Politics

‘We have a joke PM’: Cummings attacks Boris Johnson over Covid response


Former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings has renewed his attack on Boris Johnson in the wake of scathing report into the government’s response to the Covid crisis – calling his ex-boss a “joke prime minister”.

Cummings claimed Johnson thwarted his own attempts to improve emergency planning in Whitehall – and said the system remains “a disaster” 18 months on from the pandemic.

It follows Tuesday’s damning report by the science and health select committees, which found the delay in imposing lockdown ranks among the country’s worst-ever public health failures.

“The government system for dealing with crises is a disaster,” Cummings told Sky News. “The system was bad for many years before Covid. Me and others put in place work to try to improve the system in 2020 after the first wave.”

He added: “Unfortunately the prime minister, being the joke that he is, did not push that work through. Now we have a joke prime minister and a joke leader of the Labour party, and we obviously need a new political system.”

The cross-party MPs’ report said the government’s failure to act at the start of the Covid pandemic cost lives, blaming a culture of “fatalism” and pandemic planning that had been far too focused on flu.

The report offered some vindication for former health secretary Matt Hancock, describing his April 2020 target to have 100,000 Covid tests a day as “an appropriate one to galvanise the rapid change the system needed”.

Cummings – who previously called the Hancock’s target “stupid” – rejected the idea that the former health secretary had been the one who galvanised the system.

“There already was a [testing] target before Hancock blurted it out on TV,” he said. “The problem with the target was not having a target, the problem is it should have been more than 100,000.”

Johnson’s former senior adviser added: “The way [Hancock] announced it caused a lot of problems – it wasn’t the fact of having a target of 100,000 which was already in place.”

Other parts of the report support Cummings’ criticisms of government, finding “structures for offering scientific advice lacked transparency, international representation and structured challenge.”

Meanwhile, bereaved families reacted to the MPs’ report with outrage, furious that the people who died of Covid received scant mention in the 150-page document. They said the joint committee only was interested in “speaking to their colleagues and friends”.

Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay has also been criticised after he repeatedly refused to apologise in the wake of the report’s publication, insisting ministers “did take decisions to move quickly”.

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who chairs the health select committee, said “groupthink” in government had focused too much on flu and failed to adequately plan for a pandemic such as Covid.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain the UK should have locked down earlier and “the prime minister is of course ultimately responsible, but some of the advice that he got was also wrong”.

Mr Hunt added: “There was a groupthink that the way you tackle a pandemic should be similar to a flu pandemic, I was part of that groupthink too when I was health secretary.”

But fellow Conservative MP Chris Skidmore said Mr Hunt had not taken enough responsibility.

“I find it a bit rich to have a report produced today by a former health secretary who’s not willing, necessarily, to take also part of the blame,” he told BBC Politics Live. “Jeremy Hunt was health secretary for six years, where was the preparation here?”.

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