WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando
The former top aide to ex-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday painted a picture of widespread chaos and dysfunction in the U.K. government during the coronavirus pandemic.
In keenly awaited testimony to the country’s public inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, Dominic Cummings, a self-styled political disruptor, was withering about many of the people dealing with the situation, including his former boss.
“I would say, overall, it’s widespread failure, but pockets of excellent people and pockets of excellent teams doing excellent work within an overall dysfunctional system,” he said.
He added that it was “crackers” that he had been appointed by Johnson to such a senior political position in government, using a British slang term for something that is ridiculous.
In emails and WhatsApp messages that were handed to the inquiry, Cummings also slammed many ministers in expletive-ridden terms.
“My appalling language has always been my own but my judgment of a lot of senior people was widespread,” said Cummings, who was the prime minister’s chief adviser during the first months of the pandemic in 2020.
Cummings also said Johnson constantly changed his mind during the pandemic which made it difficult to set policy,
“Pretty much everyone called him the trolley,” he said, using the British term for a shopping cart.
During his testimony, he also took a swipe at many of the formal structures of government during the pandemic. For example, he said the Cabinet Office, which coordinates policy around departments, was a “dumpster fire.”
Cummings follows other aides who have painted a picture of Johnson as a leader who was distracted and indecisive during the country’s biggest peacetime crisis.
Cummings was hired by Johnson after helping to mastermind the victorious “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 European Union membership referendum. He went to work in Downing Street when Johnson became prime minister in 2019, filling a loosely defined but powerful role that saw him dubbed “Boris’s brain.”
In May 2020 it was revealed that Cummings had driven 250 miles (400 km) across England to his parents’ house while the country was under a “stay-at-home” order and while he was ill with coronavirus. Cummings made a later journey to a scenic town 30 miles (50 km) away.
At the time Johnson resisted calls to fire him, but Cummings left his job in November 2020 and has fired broadsides at Johnson ever since on social media and his blog.
The U.K. has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, with the virus recorded as a cause of death for some 227,000 people.
Also on Tuesday, former top communications director Lee Cain, said Johnson’s erratic decision-making was “rather exhausting” and indicated that the pandemic did not suit his temperament.
Cain said COVID was “the wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skillset.”
Cain also said that Johnson considered allowing the pandemic to let rip through the elderly population but that he eventually took “the moral and responsible action” of imposing lockdowns, though admittedly later than they should have been.
Johnson, who was forced to step down as prime minister in September 2022 following revelations of rule-breaking parties at his Downing Street residence during the pandemic, is due to address the inquiry before Christmas.
The probe, led by retired judge Heather Hallett, is expected to take three years to complete. Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry after heavy pressure from bereaved families, who have hit out at the evidence emerging about his actions.
“While COVID-19 was ripping through the country and I was doing everything I could to protect my mom, he was unable to take decisions, and left the country at the mercy of the virus he was supposed to be protecting it from,” said Brenda Doherty, spokesperson for COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice U.K.