FORMER prime minister Boris Johnson’s ex-senior adviser on Tuesday (31) criticised his handling of the Covid pandemic, as an inquiry heard he believed claims that the virus was “nature’s way of dealing with old people”.
Dominic Cummings, his former-top aide, painted a troubling picture of Johnson’s attitude and response to the health emergency as it unfolded in 2020.
He was testifying at the Covid-19 public inquiry examining the government’s performance dealing with the virus, which led to nearly 130,000 fatalities being recorded in Britain by mid-July 2021.
The toll is one of the worst official Covid-19 death counts in the world.
Giving his evidence, Cummings reiterated past descriptions of Johnson as a broken shopping “trolley” that would veer in all directions on issues, most notably Covid.
“Pretty much everyone called him a trolley, yeah,” Cummings told the inquiry, referring to former colleagues in government.
Turning his fire on Westminster’s pandemic response more broadly, the former top aide said it featured “widespread failure” alongside “pockets of excellent teams doing excellent work within an overall dysfunctional system”.
Johnson and his government faced criticism for not taking the threat seriously enough in the early stages of the outbreak, and of not having enough protective equipment for frontline medical staff.
In newly-disclosed diary entries submitted to the inquiry, the government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance noted he had “quite a bonkers set of exchanges” with the then-prime minister.
“He says his party ‘thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just nature’s way of dealing with old people — and I am not entirely sure I disagree with them’,” Vallance wrote in December 2020 of a conversation with Johnson.
The “whole thing” referred to lockdowns Britain was enduring to curb the virus.
Chaired by retired senior judge Heather Hallett, the inquiry’s first phase focused on the UK’s resilience and preparedness and is now looking at decision-making and political governance.
It is to interview Johnson and current prime minister Rishi Sunak, who was finance minister during the pandemic, later this year.
Johnson was ousted last year by Tory MPs after a string of scandals, including the so-called “Partygate” controversy around lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.
He quit as an MP in June after lawmakers found he had deliberately misled them about the affair.
In his testimony, Lee Cain, Downing Street’s ex-communications chief, said Covid was the “wrong crisis” for Johnson’s skill set, admitting that he became “exhausted” by his alleged indecision and oscillation in dealing with the pandemic in early 2020.
“He’s somebody who would often delay making decisions, would often seek counsel from multiple sources and change his mind on issues,” Cain said of his former boss during several hours giving evidence under oath.
Pressed about expletive-filled messages from Cummings to Cain in early 2020 criticising Johnson’s performance, the former communications chief acknowledged that the prime minister frustrated his senior aides.