As the government puts the final touches to its social distancing review and Foreign Office ministers ponder the best response to the situation in Belarus, it’s a scheduled select committee appearance that is the subject of the most animated chatter in Westminster. Dominic Cummings is due to give evidence before the joint health and science committee inquiry into the government’s Covid response.
The session — which is due on Wednesday from 9.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Cummings has said he is happy to stay longer) — has been causing nerves in 10 Downing Street for some time. Given Boris Johnson’s relationship with his senior aide has dramatically worsened since Cummings left government, there have been concerns that the former adviser could make a series of damaging allegations about the PM’s handling of the Covid — as well as reveal numerous embarrassing details that Johnson and his ministers would rather be kept private.
Over the weekend, there have been a few hints of what is to come. Cummings made the news when he added a new tweet to his lengthy thread on Covid — stating that herd immunity was the government’s Covid strategy initially — and ministers ended up with a ‘bodged’ plan when they finally worked out it was a strategy that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Those claims were met with a terse response from Department of Health and Public Health England figures over the weekend.
The expectation is that Cummings’s evidence will focus largely on issues with transparency in the Covid response and why he believes deaths could have been avoided if different decisions had been made. No. 10 figures are also worried damaging details could emerge — with the Sunday Times reporting aides are worried Cummings will say Johnson missed early Covid meetings as he was working on his Shakespeare biography which he needed for funds relating to his divorce.
While the session is unlikely to be pleasant for Johnson and his team, will it be damaging? The local election results have encouraged those who think Downing Street internal drama does not cut through — and that the vaccine rollout swamps early mistakes when it comes to voter priorities. It’s also the case that Cummings may not be the best messenger for government criticism: a YouGov poll suggests only 14 per cent of voters trust what the former aide says. But even with these caveats taken into account, given that not even Cummings’s allies are sure what he will say, for now all bets are off.
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