Covid inquiry as it happened: Boris's former adviser Dominic Cummings gives evidence

31 October 2023, 09:20 | Updated: 31 October 2023, 18:10

Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings will give evidence today
Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings will give evidence today. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Dominic Cummings gave testimony to the Covid-19 inquiry.

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Boris Johnson's former chief adviser was one of the key figures in the government's early response to the Covid pandemic.

But he was forced out of Number 10 after driving from London to Barnard Castle during lockdown.

Lee Cain, former No 10 director of communications, appeared before the Covid inquiry on Tuesday.

He resigned in November 2020 amid anger at the government's handling of the pandemic.

Follow all the key developments from the inquiry today in our live blog

Key Updates:

  • Former Downing Street communications director, Lee Cain, appeared before the Covid inquiry this morning.
  • Dominic Cummings is now giving evidence - three years after leaving No 10 as Boris Johnson's top aide.
  • Cain, one of Johnson's closest and longest-serving advisors, resigned in November 2020 amid anger at the government's handling of the pandemic
  • This second phase of the Covid inquiry is looking at political governance. No one will be found guilty or innocent; the purpose is to learn lessons

Thank you for joining LBC's live coverage of the Covid inquiry

The hearing has now concluded for the day.

Former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain and former top aide to Boris Johnson Dominic Cummings both gave evidence.

Read more: 

Boris Johnson's rage at 'total and utter liar' Dominic Cummings over lockdown trip to Barnard Castle

Cummings called for 'enforcement dashboard' to be introduced

Cummings posted on the No10 WhatsApp group to say an "enforcement dashboard" should be introduced, adding: "At what point do people reasonable say f*** this, I'm the idiot for taking the rules seriously?" 

 In the message dated October 15, 2020, Mr Cummings said: "We should start an enforcement dashboard as part of Covid reporting. 

 "I've harped on but it's killing us. How do you justify ever more Potemkin laws that aren't obeyed? 

 "At what point do people reasonable say f*** this, I'm the idiot for taking the rules seriously? Like with surveillance and data, the truth is we've ducked out of facing these questions at a political level. We shouldn't. 

 "We should look at enforcement metrics like hospital metrics. And change the laws on policing. 

 "Or else admit to ourselves that we aren't genuinely serious!"

Cummings says he 'acted entirely reasonably and legally' in lockdown trip to Barnard Castle

He said he "acted entirely reasonably and legally and did not break any rules".

But he says the way it was handled was a "car crash" and "disaster".

Johnson raged that Cummings was a 'total and utter liar' after lockdown trip to Barnard Castle

In messages shared with the Covid inquiry, dated July 19 2021, Mr Johnson said: "Cummings a total and utter liar. He never told me he had gone to Durham during lockdown. 

 "I only discovered when the stories started to come out about Barnard castle etc. I believed Mary Wakefield when she wrote a piece in spec giving impression they had been in London the whole time. 

 "He later claimed that he had told me but that my brain was so fogged by Covid that I didn't register. 

 "It's not true, I would have noted it. 

 "He never told me. I then tried my very best to defend him."

Infighting over Cummings' exit from No10 was a 'disgusting orgy of narcissism'

Johnson described the infighting surrounding Cummings' exit from No 10 as a "disgusting orgy of narcissism". 

 In a final WhatsApp to Cummings on November 15, 2020, Johnson hit out at suggestions that his now wife Carrie was responsible for briefing against his former senior aide, who had left No10 two days earlier. 

 The message from Johnson said: "She hasn't briefed anyone and my instructions to all were to shut the f*** up. How is any of us supposed to know where these briefings come from? Look at the claims made on behalf of allies of Lee (Cain) and Dom, that I'm out in six months, that I can't take decisions, that Carrie is secretly forging lockdown policy, and about a billion equally demented claims. 

 "Are you responsible for all that c**p? No. Then look at it from my point of view. This is a totally disgusting orgy of narcissism by a government that should be solving a national crisis. 

 "We must end this. That's why I wanted to talk and see what we can jointly do to sterilise the whole thing. But if you really refuse, then that's up to you." 

 Asked if he agreed there was an "orgy of narcissism" in the government, Cummings told the Covid inquiry: "Certainly there was."

'I was not misogynistic... I was much ruder about men'

Hugo Keith asks if Cummings was misogynistic to civil servant Helen MacNamara.

"I was not misogynistic. I was much ruder about men than I was about about Helen," he said.

"I agree that my language is deplorable but as you can see for yourself, I deployed the same or worse language about the prime minister, secretary of state and other people. 

Cummings sent disparaging messages about MacNamara in 2020, in which he said he would "handcuff her and escort her" from Downing Street. 

He wrote: "If I have to come back to Helen's bullshit with PET - designed to waste huge amounts of my time so I can't spend it on other stuff - I will personally handcuff her and escort her from the building. 

 "I don't care how it's done but that woman must be out of our hair - we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the British state while dodging stilettos from that c***."

Cummings denies he contributed to the "toxic" environment at No10

"Certainly the atmosphere was toxic in all sorts of ways, I contributed to it in the sense of I'd said the system is broken, a lot of the people need to be removed and it needs to be rebuilt," he said.

He then backtracked and said: "No, my answer is not yes."

He admitted that some of his views and actions will have contributed to "bad relations with some people".

'We're killing the patient to tackle the tumour'

Cummings was asked about a comment in a meeting with the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Somebody is alleged to have said: "We're killing the patient to tackle the tumour... why are we destroying the economy for people who will die anyway soon."

When asked who made the comment, Cummings said he thinks it was Boris Johnson.

He added that it was a reflection of the fact the Treasury was "pushing back" and "baffled about what was going on".

Cummings warned PM of NHS imploding ‘like a zombie apocalypse’

The former top aide said in a message to Mr Johnson in March 2020: "The overwhelming danger here is being late and the NHS implodes like zombie apocalypse film - not being a week early."

Cummings said the message was after he had seen new NHS data which revealed “that the whole crisis was coming much, much, much faster than we had been told”. 

‘Contain, delay, mitigate’ strategy became joke

By the time the government’s coronavirus ‘contain, delay, mitigate’ action plan was published on March 2, it had already become a “joke”, Cummings said. 

“At that time there was an exponential curve of the virus but there was also an exponential curve of alarm in the PM’s office and elsewhere in the system," he added.