LONDON – A former chief advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday criticized the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, arguing the response was inadequate.
Dominic Cummings, Caricatured by British tabloids as a Svengali-like advisor to Johnson, he was the leading strategist behind the 2016 Brexit campaign and Johnson’s 2019 landslide election victory. He was asked by British lawmakers on Wednesday about the lessons of the pandemic.
In a violent attack on the government he once served, Cummings said the British government “failed” the British public and was “catastrophically neglected” in dealing with Covid-19.
“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials and senior advisors like myself have catastrophically fallen short of the standards the public can expect from their government in a crisis like this,” Cummings said on a Parliamentary Science and Health Testimonial committee choose.
“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” he said, adding that people “died unnecessarily”.
Cummings made exciting allegations of bad decisions and misconceptions about Johnson’s government, describing scenes of government chaos as “like a runaway movie”.
He said that in early 2020, the UK government “did not operate in any way, form or form on a war basis in February. Many people were literally skiing.”
Cummings said Johnson initially viewed the pandemic as “just a scary story,” saying the prime minister had even suggested getting infected with the virus once on live television to reassure the public.
Johnson quickly dismissed criticism from his former advisor.
Later on Wednesday, he told Parliament that “none of the decisions were easy” and that he did not accept Cummings’ allegations that government inaction had resulted in unnecessary deaths.
“It has been terribly difficult to deal with a pandemic on this scale, and we’ve tried at every stage to minimize the loss of life … and we’ve followed the best scientific advice we can,” said Johnson.
Nearly 128,000 coronavirus deaths have been recorded in the UK, one of the highest in Europe. A series of lockdowns has periodically closed most of the economy, schools and workplaces.
However, a mass vaccination campaign that began in December has greatly reduced infections and deaths and has been widely hailed as a success.
Cummings – who was played by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a 2019 film about Brexit – is a self-proclaimed political disruptor who has long expressed its disdain for civil servants, politicians and much of the media.
As one of the architects of the successful campaign to pull the UK out of the European Union, Cummings was named a top advisor when Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019.
Cummings himself came into the spotlight during the pandemic when newspapers announced that he had driven 400 kilometers across the country after signing Covid-19 in May 2020, despite a nationwide stay-home order.
His defense – that he sought childcare help from relatives in case he fell ill – sounded hollow to many Britons who had made sacrifices and endured isolation in order to obey the rules.
Johnson resisted calls to fire Cummings for violating the rules the government had imposed on the rest of the country.
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Even so, Cummings left his job in November. Pictures of him carrying a box of personal effects as he exited 10 Downing Street made the front pages of many British newspapers.
In the past few days, Cummings has been using Twitter to direct a stream of criticism of his former employer, accusing Johnson of overseeing a chaotic government.
In turn, Johnson’s Conservatives accuse Cummings of glossing over the fact that he was one of the most powerful people in government when important decisions were being made.
During the testimony on Wednesday, Cummings apologized for not doing more to change the government’s strategy and alert Covid earlier.
“I’m terribly sorry,” he said. Added, “It was completely insane that I should have been in such a high position.”