include minority ethnic communities and those in socio-economic depravation.

Mr Cummings added: "There was a brilliant young woman in No10...who raised warnings about wives who had been abused and children in care and I don’t think the system every properly listened to her."

'Hardcore' border control should have been enforced, Cummings says

Tuesday 31 October 2023 14:44 , Miriam Burrell

The UK should have immediately stopped flights to China at the end of 2019 or early 2020 and had a "hardcore system" at the border while ramping up testing infrastrucure and manufacturing, Dominic Cummings said.

He said the Government should have imposed an "actual serious border control in this country for first time ever" along with testing and tracing.

If you "put all those things together...then in retrospect that would have been a much better approach" to reduce deaths and the impact to the economy, Mr Cummings said.

Virus 'will sweep the world' Cummings told in February 2020

Tuesday 31 October 2023 15:05 , Miriam Burrell

In early February 2020 Dominic Cummings sent a message to a WhatsApp group saying that the chief scientist told him the virus is "probably out of control and will sweep the world".

When aksed why Mr Cummings did not relay this information to Boris Johnson, he said scientists "weren't banging alarm bells" about it and everything seemed "murky and in the future".

Mr Cummings told the inquiry that the Government did not believe the pandemic would arrive in the UK until months after that.

Covid was not seen as 'imminent crisis' by senior officials

Tuesday 31 October 2023 15:40 , Sami Quadri

Dominic Cummings said it was “pretty insane” many senior government officials including Boris Johnson went on holiday in February 2020 half term.

Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that the coronavirus was not seen by senior people as an “imminent crisis” at the time but as “quite a distant problem”.

Challenged by inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC over how it was not regarded as a crisis when the virus had exploded in Italy and there were cases in the UK, Mr Cummings said: “Your fundamental point is obviously correct that there was indeed a massive crisis. It was indeed pretty insane that so many of the senior people were away on holiday at that time.”

But, he said, those in charge were not “beating the drum and saying ‘we’ve got to get the PM back'”.

Asked why he did not push for Mr Johnson to return to Downing Street to deal with the crisis, his former top aide said it would have been “counter-productive”.

“I thought he would have said to everybody what he thought at the time, which was ‘this is another swine flu, it’s all another rubbish media hoax’.”

Cummings described Hancock as a 'know nothing on comms'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 15:41 , Sami Quadri

Dominic Cummings described former health secretary Matt Hancock as a “know nothing on comms” just before Covid-19 hit the UK, the inquiry heard.

In a message to Boris Johnson on February 28 2020, Mr Cummings said: “Hancock is a know nothing on comms and he’s totally failed viz the corona comms team such that I am having to convene meetings to sort shit out this afternoon.”

Decision to allow mass gatherings amid virus fears was based on 'twisted logic', says Cummings

Tuesday 31 October 2023 15:53 , Sami Quadri

Dominic Cummings said that there was a “twisted logic” to allowing mass gatherings that spoke to the lack of preparedness for a lockdown in March 2020.

He was asked about the decision to allow the Cheltenham Festival meeting to go ahead, despite fears about the spread of the virus at that time.

Asked if warnings from health officials about the virus prompted a reconsideration of allowing such gatherings, he told the inquiry: “What the PM was actually told at that time was ‘if you banned mass events PM then people will just go pubs instead and that will be even worse’.

“Of course now the obvious question is why are they all going to pubs. But remember, there was no plan for lockdown on the 9th and the 10th of March.

“There was no plan for stopping all of these things.

“So if you’re not going to close pubs, then you can see the kind of twisted logic of ‘well don’t stop things like Cheltenham or football matches and everything else’.”

Hancock 'sowed chaos' by spreading 'factually wrong' statements during pandemic

Tuesday 31 October 2023 16:04 , Sami Quadri

Matt Hancock “sowed chaos” by continuing to insist in March 2020 that people without symptoms of a dry cough and a temperature were unlikely to be suffering from coronavirus, Dominic Cummings has said.

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser was asked by Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, whether it was understood in Downing Street, despite the then-health secretary’s claims, that there was in fact asymptomatic transmission.

Mr Cummings replied: “It was and Mr Hancock had made this point in multiple ways and sowed chaos by saying this.

“He was repeatedly told by Patrick Vallance the what he was saying was wrong. But he kept saying it.

“So this false meme lodged itself in crucial people’s minds. I don’t understand, never understood why Hancock said this. But Patrick Vallance made extremely clear to me and to others in No 10 that what Hancock was saying was factually wrong.”

Cummings warned that NHS could implode 'like a zombie apocalypse film'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 16:12 , Sami Quadri

Dominic Cummings warned Boris Johnson of the NHS imploding “like a zombie apocalypse film”, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard.

Calling for daily meetings on the crisis in the Cabinet room, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser said in a WhatsApp to the then-prime minister on March 12 2020: “The overwhelming danger here is being late and the NHS implodes like zombie apocalypse film – not being a week early.”

Asked about the message, Mr Cummings told the inquiry new NHS data he had seen revealed “that the whole crisis was coming much, much, much faster than we had been told”.

Johnson argued that lockdown would be like 'killing the patient to tackle the tumour'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 16:32 , Sami Quadri

Boris Johnson argued that lockdown would be like “killing the patient to tackle the tumour”, Dominic Cummings claimed as he accused him of dithering over the decision.

Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser was asked about a diary note by an aide, attributed to the then-prime minister, stating: “We’re killing the patient to tackle the tumour. Large ppl (taken to mean large numbers of people) who will die, why are we destroying economy for people who will die anyway soon.”

Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, asked Mr Cummings who made that comment.

“I think it was the PM,” Mr Cummings replied, saying it was a reflection of the debate going on in Downing Street and that the Treasury being “baffled” that “why are we not sticking to” the plan.

Asked whether there was a real problem in getting Mr Johnson to agree to a course of action and to stick to it, Mr Cummings agreed that that “is the nub of it”.

He said: “By the 19th it was totally obvious that there was going to be a lockdown. And my fear then was that if the PM suddenly trolleyed back, then all it would do was cause more needless confusion.”

Inquiry shown disparaging messages Cummings sent about female colleague

Tuesday 31 October 2023 16:44 , Sami Quadri

The Covid-19 inquiry was shown disparaging messages Dominic Cummings sent about then deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara in 2020, in which he said he would “handcuff her and escort her” from Downing Street.

Mr Cummings wrote: “If I have to come back to Helen’s bulls**t with PET – designed to waste huge amounts of my time so I can’t spend it on other stuff – I will personally handcuff her and escort her from the building.

“I don’t care how it’s done but that woman must be out of our hair – we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the British state while dodging stilettos from that c***.”

Dominic Cummings denies misogyny

Tuesday 31 October 2023 17:14 , Jordan King

Dominic Cummings denied he ever acted with "offence and misogyny" in Downing Street.

He was asked by Hugo Keith KC: "Did you treat individuals in Downing Street with offence and misogyny?"

He replied: "Certainly not."

Boris Johnson called Dominic Cumming a 'total and utter liar' over his Barnard Castle trip

Tuesday 31 October 2023 17:16 , Jordan King

Boris Johnson said that Dominic Cummings was a "total and utter liar" after his lockdown trip to Barnard Castle became public.

In messages shared with the Covid inquiry, dated July 19 2021, Mr Johnson said: "Cummings a total and utter liar. He never told me he had gone to Durham during lockdown.

"I only discovered when the stories started to come out about Barnard castle etc. I believed Mary Wakefield when she wrote a piece in spec giving impression they had been in London the whole time.

"He later claimed that he had told me but that my brain was so fogged by Covid that I didn't register.

"It's not true, I would have noted it.

"He never told me. I then tried my very best to defend him."

Dominic Cummings suggested introducing an 'enforcement dashboard' for Covid rules

Tuesday 31 October 2023 17:47 , Jordan King

Mr Cummings posted on the Number 10 WhatsApp group to say an "enforcement dashboard" should be introduced to measure how many people were obiding by Covid rules.

In the message dated October 15, 2020, he said: "We should start an enforcement dashboard as part of Covid reporting.

"I've harped on but it's killing us. How do you justify ever more Potemkin laws that aren't obeyed?

"At what point do people reasonable say f*** this, I'm the idiot for taking the rules seriously? Like with surveillance and data, the truth is we've ducked out of facing these questions at a political level. We shouldn't.

"We should look at enforcement metrics like hospital metrics. And change the laws on policing.

"Or else admit to ourselves that we aren't genuinely serious!"

Cummings told PM: Hancock 'lied his way through this and killed people'

Tuesday 31 October 2023 17:53 , Jordan King

Mr Cummings wrote in a message to the then-Prime Minister that Matt Hancock, who was Health secretary at the time, had "killed people".

In one message sent in May 2020, Mr Cummings wrote: "You need to think through timing of binning Hancock. There's no way the guy can stay. He's lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it.

"He will have to go the question is when and who replaces."

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry showed Mr Cummings' repeated frustrations with Mr Hancock, with him ultimately pressuring the PM to sack the then-Cabinet minister.

In another message in August 2020, he said: "I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake - he is a proven liar who nobody believes or shd (sic) believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the c*** in charge of NHS still."

Matt Hancock was Health Secretary from July 2018 to June 2021 (PA)
Matt Hancock was Health Secretary from July 2018 to June 2021 (PA)

Mr Hancock - who was Health Secretary from July 2018 to June 2021 - played a key role in the handling of the pandemic.

But critics have questioned his record on Covid testing, nursing homes and other crucial issues from the period.

Also known for his appearance last year on TV's I'm A Celebrity, his political career was torpedoed after footage emerged in 2021 of his embrace with aide Gina Coladangelo.

He has since lost the Tory whip after agreeing to appear on the reality TV show and will stand down at the next general election.

Summary of today's Covid inquiry:

Tuesday 31 October 2023 18:19 , Jordan King

The Covid inquiry has finished for today, here are some main takeaways from what it heard:

  • Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance's diaries said Boris Johnson was "obsessed with older people accepting their fate" and letting the economy stay open.

  • Lee Cain, one of Boris Johnson's closest and longest-serving aides, said the pandemic was the "wrong crisis" for the then-PM's skillset. Mr Cain said Mr Johnson would "often delay making decisions" and seek counsel from multiple sources before changing his mind.

  • Dominic Cummings' messages revealed a scathing attitude towards many of his colleagues, including Matt Hancock who was Health Secretary at the time.

  • Among many other things, Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock had lied, "killed people" and "sowed chaos" by repeating inaccurate information to the public when he continued to insist in March 2020 that people without symptoms of a dry cough and a temperature were unlikely to be suffering from Covid.

  • Mr Cummings also said "the entire question" around vulnerable groups during the pandemic was "entirely appallingly neglected by the planning system". He added: "There was a brilliant young woman in No10...who raised warnings about wives who had been abused and children in care and I don’t think the system ever properly listened to her."

  • Mr Cummings was also pressed on his notorious Barnard Castle trip, which he said was handled like "an absolute car crash and disaster and did cause a lot of people pain". But he again insisted: "In terms of my actual actions in going north and then coming back down I acted entirely reasonably and legally and did not break any rules."

  • Much of the language used in WhatsApp messages read to the inquiry was so foul it could not be repeated by media.

  • Mr Cummings painted a bleak picture of how the pandemic was handled as a whole, saying the Cabinet Office was a "dumpster fire" with "inconsistent data being read out" often.