The Washington Post

Ex-aide: Johnson reckless amid crisis

- BY WILLIAM BOOTH william.booth@washpost.com

LONDON — Dominic Cummings, a former top adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was once called “Boris’s Brain,” told the BBC in an hourlong interview Tuesday night that his former boss was a reckless semi-incompeten­t who early in the pandemic insisted that he be allowed to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, even as infection rates soared.

On March 18, 2020 — just a week before the British government declared its first national lockdown — Johnson was keen on attending his weekly face-to-face session at Buckingham Palace with the monarch, who was 93 at the time, Cummings told the BBC.

Cummings claimed that Johnson said, “Sod this. I’m going to go and see her,” employing a British swear word. But he said he warned the prime minister that infections were ripping through 10 Downing Street. ( Cummings himself would soon catch the virus and violate lockdown orders to flee north with his wife and son.)

“I just said, ‘If you give her coronaviru­s and she dies, what are you going to [do]? You can’t do that. You can’t risk that. That’s completely insane,” Cummings told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg in his interview.

The special adviser — known as a “spad” in British government speak — said Johnson agreed. “He basically just hadn’t thought it through,” Cummings said.

Five days later, Johnson announced the first of three national lockdowns. A few days after that, he revealed that he was infected with the coronaviru­s, which eventually saw him hospitaliz­ed and sent to an intensive care unit.

Downing Street has denied the queen incident. The prime minister’s spokesman stressed that the government took “all necessary action to protect lives and livelihood­s, guided by the best scientific advice” as it safeguarde­d the nation’s health-care system “from being overwhelme­d through three national lockdowns.”

As for the queen’s take? “That’s not something we’d comment on,” a Buckingham Palace spokeswoma­n said.

Cummings’s latest remarks have stunned Britons — but only slightly, given the recent fast-and-furious torrent of “Dom Bombs” excoriatin­g Johnson’s performanc­e.

In the interview, Cummings presented himself as the true power behind the prime minister, whom he dismissed as a politician with no plan and no agenda except to buy some new buses and trains — “and build the world’s most stupid tunnel to Ireland” (which isn’t happening).

The former aide referred to Conservati­ve Party lawmakers as “morons” and civil servants as “duffers.” Cummings told the BBC that he and a cadre of “a few dozen” rebels considered trying to push Johnson from office after his landslide win in the 2019 election. Asked what he hoped would happen now, Cummings said he still wants to see Johnson replaced: “The sooner he goes, the better.”

Cummings has been on a tear — some see it as vendetta, others as truth-telling — since he left 10 Downing Street in November 2020. He has a blog, on Substack, to which one can subscribe, but his most sensationa­l charges are quickly printed in the British press.

Cummings, an ardent Brexiteer who was a central figure in the campaign to urge voters to exit the European Union, came up with slogans such as “Take back control” and “Get Brexit done.”

Cummings launched Johnson into top office and served as his top aide, “the man in the room,” as the BBC describes it. But since being pushed out of 10 Downing — a photo of him departing with a cardboard box containing his stuff became a meme — Cummings has doled out a steady stream of embarrassi­ng reveals about and texts from Johnson.

In the BBC interview, Cummings contends:

• Johnson was prepared to sacrifice the over-80 generation to the virus. Cummings said Johnson noted that those dying of covid-19 were “essentiall­y all over 80,” a claim that data has largely borne out. The prime minister wrote, according to Cummings: “That is above life expectancy. So get Covid and Live longer.”

• Johnson also questioned the central premise of the lockdowns, which was to protect National Health Service ( NHS) hospitals from being overwhelme­d by covid sufferers. Cummings said Johnson messaged him to say: “I no longer buy all this NHS overwhelme­d stuff.”

• Johnson “always referred” to the pro-tory Daily Telegraph newspaper, where Johnson once had a lucrative column, as “my real boss.”

• Johnson’s then-girlfriend and now-wife, Carrie Johnson, wanted to “pull strings” at 10 Downing Street and appoint “complete clowns” to top jobs.

Cummings told the BBC that the prime minister once wanted to let coronaviru­s infections “wash through the country” to save the economy, essentiall­y pursuing a strategy to more quickly reach herd immunity, the point at which the virus has no place to go because the percentage of people vaccinated or protected by past infection breaks the chain of the contagion.

The British government denies pursuing herd immunity, even though many scientists say that this is essentiall­y the policy being deployed.

On Monday, England ended all legal requiremen­ts to wear masks and socially distance, which unsurprisi­ngly led to revelers partying and dancing in nightclubs without masks.

Some health experts have called it a reckless experiment with dangerous consequenc­es for the world. Others say it is reasonable.

In the past, Cummings has said that Johnson “lies so blatantly, so naturally, so regularly” that he sees “no real distinctio­n.”

The former aide claimed in a blog post that Johnson himself “regularly admits it’s ludicrous he’s prime minister.”

Cummings was pressed in the interview to provide more proof of his charges, which he said he will do before a formal inquiry into the government’s pandemic response.

Kuenssberg wrote Tuesday: “The interview might make you want to throw rocks at the TV. He might provoke you, in the way that winding his opponents up became his political trademark. His picture of what went on in Downing Street might alarm you too.”

She concluded, “Whatever you think of Dominic Cummings, when big things happened, he was in the room.”

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