Boris Johnson's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has told MPs.
In a blistering, seven-hour appearance before a Westminster committee looking into the UK’s Covid-19 experience, Mr Cummings said the British prime minister was unfit for office and accused him of presiding over a chaotic administration.
He said Mr Johnson played down the seriousness of the pandemic in its early stages and despite almost dying from Covid-19 himself, was reluctant to introduce a second lockdown in the autumn.
“After the first lockdown, his view was he was cross with me and others for pushing him into the first lockdown. His argument was literally, quote, ‘I should have been the mayor in Jaws and kept the beaches open’. He said that many, many times,” Mr Cummings said.
Mr Cummings said health secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked for lying to cabinet colleagues and to the public about how prepared his department was for the crisis. He claimed that former cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill also lost confidence in the health secretary's honesty.
Mr Hancock, who will lead a coronavirus press conference at Downing Street on Thursday, dismissed Mr Cummings’s criticism.
"We absolutely reject Mr Cummings's claims about the health secretary. The health secretary will continue to work closely with the prime minister to deliver the vaccine rollout, tackle the risks posed by variants and support the NHS, " Mr Hancock's spokesman said.
Challenged by Labour leader Keir Starmer about Mr Cummings's claims, the prime minister said nobody could accuse his government of showing complacency in the face of the pandemic.
“The handling of this pandemic has been one of the most difficult things this country has had to do for a very long time but none of the decisions have been easy. To go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country, to deal with a pandemic on this scale has been appallingly difficult,” he said.
Mr Cummings, who was campaign director for Vote Leave for the 2016 Brexit referendum, was Mr Johnson's most senior adviser in Downing Street until he resigned last November following a power struggle with the prime minister's fiancee Carrie Symonds over senior appointments.
“The heart of the problem was fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job and I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes. He had the view that he was prime minister and I should just be doing what he wanted me to,” Mr Cummings said.