Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings appeared before the Parliamentary inquiry into the coronavirus response on Wednesday and accused British health secretary Matt Hancock of repeated failures and lies.
While it was broadly anticipated that Dominic Cummings, who was unceremoniously kicked out of Downing Street last year during a power struggle over access to the Prime Minister’s ear, would use Wednesday’s committee hearing to attempt to damage the Prime Minister, perhaps the first individual to seriously come under his fire was Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Update 1430: Matt Hancock’s Employment Status
After making his claims about senior government people losing faith in Matt Hancock’s ability to tell the truth earlier in the day, Cummings claimed the Prime Minister had actually come close to sacking the health secretary in April 2020 “but just fundamentally wouldn’t do it”. As The Telegraph now reports, unnamed Conservatives in Westminster are now saying Matt Hancock has the safest job in Westminster because the Prime Minister couldn’t face the shame of firing his health secretary and allowing Cummings the satisfaction of a scalp.
Johnson also responded to Cummings’ claims during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament, denying he has seen any evidence of the accusations of lies and loss of faith in Hancock that Cummings described. This denial stands in direct contradiction of the claims, given Cummings insisted he and others had personally told Boris Johnson he had to fire Hancock for incompetence in 2020.
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In accusations committee chair Greg Clark MP called “a serious charge”, Cummings said the health secretary had lied to “everybody on multiple occasions”. Faith in Matt Hancock among top figures in the government was so low the Prime Minister was told “repeatedly” that Hancock should be fired from the pandemic response-leading position, Cummings claimed.
In a frank statement of his perception of the situation at the top of the British government in 2020, Cummings said: “I think that the Secretary of State for Health should have been fired for at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the cabinet room and publicly”.
“I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions."
— ITV News (@itvnews) May 26, 2021
While Cummings praised the intelligence and hard work of low and middle-ranking people responding to coronavirus, he was extremely scathing of the leadership — of which he was part — and continued: “[M]any senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people. I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired. So did the Cabinet Secretary, so did many other senior people.”
Cummings was asked to substantiate his claims that Health Secretary Hancock had lied. Giving two examples, and confirming he would give the committee written evidence of those and presumably others, Cummings said Hancock had said in Summer 2020 that “everyone who needed treatment got the treatment they required”. Mr Cummings said he knew this was a lie, because Hancock had been told the opposite by experts.
He continued: “He knew that was a lie, because he had been briefed by the chief scientific advisor and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak and we were told explicitly that people did not get the treatment they deserved. Many were left to die in horrific circumstances.”
Hancock had also told Cummings and the Prime Minister that “everything is fine” with personal protective equipment (PPE), only for it to later transpire that it wasn’t, and that, according to Cummings, Hancock lied to cover up his role in that failure. Cummings told the panel: “almost the first meeting I had in the cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how we were actually completely short and hospitals all over the country were running out. [Hancock] said in that meeting ‘this is the fault of [NHS chief] Simon Stevens, the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Rishi Sunak], this is not my fault, they’ve blocked approvals on all sorts of things’.”
Cummings said he asked for an investigation into Hancock’s claims and that the Cabinet Secretary answered that “this is completely untrue, I’ve lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings”.
“I told the cabinet secretary to please investigate this and find if it’s true. The Cabinet Secretary came back to me and said ‘this is completely untrue, I’ve lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings’. The Cabinet Secretary said that to me… and to the Prime Minister.”
Hancock was far from the only target for Cummings, however, who made it clear much of the problem at hand was with the broader “system”. Such was the state of dysfunction in the British government, even “competent” people would have not been able to get good results, he said.
"We had half the government with me in No 10, calling round frantically saying: ‘Do not do what Hancock says’”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) May 26, 2021