Dominic Cummings: MPs should take 'very hard look' at government's COVID mistakes

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2-min read

Watch: Dominic Cummings: MPs should take 'very hard look' at government's COVID mistakes

Dominic Cummings has said MPs need to take a “very, very hard look” into what the government got wrong during its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, who is most well known for his infamous lockdown trip to Barnard Castle, suggested Downing Street didn’t have enough people with scientific and technical backgrounds to respond effectively to the pandemic.

Cummings, who parted ways with Johnson in November last year, told the House of Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday: “I hope that as the country emerges from the current lockdown and as there is – as there should be – an urgent [and] very, very hard look by this building into what went wrong and why in 2020, one of the most obvious lessons of that is this problem.

“It’s the incredible value, potentially, in getting science and technology stuff right [and] the disaster that can come if you don’t get it right.”

Dominic Cummings at the science and technology committee on Wednesday. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Dominic Cummings at the science and technology committee on Wednesday. (Parliamentlive.tv)

As Johnson’s chief adviser, Cummings was known to hold huge influence in Number 10 – arguably more than many senior ministers.

This influence will have been a major factor behind Johnson’s decision-making last year, for which the PM has been roundly criticised. According to Oxford University's Our World in Data website, the UK currently has the fifth-highest death rate – 1,855 per 1 million people – in the world.

Cummings, however, suggested an entrenched lack of “technical and scientific” nous was most to blame.

Cummings, who claimed he only joined Johnson in 2019 after the PM doubled the government’s science budget, said that “2020 was a proof that if you don’t have people with scientific and technical backgrounds who understand how to think rationally and quantitatively about extreme uncertainty, then you can very easily have disastrous decisions”.

File photo dated 03/09/19 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his then senior aide Dominic Cummings, who has resigned from his Downing Street role, following director of communications Lee Cain. Both will continue to work for the Prime Minister and Downing Street until mid-December. December 13th 2020 marks the first anniversary of Mr Johnson's General Election win.
Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson in Downing Street in September 2019. (PA)

He also discussed the government's successful rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. In a swipe at health secretary Matt Hancock, Cummings said it has only worked because it was taken out of the Department of Health's hands.

“It is not coincidental that we had to take it out of the Department of Health. We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister,” he said.

Read more:

COVID cases are now rising in 1 in 3 areas – map shows rate where you live

Downing Street refuses to deny report Boris Johnson wanted to 'ignore' COVID pandemic

“In spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE [personal protective equipment] and all of that. You had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics."

He also claimed senior Downing Street figures, including chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, called for the vaccine taskforce to be under Johnson's "authority".

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown