In an astonishing day of testimony at the Covid inquiry, shedding new light on a culture of sexism at the heart of the former prime minister’s government, Mr Cummings apologised for the “deplorable” language and even claimed he “was much ruder about men”.
To audible gasps, the inquiry was shown Mr Cummings’ WhatsApp texts about then deputy cabinet-secretary Helen MacNamara from 2020, in which he said he would “handcuff her and escort her” from Downing Street.
Counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC put it to Mr Johnson’s former adviser yesterday that he “denigrated women”, to which he replied: “No, that’s not correct. I was not misogynistic.”
In one message, Mr Cummings wrote: “If I have to come back to Helen’s bullshit with PET (propriety and ethics team) – 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***.”
In another message shown to the inquiry, Mr Johnson’s former adviser said: “We gotta get Helen out of CabOff. She’s f***ed up Frosty (David Frost). She’s f***ed up me and Case. She’s trying to get spads (special advisers) fired and cause trouble on multiple fronts.
“Can we get her in on Monday for chat re her moving to CLG (Communities and Local Government) or DfT (Department for Transport). I get the distinct impression MS (Mark Sedwill) isn’t acting swiftly and she is trying to hang on waiting to get hooks into new CabSec (Simon Case) and stay in there ... we need her out ASAP. Building millions of lovely houses.”
After being shown the messages, Mr Cummings was asked by Mr Keith: “Did you treat individuals in Downing Street with offence and misogyny?”
He replied: “Certainly not.”
Responding to Mr Keith’s accusation that he had “denigrated” women, Mr Cummings said: “No, that’s not correct. I was not misogynistic. I was much ruder about men than I was about Helen.
“I agree that my language is deplorable, but as you can see for yourself I deployed the same or worse language (for) the prime minister, secretary of state or other people.
“If you want to look at how we actually ran things, unlike Whitehall, I had two young women as my deputies, I hired young women into the data science team, in the Vote Leave campaign I actually put a woman in her 30s in charge of it, much to the rage of a lot of MPs.
“So if you look at the reality of how I actually ran teams, and how they got on with the private secretaries in No 10, you will see the truth of the matter.”
Although he denied being a misogynist, Mr Cummings did apologise for his language.
He said: “I apologise for my language towards Helen but a thousand times worse than my language was the underlying insanity of the situation in No 10.”
He said the outbursts about Ms MacNamara were in response to Mr Johnson’s failure to sack her despite his intention to do so, which Mr Cummings said had caused tension in Downing Street.
He added: “Now, my language about Helen – the language is absolutely appalling and actually I got on well with Helen at a personal level – but a thousand times worse than my bad language is the underlying issue at stake that we had a Cabinet Office system that had completely melted and the prime minister had half begun the process of changing the senior management and then stopped.”