Rabu, 26 Mei 2021

‘Lions led by donkeys’: Johnson damned over COVID as unfit for office - Sydney Morning Herald

London: Tens of thousands of people died because of incompetence, indecision and neglect by Boris Johnson and his government, the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser has declared during evidence about Britain’s chaotic handling of the pandemic.

Dominic Cummings – a key force behind Brexit and Johnson’s thumping 2019 election win – savaged his ex-boss during seven hours of damning testimony on Wednesday which sent Downing Street into damage control.

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings were allies but have fallen out.

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings were allies but have fallen out. Credit:AP/Getty Images

“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” Cummings said. “Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die.”

Cummings confirmed a frustrated Johnson once said he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a second lockdown over winter - a remark the Prime Minister has repeatedly denied making.

However, Johnson did not deny on Wednesday that he quipped COVID-19 was “only killing over 80s”.

Appearing before a parliamentary inquiry into what went wrong during the initial outbreak in early 2020 and the second deadly wave over Christmas, Cummings also claimed:

  • Johnson once thought coronavirus was like swine flu and suggested that he be injected live on television to prove COVID-19 wasn’t dangerous;
  • as the pandemic took hold in Italy, the Prime Minister was distracted by negotiations over his divorce and plans by girlfriend Carrie Symonds to announce her pregnancy;
  • the UK’s most senior civil servant urged the government to liken COVID-19 to chicken pox and floated the idea of mass infection parties to help build herd immunity; and
  • Johnson expressed regret about ordering the first lockdown and told colleagues he wished he had instead behaved like the mayor in the film Jaws, who insisted the beaches remain open.

Nearly 130,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United Kingdom.


The government has faced repeated questions about why it waited so long to introduce a lockdown last March, never closed the borders and had little testing equipment and personal protection material available for frontline health workers.

A sign on a deserted street in Hackney, London in April 2020.

A sign on a deserted street in Hackney, London in April 2020. Credit:Getty

“The government itself and Number 10 was not operating on a war footing in February on this in any way, shape or form,” Cummings said. “Lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February.”

However, he reserved his strongest criticism for Johnson, who he likened to a “shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other” which could not be controlled.

Asked whether Johnson was fit to hold office, Cummings replied: “No.”

He also said Health Secretary Matt Hancock deserved to be sacked for “at least 15 to 20 things”, including lying to colleagues and the public during the pandemic.

Cummings regularly advised Johnson that “we are going to kill people” unless Hancock was fired. Johnson nearly moved against his health minister at the start of the pandemic but opted against it.

A spokesperson for Hancock denied the Health Secretary had lied.

In one of his more serious charges, Cummings claimed Hancock had reassured cabinet colleagues that people being transferred from hospital to nursing homes would be tested before they were transported - something which didn’t happen and led to thousands of deaths.

“While the government rhetoric was, ‘We have put a shield around care homes and blah blah blah’, it was complete nonsense,” he said.

Cummings said the government’s initial plan was to achieve herd immunity and not impose measures to halt mass community transmission. The government eventually realised that strategy would kill hundreds of thousands and crush the National Health Service, so changed course to introduce a lockdown in late March.

This confusion delayed action by crucial weeks, Cummings said. He also said the government operated on the mistaken belief that the British public would not accept widespread lockdowns and track-and-trace regimes.

“Those two assumptions were completely central to the official plan and were both obviously completely wrong.”

He also recalled that as the pandemic gathered pace, senior civil servant Helen McNamara walked into one meeting and said she had just been told by bureaucrats that there was no plan to deal with the impending disaster.

“I think we are absolutely f---ed,” McNamara said, according to Cummings. “I think this country is heading for a disaster, I think we are going to kill thousands of people.”

The political implications of Wednesday’s revelations are unclear. Johnson is riding a wave of popularity in Britain due to the government’s world-leading vaccination program, and Cummings’ own credibility was damaged when he seemingly broke lockdown rules last year to drive from London to northern England despite having COVID-19.

Asked whether he had failed the public, the Prime Minister told Parliament on Wednesday: “The handling of this pandemic has been one of the most difficult things this country has had to do for a very long time. And none of the decisions have been easy.

“At every stage we have tried to minimise loss of life, to protect the NHS and have followed the best scientific advice we can.”

Dominic Cummings arrives for the parliamentary committee hearing.

Dominic Cummings arrives for the parliamentary committee hearing. Credit:AP

Cummings was a key player in the Brexit campaign and then followed Johnson into Downing Street as his chief adviser. He quit last November during a power struggle, prompting claims his attack on Wednesday was motivated by revenge.

Cummings was repeatedly challenged on why he didn’t do more at the time.

“There’s no doubt in retrospect it was a huge failing of mine and I bitterly regret I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier than I did,” he said.

“I failed and I apologise for it.”

Cummings said he had decided by late last year that Johnson was unfit to lead Britain and regretted not resigning when the Prime Minister procrastinated about a second lockdown last year.

“I’m not smart, I’ve not built great things in the world, it’s completely crackers that I was in [Downing Street], the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there,” Cummings said.

“Any system that leaves people with the choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is obviously a system that’s gone extremely badly wrong. There are thousands of people in this country who could offer better leadership than those two.”

Cummings also slammed the civil service for being unprepared for the pandemic and compared the situation to “lions being led by donkeys”.

His evidence offers a small insight into what can be expected at a royal commission-style inquiry that is scheduled to begin next year.

Cummings urged MPs to demand the probe be brought forward to this year.

“There is absolutely no excuse for delaying it. And the longer it’s delayed, the more people will rewrite memories, the more documents will go astray, the more the whole thing will just become cancerous.”

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2021-05-26 19:43:06Z

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