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Downing Street braces for Cummings critique of pandemic policies

Boris Johnson’s team is braced for allegations from his former aide Dominic Cummings that the prime minister could have prevented thousands of deaths in the winter wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cummings is preparing a dossier of evidence criticising his former boss for the government’s slow response to the second surge of the disease, it was reported on Sunday.

Aides are anxious because Cummings, as one of the most senior figures in Number 10, had access to private conversations, emails and presentations. In November, as the government came under pressure to introduce a second lockdown, Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak were both anxious to resist the move unless it became unavoidable.

Cummings “was pushing the prime minister hard to lock down sooner in the autumn and he has lots of evidence that shows that his decision to delay led to devastating consequences,” one ally told the Sunday Times.

He will have a public forum to make his case against Johnson next month when he is due to appear before a joint inquiry by the health and science select committees into the pandemic.

One friend of Cummings predicted fireworks, telling the Financial Times: “He never feints to score. Always shoots for the target . . . and this stuff matters hugely to him.”

Although Britain is basking in one of the most successful vaccine rollout programmes in the world, its death rate from the pandemic does not compare favourably with other countries. The official number of people who have died after contracting Covid-19 during the pandemic has passed 127,000.

Cummings dropped a bombshell on Johnson on Friday evening when he accused him of falling “far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves”.

Among the allegations from the former aide was a claim that Johnson had wanted Tory donors to secretly pay for the renovation of his flat at Number 11 Downing Street.

On Friday the government announced that the prime minister had paid for nearly £60,000 of renovations himself after abandoning a plan to get the sum paid by a donor.

Liz Truss, international trade secretary, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the costs had been “covered by the prime minister”. But asked whether a donor had initially lent the money to Johnson she said she was “not involved in the details of flat renovations”.

The Labour party is seeking to force a senior minister to come to Parliament this week to take questions on the allegations about the funding of the refurbishment. Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister, wrote to Johnson calling for a full investigation into the money spent on the flat.

Cummings also claimed that Henry Newman, a friend of Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds, was the source of leaks last year about the timing of the second national lockdown. He wrote that Simon Case, cabinet secretary, had told him that “all the evidence definitely leads to Henry Newman”, adding that Johnson had then asked if it would be possible to stop the inquiry to avoid a row with his fiancée.

Yet the FT revealed on Friday that MI5, brought in by Case to carry out the investigation, believed the leaker was in fact Cummings.

Case is set to be asked about the allegations on Monday when he is quizzed by MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs select committee.

Labour, which is around 10 points behind the Conservative party in the polls, is trying to capitalise on a blizzard of unsavoury allegations ahead of the local elections on May 6.

On Friday Lord Eddie Lister, a senior adviser to Johnson, resigned after it emerged that he had stayed on the payroll of two property developers while working in Downing Street.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has called for a full inquiry into government “sleaze”.

 


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