The UK government failed the public disastrously in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings told MPs.
In a long session answering committee questions, Cummings described chaos at the heart of decision-making and said Johnson was like a shopping trolley “cannoning around”. He said advisers and ministers failed to respond urgently enough to the pandemic as it built in January and early February.
“The truth is that senior ministers, officials, advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” Cummings told Clark, the committee’s chair.
“When the public needed us most, we failed. And I’d like to say to all the families of those who have died unnecessarily, how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made, and my own mistakes.”
Cummings, who left the government in late 2020, said Johnson believed Covid-19 was a “scare story” as late as February. It was not until late February, after some key people returned from skiing trips. He said he should have pressed the case for action earlier and that he regretted not doing so.
When the government did act, officials worried that bond markets would punish it for soaring borrowing to support the economy, Cummings said.
“The Bank of England, senior officials in the Treasury, senior officials in the Cabinet Office were saying: ‘We have to think about the consequences of, if we do this lockdown, we’re going to have to borrow huge amounts of money,'” Cummings told MPs. “What if the bond markets suddenly spike and go crazy and refused to lend to us? We’re going then to have to find emergency powers to tell the Bank of England to buy the debt, etc.”
Cummings alleged the health secretary, Matt Hancock, lied about the state of the country’s preparedness several times and should have been sacked. Cummings said he considered resigning several times and that he should have quit in September after losing almost all the arguments over how urgently to act to stem infections.
Betting markets reacted against Johnson with odds on Chancellor Rishi Sunak replacing him shortening. Johnson is 7-/1 to be replaced in 2021 and 4/1 in 2022 with Sunak the favourite to be the next prime minister at 5/2 according to Ladbrokes.
Jessica O’Reilly, Ladbrokes’ head of PR, said: “Dominic Cummings is unleashing hell on Boris Johnson, and money is coming in thick and fast for the chancellor to become the next PM.”