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Dominic Cummings names PM’s aides at heart of Covid chaos, comparing it to Independence Day

Dominic Cummings today singled out his ‘heroes’ of the coronavirus pandemic as he hailed a number of government aides, scientists and civil servants while describing the chaos in No 10 before the first national lockdown.

In a dramatic account, he compared the Downing Street pandemonium to when aliens invaded the planet in the movie Independence Day and said the hero in this case was a Vote Leave ‘data geek’ asked to work for the Prime Minister after Brexit.

The PM’s former top advisor said that Dr Ben Warner told Boris Johnson in March 2020 the NHS would be ‘smashed in weeks if not days’ because SAGE had got it ‘all completely wrong’ having predicted the tipping point would be June.

Mr Cummings, who listed his ‘heroes’ of the pandemic in evidence to MPs today, including Dr Warner’s AI expert brother Marc, said: ‘It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan. With Ben Warner in the Jeff Goldblum role’.

He told MPs that on March 14 Boris Johnson was told by Dr Warner that models showing the peak was ‘weeks and weeks and weeks away’ in June were ‘completely wrong’. He said the PM was warned: ‘The NHS is going to be smashed in weeks, really we’ve got days to act.’ Despite this Mr Johnson announced a lockdown beginning on March 23.  

Mr Cummings also gave extraordinary, and at times embarrassing, evidence about members of the Prime Minister’s top team and what they said when the pandemic began to grip.

First he quoted Helen MacNamara, former deputy cabinet secretary, as saying ‘we are absolutely f***ed … I think we’re going to kill thousands of people’. And he also named senior official Mark Sweeney, from the Cabinet Office, who allegedly declared last year that ‘there is no plan’ and ‘we’re in huge trouble’. 

Then Mr Cummings said the Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill had suggested the Prime Minister go on television and tell people to catch coronavirus at ‘parties’ as if it was chicken pox.  

Dominic Cummings’ ‘data geek’ who worked on the Vote Leave campaign Dr Ben Warner (right next to the PM) told the Prime Minister he needed to change course to protect the NHS at the start of the pandemic

Mr Cummings said: 'It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan. With Ben Warner in the Jeff Goldblum role'

Mr Cummings said: ‘It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan. With Ben Warner in the Jeff Goldblum role’

Vote Leave ‘data geek’ who calls himself ‘The Warnertron’ and was sent to emergency Cobra meetings 13 times, often without his boss Cummings who was too busy 

Ben Warner, a physicist and data expert, was brought into No 10 on the advice of Dominic Cummings after his success with modelling Vote Leave

Ben Warner, a physicist and data expert, was brought into No 10 on the advice of Dominic Cummings after his success with modelling Vote Leave

Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked alongside Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, was brought into Downing Street in December 2019 after Boris Johnson’s election win.

The PM asked him to join the Government after after he predicted the election result to within one seat and was also a was a key figure in modelling for the EU referendum campaign in 2016, helping target working class pro-Brexit communities. 

When the pandemic started in the UK, Mr Cummings said he leaned heavily on his long-term colleague, who he praised repeatedly. This included sending him to top secret Cobra meetings. 

When asked why Dr Warner was sent he said: ‘The best use of people’s time was to send Ben Warner, a physicist I hired, and a Downing Street adviser. A lot of Cobra meetings are just PowerPoint slides and aren’t very useful’. 

The Warnertron’s ‘ethical’ older AI expert brother, who Dom Cummings insists saved ‘thousands of lives’ despite Boris denying him the ‘kingly authority’ to lead pandemic response 

Marc Warner should have been in charge of the response, Cummings claimed

Marc Warner should have been in charge of the response, Cummings claimed

Dominic Cummings praised Ben Warner’s brother Marc, an AI expert and millionaire businessman, as a hero who saved ‘thousands of lives’. 

He said Mr Warner should have been given ‘kingly authority’ to run Covid response – but this was refused, but insisted his work with tech companies saved thousands of lives.

He said: ‘Marc Warner is one of the most ethical people I’ve met. If I’d been Prime Minister I would have said Marc Warner is in charge of this whole thing. He speaks with my authority. He has as close to kingly authority as the state has legally to do stuff, and pushing the barriers of legality.’ 

He said he had a meeting with advisers Ben and Marc Warner around 9pm ‘when they kind of hit the total panic button with me and they said, ‘we’re looking at all this data, we’re looking at all of these graphs, we’re heading for a total catastrophe and we need to have Plan B’.’

Mr Cummings said that on the evening of March 13 it was realised that a meeting would need to be held with Mr Johnson to explain ‘we’re going to have to ditch the whole official plan, we’re heading for the biggest disaster this country has seen since 1914’.

Britain’s top civil servant suggested public holds ‘chicken pox parties’ to catch coronavirus and speed up immunity, claims Cummings

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with Mark Sedwill, who is said to have suggested chicken pox-type parties for Covid

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with Mark Sedwill, who is said to have suggested chicken pox-type parties for Covid

The Prime Minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings said the Cabinet Secretary had suggested the Prime Minister go on television and tell people to catch coronavirus as if it was chicken pox.

Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees, he said: ‘We are sitting in the Prime Minister’s office, the Cabinet were talking about the herd immunity plan.

‘The Cabinet Secretary said ‘Prime Minister you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September’.

‘I said ‘Mark (Sedwill), you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right’ and he said ‘why’ and Ben Warner said ‘because chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people’.

‘To stress, this wasn’t some thing that Cabinet Secretary had come up with, he was saying what the official advice to him from the Department of Health was.’

‘We’re absolutely f***ed, we’re going to kill thousands’, PM’s aide declared in pandemic panic inside No 10

Helen MacNamara arrived at the Prime Minister's office and declared: 'We're absolutely f*****'

Helen MacNamara arrived at the Prime Minister’s office and declared: ‘We’re absolutely f*****’

Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former aide used the phrase ‘absolutely f*****’.

Mr Cummings was recalling a conversation he had about the Government’s initial response to the pandemic with Helen MacNamara, the then deputy cabinet secretary.

He said: ‘Helen MacNamara said ‘I’ve come through here to the Prime Minister’s office to tell you all I think we are absolutely f*****.

‘I think this country is headed for a disaster, I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.’

Mr Cummings’ words were broadcast on the BBC News channel, prompting a newsreader to say: ‘I just want to apologise there if any of the language Dominic Cummings has used has offended you.

‘It is live, of course, this committee hearing that we are watching.’

Sky News also broadcast the language, with broadcaster Adam Boulton telling viewers: ‘We are listening to evidence from the former adviser to Boris Johnson and we apologise for the language used in quoting an official visiting Downing Street.’

Mark Sweeney, a senior aide to the PM, reportedly said: 'There is no plan, we are in huge trouble'

Mark Sweeney, a senior aide to the PM, reportedly said: ‘There is no plan, we are in huge trouble’

PM’s top domestic policy advisor warned: ‘There is no plan, we are in huge trouble’

Mark Sweeney, Director General, Cabinet Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, was also dragged into evidence. 

Dominic Cummings said Mr Sweeney was panicked by Government policy on Covid,

Quoting deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen McNamara, he said she had been talking to the official Mark Sweeney, who was in charge with coordinating with the Department of Health and he said, ‘I have been told for years that there is a plan for this, there is no plan, we are in huge trouble’. 

‘The Mr Big of Brexit’ drafted in to lead Britain’s pandemic response

Respected mandarin Tom Shinner (pictured) quit last year but was hailed as a hero by Dom Cummings

Respected mandarin Tom Shinner (pictured) quit last year but was hailed as a hero by Dom Cummings

The civil servant drafted in to run Britain’s pandemic response came after Dominic Cummings begged him to quit his job and work in No 10.

He was named by Cummings as one of the heroes of the pandemic.

Respected mandarin Tom Shinner announced his departure in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis last year.

Once dubbed ‘the Mr Big of Brexit’, Mr Shinner had returned to the Government in April 2020, having left for the private sector after leading cross-Government preparations for a potential No Deal exit from the EU.

No 10 insiders insisted that Mr Shinner’s job was only a temporary secondment and the response to the pandemic was beginning to ‘wind down’.

One friend said he was contractually obliged to return to his job at a startup.

But a Whitehall source said: ‘There is a uneasy feeling in the building that those directly involved in the past few months are making themselves scarce before the inevitable post-mortem.’

Cummings’ ally ‘Sonic’ who hacked together a ‘shielding plan’ in two all-nighters 

Oliver Lewis is another Vote Leave member to now work in No10, went in a bonfire of aides last year

Oliver Lewis is another Vote Leave member to now work in No10, went in a bonfire of aides last year

Dominic Cummings criticised Whitehall for having no plan for shielding, economic support or testing ahead of the pandemic.

But he said that his friend and colleague Oliver Lewis, a Brexit expert he nicknamed ‘Sonic’, saved the day.   

Before the pandemic, Oxford-educated Lewis has been working closely with Michael Gove on No Deal preparations, and was inspired by Cummings’ love of science to construct an enormous spreadsheet to model difference scenarios styled on techniques used by NASA. 

He has also worked closely alongside chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, and earlier this year was accused by EU sources of repeatedly trying to shut down negotiations

He helped sort shielding policy, according to Mr Cummings. The former chief aide to the Prime Minister told the Commons committee: ‘On shielding, on March 19, I pulled all the officials in on shielding to say where is the plan on shielding?

‘Not only was there not a plan, lots of people in the Cabinet Office said we shouldn’t have a plan, we shouldn’t put out a helpline for people to call because it will all just be swamped and we don’t have a system.

‘The shielding plan was literally hacked together in two all-nighters after the 19th, I think, Thursday the 19th.

‘There wasn’t any plan for shielding, there wasn’t even a helpline for shielding, there wasn’t any plan for financial incentives, there wasn’t any plan for almost anything in any kind of detail at all.’ 

Sir Patrick Vallance ‘deserves absolutely massive, enormous credit’ for setting up the Vaccine Taskforce 

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance at Downing Street on Wednesday last week

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance at Downing Street on Wednesday last week

Dominic Cummings has said chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance ‘deserves absolutely massive, enormous credit’ for his role in setting up the Vaccine Taskforce.

He told MPs: ‘I’ve got a text from Patrick Vallance, when he texted me directly on I think March 24, I could confirm that if anyone things it’s relevant, where he says explicitly to me I want to set up the Vaccine Taskforce and do it outside the Department of Health.’

Mr Cummings continued: ‘I and some other people were having parallel conversation with others round about the same time, and then essentailly Patrick and I both spoke to the Cabinet Secretary about it.’

The deal between Oxford, AZ and the Government was done before the Vaccine Taskforce was set up, and Mr Cummings said: ‘My memory of it is that Patrick Vallance was instrumental in it.’

He continued: ‘Patrick, before he came into Government, worked in the private sector working literally on vaccines. So he understood and actually knew a lot of the key players involved. Certainly my conversations on the AZ vaccine were with Patrick and there was at one point a terrible fright that Department for Health was about to sign a duff contract on AZ which would not have given us the rights to the vaccine, or would have left them questionable, and Patrick intervened and sorted it out and made sure that the contract worked out properly, thank goodness.

‘So I think Patrick deserves absolutely massive, enormous credit for his role in the Vaccine Taskforce, there’s no doubt about it. As far as I’m aware, he’s the first senior official who came up with the idea.’

Mr Cummings also told MPs that he did not attend early Cobra meetings but had one-to-one briefings with Prof Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance instead.

He said this was because Cobra meetings were known to be the source of leaks to the press.

Mr Cummings said: ‘Bear in mind one of the huge problems we had throughout was things leaking and creating chaos in the media.’

Sir Patrick said in March 2020 that 20,000 deaths would be a good outcome. Soon after, a worst-case scenario prepared by government scientific advisers put the possible death toll at 50,000. The toll is now at more than 127,000.


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