Boris Johnson allies deny he said ‘let the bodies pile high’

Explosive allegations about third Covid lockdown part of toxic feud with Cummings

British prime minister Boris Johnson: Embroiled in a war of words with his former adviser Dominic Cummings.  Photograph: Justin Tallis/PA Wire

British prime minister Boris Johnson: Embroiled in a war of words with his former adviser Dominic Cummings. Photograph: Justin Tallis/PA Wire

 

Boris Johnson’s ministerial allies have strongly denied claims that the prime minister last year said he would rather have seen “the bodies pile high” than introduce a third national Covid-19 lockdown.

The explosive allegations are part of an increasingly toxic briefing war between Downing Street and Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, who believes the prime minister mishandled the Covid-19 crisis.

The Daily Mail reported on Monday that Mr Johnson told a Number 10 meeting last October, after reluctantly accepting a second lockdown: “No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!”

But Ben Wallace, defence secretary, said the claim was “untrue” and was not supported by evidence. He said it belonged in “gossip columns” and questioned the reliability of the source for the story.

Downing Street sources said the claim was “another lie”, while Nadine Dorries, a health minister, tweeted: “This is an outright lie. Not one named source or substantiated fact.”

The Mail cited a “source close to Michael Gove” – Mr Cummings used to be an adviser to the Cabinet Office minister – as saying the prime minister had to be browbeaten into agreeing to the November lockdown.

Mr Cummings will give evidence to MPs next month on the Covid-19 crisis and his colleagues have suggested he has damning evidence to support his claims about Mr Johnson’s prevarication.

Refurbishment leaks

Mr Johnson believes Mr Cummings is responsible for a series of damaging leaks about him and his partner Carrie Symonds, who oversaw a controversial refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street last November, is blamed by Mr Johnson for a series of revelations about the proposed financing of the refurbishment, which the former adviser claimed last week were potentially “illegal”.

“I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended,” Cummings wrote in a blog last week.

Downing Street insists the prime minister stuck to the rules and Mr Wallace, asked whether a loan had initially covered the refurbishment costs, told BBC Breakfast: “The prime minister paid the money, from his own money.”

He said the “annual ministerial transparency report” would be published soon. The Electoral Commission is also looking at whether donations relating to the refurbishment were properly declared.

On Monday afternoon, Simon Case, cabinet secretary, will face questions from MPs on a range of issues relating to Mr Johnson’s conduct, including the flat refurbishment.

Mr Case is also expected to be asked by the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee about whether the prime minister intervened in an inquiry into the leaking of plans for a second lockdown.

The cabinet secretary will also face questions about so-called “double hatting” by civil servants who simultaneously held jobs in the private sector – a phenomenon exposed by the Greensill lobbying affair. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021