Cummings expected to blame Johnson for Britain’s high pandemic death toll

Downing Street braced for prime minister’s former chief adviser’s evidence before parliamentary select committee

Boris Johnson and his former chief adviser  Dominic Cummings who has accused the British prime minister of pursuing a strategy of herd immunity when the pandemic first hit. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson and his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings who has accused the British prime minister of pursuing a strategy of herd immunity when the pandemic first hit. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

 

Downing Street is braced for uncomfortable revelations on Wednesday when Dominic Cummings appears before a committee of MPs investigating the British government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser has made clear in a week-long series of tweets that he will blame the prime minister’s decisions for Britain’s high death toll and that he will back his assertions with documentary evidence.

Mr Cummings claims that herd immunity was the government’s official plan until mid-March last year when it became clear that it could lead to a quarter of a million deaths. He is expected to criticise Mr Johnson’s reluctance to introduce a second lockdown last September for the high number of deaths during the second wave of the pandemic.

The government insists that it was never the plan to allow the virus to spread freely until herd immunity would build up but that, by using social distancing to “flatten the curve”, most deaths would be avoided while herd immunity built up.

Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said in March 2020 that the aim was to “try and reduce the peak – not suppress it completely, also because most people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity whilst protecting the most vulnerable”.

Mr Cummings tweeted this week that ministers were forced into adopting a half-baked alternative plan when it became clear that the original strategy would mean “hundreds of thousands choking to death” and no health service available for anybody for months while the dead were left unburied while the economy collapsed.

Wednesday’s appearance comes a year and a day after Mr Cummings gave a press conference in the Downing Street rose garden to explain why he broke lockdown rules by travelling with his wife and son to Barnard Castle. Mr Johnson expended a lot of political capital in defending Mr Cummings during that crisis, as did other ministers and Conservative MPs.

But the prime minister and his adviser fell out later last year when Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds began to resist Mr Cummings’s hegemony in Downing Street. Mr Cummings resigned, along with director of communications Lee Cain, following a power struggle with Ms Symonds and her allies.

Hostile briefings

Earlier this year, the prime minister told newspaper editors that Mr Cummings was behind a series of leaks and hostile briefings about him and Ms Symonds.

Mr Cummings responded with a blog post alleging that Mr Johnson considered blocking a leak inquiry when it was leading to one of his fiancée’s allies and accusing the prime minister of unethical and possibly illegal actions over funding the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

Reports over the past few days suggest Mr Cummings will claim that Mr Johnson failed to attend early meetings about coronavirus because he was writing a book about Shakespeare and that the prime minister said the virus was “only killing 80-year-olds” when he delayed a second lockdown last September.

Downing Street hopes that Mr Cummings’s unpopularity among the public will dull the impact of his revelations but those who know him best believe his instinct for political theatre will ensure a day of high drama at Westminster on Wednesday. 

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