Dominic Cummings has apologised for the language used in a series of foul-mouthed messages criticising members of the government but denied misogyny over a sexist rant against a civil servant.
Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff was shown a host of sweary WhatsApps at the Covid inquiry on Tuesday, in which he called his former colleagues “useless f***pigs, morons and c***s” during the pandemic.
He apologised for his disparaging language but defended the criticism more generally, saying he was reflecting “a widespread view” that senior politicians were “dealing with this crisis extremely badly.”
To audible gasps in the press annex, one message was read out in which Mr Cummings called former top civil servant Helen MacNamara a “c***” and said he would “handcuff her and escort her” from Downing Street. However, he denied misogyny.
It was also revealed that Boris Johnson hit out at suggestions his wife Carrie was leading lockdown policy as “cr**” in a message to Mr Cummings.
Giving evidence earlier on Tuesday morning, Lee Cain, Mr Johnson’s former communications chief, said the pandemic was the “wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skill set”.
Boris said it was ‘cr**’ that wife Carrie was leading lockdown policy
Cummings calls MacNamara a ‘c***’ in series of disparaging messages
Government’s Covid plan was ‘pretty much a joke’, Cummings says
Cummings apologises for sweary WhatsApps about Johnson’s cabinet ‘morons’
Former adviser's secret foul-mouthed rants about Boris Johnson
Lee Cain: Covid was ‘wrong crisis’ for Johnson
Watch: Cummings and Cain provide worrying insight into No 10
21:11 , Tara Cobham
In the messages, Cummings, who was then-adviser to Johnson, appeared to be growing frustrated with the Cabinet Office, referring to it as ‘s***’, and the delays to introducing further lockdown measures they were allegedly causing.
He also accused Johnson of saying ‘stupid s****’ and described former health secretary Matt Hancock as the ‘c*** in charge of NHS’.
The inquiry continues to look into the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Sophie Thompson reports:
Watch: Rishi Sunak compared handling Covid to the film Jaws
21:00 , Tara Cobham
Boris Johnson’s handling of Covid crisis slammed by former top advisers
20:18 , Tara Cobham
In an extraordinary day of evidence at the Covid-19 inquiry, the former prime minister’s chief aide Dominic Cummings described the constant change of strategy as “exhausting” and branded his cabinet “useless f***pigs” in explosive WhatsApp messages.
Mr Cummings said that Mr Johnson did not think Covid was a “big deal”, while the hearing was also told that then-PM was “obsessed” with the idea older people should be allowed to catch the virus and accept their “fate” to keep the economy open.
Kate Devlin and Archie Mitchell report:
Starmer battles to maintain Labour discipline over Israel-Hamas war
20:08 , Tara Cobham
Sir Keir Starmer battled to maintain Labour discipline with members of his frontbench in open revolt about his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The Labour leader has resisted pressure from within his own party to call for a ceasefire, instead urging both parties in the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause to allow aid in and people out of the war zone.
Shadow ministers are among senior Labour figures demanding a change in his stance, with frontbencher Alex Cunningham calling for an “immediate ceasefire” less than an hour before Sir Keir delivered his speech.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also criticised Sir Keir, claiming he had made “hurtful” comments about the conflict and there was “repair work to do” to mend bridges with Muslim communities.
Sir Keir insisted he took collective responsibility - the principle that members of his frontbench team adopt a unified position - seriously, but he gave no indication he was about to sack those who had spoken out.
“It is for me to address collective responsibility, I recognise that,” he said.
“It matters and I take that duty extremely seriously, but I put it in the context of understanding what is driving people in the call for a ceasefire, which is in my judgment not the call that we should be making as things stand.”
What we have learned from the Covid inquiry so far this week
19:51 , Tara Cobham
A busy two days at the Covid-19 inquiry saw appearances from some of the key figures in Downing Street during the early stages of the pandemic.
Here’s what we learned from the appearance of Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain and others over the course of Monday and Tuesday.
Dithering Johnson suggested Covid was nature dealing with elderly, inquiry hears
19:40 , Tara Cobham
Boris Johnson's chaotic indecisiveness delayed lockdown measures, two of his top advisers have said, as it was alleged he believed coronavirus was "nature's way of dealing with old people".
Dominic Cummings told the Covid inquiry on Tuesday how the "dysfunctional system" during a "meltdown of the British state" failed to deal with the crisis, as the former prime minister downplayed the pandemic.
Lee Cain, who served as No 10's communications director, criticised Mr Johnson's tendency to "oscillate" between decisions for holding up the Government's response.
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry saw diary entries from Sir Patrick Vallance saying Mr Johnson was "obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life" and getting the economy running.
Cummings denies misogyny despite foul-mouthed messages about civil servant
18:57 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings has insisted he is not a misogynist despite referring to a top civil servant as “that c***” in a series of foul-mouthed messages to Boris Johnson.
In an astonishing day of Covid testimony shedding new light on a culture of sexism at the heart of the former PM’s government, Cummings apologised for the “deplorable” language and claimed he “was much ruder about men”.
To audible gasps, the inquiry was shown Cummings’ WhatsApp texts about then deputy cabinet-secretary Helen MacNamara from 2020, in which he said he would “handcuff her and escort her” from Downing Street.
Read more here:
In pictures: Cummings and Cain after appearing at inquiry
18:55 , Tara Cobham
Cummings’ bombshell four-letter Covid WhatsApp rants explained
18:50 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings branded Boris Johnson “exhausting” and in a foul-mouthed tirade said the cabinet was “useless f***pigs” in explosive WhatsApp messages revealed today at the Covid-19 inquiry.
In a pivotal day, Mr Johnson’s former communications chief Lee Cain gave evidence, followed by Mr Cummings, the former prime minister’s chief of staff during the pandemic.
Mr Cummings apologised to the inquiry for the “appalling” language he used in messages but said that he was reflecting “a widespread view” about the incompetence shown by ministers who were “dealing with this crisis extremely badly”.
Joe Middleton reports:
Sturgeon says she ‘gave my all’ in response to pandemic
18:06 , Tara Cobham
Nicola Sturgeon has said she “gave my all” in the response to the pandemic.
Addressing journalists at Holyrood on whether she deleted WhatsApp messages relating to the pandemic, the former first minister said: “I gave my all to the management of the pandemic.
“Transparency for the families affected, by everybody affected by the pandemic, matters really a lot to me.
“I did my best everyday, as you heard me say many times over the course of the pandemic, I did not get everything right but I did my best and I want the process of these inquiries to get to the heart of what happened – the things that Governments got right and the things that Government’s and leaders alike didn’t get right.”
‘I did not manage Covid response by WhatsApp,’ says Sturgeon
18:05 , Tara Cobham
Scotland’s former first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I did not manage the Covid response by WhatsApp.”
Speaking to reporters at Holyrood, she said she was not a member of any WhatsApp groups and she took decisions on the response at the Scottish Government headquarters at St Andrews House in Edinburgh.
She said she has “nothing to hide” and is “committed to full transparency” for both the UK and Scottish Covid-19 inquiries.
Sturgeon says she dealt with messages ‘in line with policies' of Scottish Government
18:05 , Tara Cobham
Former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she dealt with messages “in line with policies” of the Scottish Government.
Speaking to journalists in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: “Any messages I had I handled and dealt with in line with the policies set out by the Deputy First Minister.”
Her comments come after the Scottish Government published its policy on social media messages, which says “business conversations” through informal messaging channels should be deleted “at least monthly”.
Barnard Castle trip ‘did cause lot of people pain’, says Cummings
17:26 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings said that the handling by Downing Street of the fallout from his trip to Barnard Castle was an “absolute car crash” and “did cause a lot of people pain”.
He was quizzed on the high-profile controversy and the impact it had on confidence in the Government during his appearance at the Covid inquiry.
He said: “It was certainly a disaster, the whole handling of the situation. But there were other factors involved with it all as well – testing and PPE and many other things were all going haywire at the time.”
He said it was “completely reasonable” for security reasons to move his family out of his house, but on the Barnard Castle revelations he said the way it was “handled it was an absolute car crash and disaster and did cause a lot of people pain”.
But he added: “In terms of my actual actions in going north and then coming back down I acted entirely reasonably and legally and did not break any rules.”
Cummings ‘rolled dice’ and backed Johnson as PM despite believing him ‘unfit'
17:15 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings said he decided to “roll the dice” and back Boris Johnson to be prime minister even though he believed he was “unfit” for power.
Asked if he was sorry, Mr Cummings said “no”, adding: “Politics is about choices.
“And the choice that we had in summer 2019 was do we allow the whole situation, this once-a-century constitutional crisis to continue, meltdown and possibly see Jeremy Corbyn as PM and a second referendum on Brexit – which we thought would be catastrophic for the country and for democracy, for faith in democracy – or to roll the dice on Boris and to try and control him and build a team around him that could control him.
“We didn’t take that choice lightly. We considered in summer 19 an alternative of staying out of it.
“But we thought the combination of second referendum and Corbyn was so bad that we should roll the dice.”
Johnson raged Cummings was ‘total and utter liar’ after Barnard Castle trip
17:14 , Tara Cobham
Boris Johnson raged that Dominic Cummings was a “total and utter liar” after his lockdown trip to Barnard Castle became public.
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.”
Boris said it was ‘cr**’ that wife Carrie was leading lockdown policy
17:09 , Tara Cobham
Boris Johnson called suggestions his wife Carrie was leading lockdown policy “cr**”, the Covid inquiry has heard.
In a final WhatsApp to Mr Cummings on November 15, 2020, Mr Johnson hit out at suggestions that his now wife Carrie was responsible for briefing against his former senior aide, who had left No 10 two days earlier.
The message from Mr 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 crap? 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, Mr Cummings told the Covid inquiry: “Certainly there was.”
Cummings on Johnson’s relationship with media: ‘Extremely damaging’
17:07 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings was asked by Hugo Keith about the relationship between Boris Johnson and the media.
Mr Cummings said: “There was a general feeling in Number 10 that the way in which the Prime Minister responded constantly to the media was extremely bad and extremely damaging to the Covid response.
“There were specific concerns about his relationship with the Barclays in the Telegraph.
“And there were specific concerns and also suspicions of possible corruption in terms of his relationship with Osborne, and funnelling money to the Evening Standard.”
He also said that Boris Johnson had spoken to and met with Lord Lebedev in March 2020.
Counsel puts to Cummings that he ‘denigrated women'
16:55 , Tara Cobham
Counsel to the Inquiry Hugo Keith KC put to Dominic Cummings that he “denigrated women” and “denigrated Helen McNamara” by sending her a misogynistic message.
Mr Cummings responded: “No that’s not correct. I was not misogynistic.
“I was much ruder about men than I was about Helen.
“I agree that my language is deplorable, but as you can see for yourself I deployed the same or worse language (for) the prime minister, secretary of state or other people.
“If you want to look at how we actually ran things, unlike Whitehall, I had two young women as my deputies, I hired young women into the data science team, in the Vote Leave campaign I actually put a woman in her 30s in charge of it much to the rage of a lot of MPs.
“So if you look at the reality of how I actually ran teams, and how they got on with the private secretaries in Number 10, you will see the truth of the matter.”
Cummings apologises for foul-mouthed message about MacNamara
16:53 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings apologised for his foul-mouthed WhatsApp message about former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara.
He said: “I apologise for my language towards Helen but a thousand times worse than my language was the underlying insanity of the situation in Number 10.”
Mr Cummings criticised Boris Johnson’s “botched” attempt to change senior civil servants in No 10 and the Cabinet Office.
He said: “The prime minister had – first of all – tried to sack the cabinet secretary and then botched it, and he was still there. Then he had said to everyone that he wanted Helen to be removed as well and that he had lost confidence in Helen.”
That meant “we were in this absolutely nightmare situation where the PM had made clear that he didn’t have confidence in either of the two senior officials, had said to people that he was going to remove them, then he didn’t remove them for week after week”.
Mr Cummings said: “Now, my language about Helen – the language is absolutely appalling and actually I got on well with Helen at a personal level – but a thousand times worse than my bad language is the underlying issue at stake that we had a Cabinet Office system that had completely melted and the prime minister had half begun the process of changing the senior management and then stopped.”
Yousaf’s informal messages will be handed to inquiry, says Robison
16:51 , Tara Cobham
Informal messages sent and received by First Minister Humza Yousaf during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he served as justice secretary and health secretary, will be handed over to the UK inquiry unredacted, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison has said.
“As the First Minister recently stated, should either Covid inquiry want more information, then we expect every Minister, past and present, every government official and clinical adviser to comply,” she said.
“I can confirm that the First Minister will, when submitting his final statement for Module 2A in the coming days, hand over WhatsApp messages, unredacted to the inquiry.”
Cummings calls top civil servant ‘f***** up frosty’ in messages shown at inquiry
16:49 , Tara Cobham
In another message, shown at the inquiry, Dominic Cummings said of former top civil servant Helen MacNamara: “We gotta get Helen out of CabOff. She’s f***** up frosty. She’s f***** up me and case. She’s trying to get spads fired and cause trouble on multiple fronts.
“Can we get her in on Monday for chat re her moving to CLG or dft. I get the distinct impression MS isn’t acting swiftly and she is trying to hang on waiting to get hooks into new CabSec and stay in there… we need her out ASAP. Building millions of lovely houses.”
Watch: Covid compared to chickenpox
16:47 , Tara Cobham
Cummings calls MacNamara a ‘c***’ in series of disparaging messages
16:46 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings has been shown a series of messages in which he called former top civil servant Helen MacNamara a “c***” and said he would “handcuff her and escort her” from Downing Street.
The Covid-19 inquiry was shown the disparaging messages Mr Cummings sent to Boris Johnson’s former comms chief Lee Cain about the then deputy cabinet secretary in 2020, in which he said he didn’t care “how it’s done” but “that woman must be out of our hair”.
To audible gasps in the press annex of the Covid inquiry, lead counsel Hugo Keith KC read out a message in which Mr Cummings said: “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 denied he was misogynistic.
The inquiry also heard that Ms MacNamara and a fellow civil servant had drawn up a report complaining of “toxic cultural problems in No 10, people talking over junior women, a sexist macho culture”.
The inquiry also heard that Cummings had described the Cab Office, where ms MacNamara worked, as “terrifyingly shit”.
Scottish Deputy First Minister ‘can’t give details on what’s been provided to inquiry'
16:37 , Tara Cobham
Scottish Deputy First Minister Shona Robison has said she is not able to provide details on what has or has not been provided to the Covid inquiries.
Making a statement in Holyrood, Ms Robison said it was for the inquiries to decide what should be published, in the wake of a row over the potential deletion of WhatsApp messages – including reports that Nicola Sturgeon messages may not have been retained.
“It is important to note that both inquiries have made all their requests to witnesses in confidence, and those requests are not public,” she said.
“All those receiving requests, including Scottish Government, have been told by the inquiries not to share their content. It is entirely up to – and wholly a matter for – the independent inquiry chairs to determine, where appropriate, whether to publish the material they receive.
“The Scottish Government is obliged to comply with this requirement and as such I will not, and cannot, provide precise details on any of the requests that the Scottish Government has received to date, including specific information on what has been asked of individuals who have received requests from the inquiries.
“Nor can I discuss in detail what material individuals have or have not provided.”
Johnson argued lockdown would be ‘killing patient to tackle tumour’, says Cummings
16:35 , Tara Cobham
Boris Johnson argued that lockdown would be “killing the patient to tackle the tumour” on March 19 2020, Dominic Cummings said as he accused him of dithering over the decision.
Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser was asked about a diary note by an aide, attributed to the then-prime minister, stating: “We’re killing the patient to tackle the tumour. Large ppl (taken to mean large numbers of people) who will die, why are we destroying economy for people who will die anyway soon.”
Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, asked Mr Cummings who made that comment.
“I think it was the PM,” Mr Cummings replied, saying it was a reflection of the debate going on in Downing Street and that the Treasury being “baffled” that “why are we not sticking to” the plan.
Asked whether there was a real problem in getting Mr Johnson to agree to a course of action and to stick to it, Mr Cummings agreed that that “is the nub of it”.
He said: “By the 19th it was totally obvious that there was going to be a lockdown. And my fear then was that if the PM suddenly trolleyed back, then all it would do was cause more needless confusion.”
Boris getting rid of Sedwill was ‘one of most disastrous moments of entire 2020’
16:33 , Archie Mitchell, Political Correspondent
Boris Johnson getting rid of Britain’s top civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill was “one of the most disastrous moments of 2020”, Dominic Cummings has claimed.
Mr Cummings said: “It was a total disaster. But it was also, from a personal level, it was very unfair on Mark.”
He acknowledged that he “played his part” in the PM’s loss of confidence in Sir Mark.
Cummings told Johnson that Hancock had ‘killed people’, inquiry hears
16:32 , Tara Cobham
In a message sent to Boris Johnson by Dominic Cummings in May 2020, the top adviser told the Prime Minister that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had “killed people”.
In a WhatsApp message shared with the inquiry, he said: “You need to think through timing of binning Hancock. There’s no way the guy can stay. He’s lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it.
“He will have to go the question is when and who replaces.”
Johnson said why destroy economy for people who will die anyway, Cummings confirms
16:26 , Archie Mitchell, Political Correspondent
Dominic Cummings confirmed it was Boris Johnson who said in a meeting during the pandemic: "Why are we destroying the economy for people who will die anyway soon?"
On Monday, the inquiry heard that Mr Johnson had, according to a note read from the diary of a former private secretary, asked why the economy was being destroyed “for people who will die anyway soon”, in the days before the country went into lockdown.
The diary note from Imran Shafi, which he attributed to Mr Johnson, stated: “We’re killing the patient to tackle the tumour. Large ppl (taken to mean large numbers of people) who will die, why are we destroying economy for people who will die anyway soon.”
Asked on Tuesday who made the comment, Mr Cummings said: "I think it was the PM."
Cummings warned Johnson of NHS imploding ‘like zombie apocalypse film’, inquiry hears
16:25 , Tara Cobham
Dominic Cummings warned Boris Johnson of the NHS imploding “like a zombie apocalypse film”, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard.
Calling for daily meetings on the crisis in the Cabinet room, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser said in a WhatsApp to the then-prime minister on March 12 2020: “The overwhelming danger here is being late and the NHS implodes like zombie apocalypse film – not being a week early.”
Asked about the message, Mr Cummings told the inquiry new NHS data he had seen revealed “that the whole crisis was coming much, much, much faster than we had been told”.
Dominic Cummings: ‘Mark Sedwill is babbling about chickenpox… god f****** help us’
16:08 , Matt Mathers
The Covid inquiry revealed a text from Dominic Cummings to Lee Cain which said then cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill was “babbling about chickenpox”., Archie Mitchell reports.
“God fucking help us,” Mr Cummings added..
The former No10 chief of staff was asked what was being said about chickenpox by the top civil servant.
He said there was a meeting in the PM’s study on the day of the message, sent on March 12, 2020. “The cabinet secretary said to the PM, ‘PM, you should go on TV and you should explain that this is like the old days with chickenpox, and people are going to have chickenpox parties and the sooner a lot of people get this and get it over with the
better, sort of thing.’
“This had been mentioned before, this analogy, and I said ‘Mark you should stop using this analogy of chickenpox parties’.”
Mr Cummings said it was “terrifying” that such a senior civil servant was being briefed that Covid was similar to chickenpox.
Cummings: Hancock ‘sowed chaos’ by saying people without some symptoms were unlikely to have Covid
16:05 , Matt Mathers
Matt Hancock “sowed chaos” by continuing to insist in March 2020 that people without symptoms of a dry cough and a temperature were unlikely to be suffering from coronavirus, Dominic Cummings has said.
Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser was asked by Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, whether it was understood in Downing Street, despite the then-health secretary’s claims, that there was in fact asymptomatic transmission.
Mr Cummings replied: “It was and Mr Hancock had made this point in multiple ways and sowed chaos by saying this.
“He was repeatedly told by Patrick Vallance the what he was saying was wrong. But he kept saying it.
“So this false meme lodged itself in crucial people’s minds. I don’t understand, never understood why Hancock said this. But Patrick Vallance made extremely clear to me and to others in No 10 that what Hancock was saying was factually wrong.”
Cummings: Local authorities were considering booking out ice rinks to store bodies
16:03 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings said conversations such as storing “massive numbers of bodies” in ice rinks “exploded” in the week beginning March 9 2020, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard.
Answering a question on whether he was persuaded that the herd immunity approach was the wrong way to go, Mr Cummings said: “In the week beginning the ninth… I had growing doubts on an hourly basis.
“By the 11th my view was, I’ve got an appalling feeling that I’m in one of those historic catastrophes, like July 1914. I’ve got a lot of smart people coming to me saying a) the fundamentally the strategy is wrong, misconceived, but also at a practical level.
“At this point remember I was sitting in an office and suddenly overhearing people having phone calls about whether local authorities could book out ice rinks and get trucks to carry massive numbers of bodies and store them in ice rinks.
“These conversations suddenly exploded in the week of the ninth.
“So on the one hand a fundamental argument is the strategy misconceived or not, but we also had this sort of growing cascade of nightmare conversations going on around us where we realised that the system was just completely out of control in terms of coping with its original plan A.”
Watch: PM was not disturbed on holiday at start of pandemic as Covid seen as ‘distant problem’
15:51 , Matt Mathers
Cummings: Government’s Covid plan was ‘pretty much a joke’
15:45 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings said the government’s “Contain, Delay, Mitigate” Covid plan, published in March 2020, was “pretty much a joke”, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former No10 chief of staff said there was a sense in Downing Street of “hang on a second, we have been told that we’re the best prepared in the world… this document is pretty much a joke”.
“What the hell is going on?” he added.
He said the action plan was one of “many documents” that demonstrated the government was “miles off the pace” in dealing with Covid.
Cummings: ‘Insane’ that Johnson and senior officials were on holiday as Covid struck
15:27 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has said Covid in February 2020 was seen as a “distant problem” and not an “immediate crisis”, with Boris Johnson and other senior officials on holiday, Archie Mitchell reports.
Grilled on why the prime minister did not receive any briefing between February 14 and February 24, Mr Cummings said it was because it was not “seen as an imminent crisis”.
He told the Covid inquiry: “I did not go on holiday but many people were on holiday during that time.”
He added that it was “insane” so many senior people, including the PM, were on holiday. “There was indeed a massive crisis,” he said.
Cummings: Shutting borders wouldn’t have worked without scaled-up test and trace system
15:07 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings agreed that without a scaled-up test and trace system, shutting the borders would not have sufficed in combating the spread of coronavirus.
But he said: “It’s half of the nub of the issue, but the other half of the nub is that if you regard the whole thing in a fatalistic way anyway – which DH (the Department of Health), the Cabinet Office and Sage did at the beginning – and you think that there is no effective alternative to herd immunity.
“If you say that, at an overall conceptual level, there’s either A: shape a curve towards herd immunity, or B: try to build your way out of the problem, the entire system in January, February, early March thought that the only plausible approach to this was to shape the curve of herd immunity.
“No one thought it was really practical to build our way out of the problem.
“The fundamental U-turn that we shifted to, was to try and build our way out of it instead of fatalistically accepting it.”
Cummings: Government assumed lockdown was ‘not possible in a western country’
14:55 , Matt Mathers
The government was working on the assumption that lockdown was “not possible in a Western country” as Covid struck, Dominic Cummings has revealed, Archie Mitchell reports.
Responding to questioning about the government’s preparedness for a second wave, having mitigated an initial wave with lockdown measures, Mr Cummings said: “There was an assumption across government, across the Cabinet Office, Department of Health and Sage that lockdown was impossible in a Western country.”
Dominic Cummings backed supermodel Caprice’s calls for border controls
14:52 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has lashed out at how the supermodel Caprice Bourret was criticised for calling for Britain’s borders to be closed when Covid struck, Archie Mitchell reports.
“A lot of people, and public health experts mocked her as if she was an idiot,” Mr Cummings told the Covid inquiry.
He was referring to Caprice clashing with medical expert Dr Sarah Jarvis on TV during the pandemic over whether Britain should shut its borders to control the pandemic.
“At that time there was a reaction to a lot of people that closing the borders is racist,” Mr Cummings added.
Cummings: ‘There were effectively no plans for vulnerable people’
14:34 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has said there were effectively “no plans, and no plan to get a plan” for vulnerable people during Covid, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former Downing Street chief of staff said the entire question of vulnerable people “was almost entirely appallingly neglected” throughout the pandemic.
And he described the realisation on March 19, 2020, that there was no plan for those who needed to shield from the disease.
Cummings: Sage agreed with herd immunity
14:26 , Matt Mathers
Cummings claims Sage scientists “collectively” agreed with the government’s original plan to pursue herd immunity from Covid by September 2020, Archie Mitchell reports.
“Many people from Sage actually gave interviews that week articulating that plan A strategy,” Mr Cummings told the Covid inquiry.
Cummings: I wanted Michael Gove rather than PM to deal with devolved administrations
14:23 , Matt Mathers
Cummings tells the inquiry he wanted then chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove rather than Boris Johnson to deal with the devolved administrations (DAs) in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Setting out why he did not want Mr Johnson in Cobra-style briefings, Mr Cummings said: “If you are having meetings to actually figure out the truth then meetings like that have to be conducted in a very different way.
“They can’t be one of these things with 50 people on a video conference with the DAs.”
Who is Tom Shinner?
14:18 , Matt Mathers
Cummings tells the inquiry No 10 Downing Street was not properly equipped to deal with a crisis on the scale of Covid.
After complaining about not having the right staff, Cumming is asked why it was necessary for “your colleagues, your friends” to be brought into government during the crisis.
He said “part of the whole point” of bringing Tom Shinner into government was that “I knew that he had been involved in the Cabinet Office” during Brexit no deal preparations.
Mr Shinner was director of policy and delivery coordination at the Department for Exiting the European Union.
His directorate led DExEU’s work to coordinate the domestic policy implications of exit, across government departments, to seize the opportunities and ensure a smooth process of exit.
Cummings: No10 was not configured to be nerve centre of a crisis
14:07 , Matt Mathers
No10 Downing Street was “not configured to be the nerve centre of a national crisis like Covid”, Dominic Cummings has told the Covid inquiry, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former chief of staff to Boris Johnson said Downing Street is not fit for the task physically, in terms of the personnel and having the right level of power.
“So at the time it was just completely unsuitable for this, that’s why I tried to change it,” Mr Cummings said.
Cummings: Johnson preferred to be in his study over Cobra meetings
14:05 , Matt Mathers
Cummings tells the inquiryJohnson “preferred to be in his study” over attending emergency Cobra meetings on Covid.
The then-prime minister “wasn’t enormously keen” on Cobra, his former chief adviser added.
Asked by inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC whether Mr Johnson was averse to attending the meeting because of its physical location, Mr Cummings said: “It’s hard to say. I mean, he certainly preferred to be in his study and he didn’t like going to Cobra.”
Cummings: ‘Multiple reasons’ Cobra didn’t work well during pandemic
13:56 , Matt Mathers
The evidence session has resumed and Mr Keith is now asking Cummings about the role of government Cobra meetings during the pandemic.
Cummings tells the inquiry the emergency committee did not work well during the crisis for “multiple reasons”.
He says one reason is that the data going into Cobra meeting is “strictly controlled” for national security concerns. Cummings adds the committee was used to dealing with “relatively small things” - like “floods” and “terror attacks” with just a few people involved - rather than national crises.
Daughter who lost her father to Covid-19 hopes and prays lessons are learned
13:46 , Lydia Patrick
Deborah Lewis the founder of bereaved Covid19 Families UK expressed her concerns live on Sky News, she says she is still unable to get closure from losing her father.
She said: “More should have been done sooner, maybe more of our relatives would have survived.
“The bereaved, we all know we cannot bring our loved ones back but what we can do is hope and pray that lessons are learned so people in the future don’t have to go through the devastation and heartache that we’ve been through
“We are still in tears, heartbroken, and unable to move on because of the government’s actions.”
Grieving daughter says she ‘feels like she’s been punched in the stomach’ after reading Johnson’s comments
13:40 , Lydia Patrick
Brenda Doherty, whose mother died aged 82 in March 2020 after contracting Covid-19 in hospital, said reading comments made by Boris Johnson about older people in the pandemic was like being “punched in the stomach”.
Speaking as part of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK campaign group, she accused the former prime minister of having had a “callous and brutal attitude”.
She said: “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach after reading Boris Johnson’s messages this morning.
“They are psychotic.”
She added: “He clearly didn’t see people like my mum as human beings, and thousands others died unnecessarily after the same mistakes were repeated because of Johnson’s callous and brutal attitude.
“I’d do anything to spend another day with my mum, and now we know that we might have had years and years together if only the country had a more humane prime minister when the pandemic struck.”
Government made ‘huge blunder’ on Rashford meals campaign, inquiry hears
13:35 , Lydia Patrick
The Government made a “huge blunder” around the Marcus Rashford free school meals campaign, a former key adviser to Boris Johnson said, as he lamented the lack of diversity among policymakers.
The then-prime minister was told “hungry children” were not the place to start when considering restraint on public finances in the pandemic, former No 10 director of communications Lee Cain said.
Mr Cain said there had been a clear lack of diversity in the prime minister’s top team when it came to informing policy and decision-making.
In a written statement to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, Mr Cain said: “I remember asking in the Cabinet Room of 20 people, how many people had received free school meals. Nobody had – resulting in a policy and political blind spot. This was a huge blunder.
“The PM (to some degree understandably) said we needed to draw a line in the sand on public spending commitments, but this was clearly not the place to draw that line – something the PM was told by his senior team.”
Giving evidence on Tuesday, Mr Cain said: “It’s quite clear that there were challenges of gender diversity, socio-economic diversity and ethnic minority diversity at the very top of the PM’s top team.”
Watch - Cummings said ‘pretty much everyone’ called Boris Johnson ‘the trolley’ during pandemic
13:30 , Lydia Patrick
Cummings: ‘Cabinet Office was a bomb site and dumpster fire’
13:20 , Lydia Patrick
Dominic Cummings described the Cabinet Office as a “bomb site” and a “dumpster fire” when he took up his role as adviser to Boris Johnson, in his evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
Dominic Cummings said an “overall dysfunctional system” was in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
13:13 , Lydia Patrick
Asked if there was any part of the Government machine in which he “did not find fault”, Mr Cummings replied: “In the summer of 2020 I spent a lot of time talking to special forces and I found that they were exceptional.”
After Mr Keith told him to focus on the structure in place that was dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Cummings said: “I would say, overall, it’s widespread failure but pockets of excellent people and pockets of excellent teams doing excellent work within an overall dysfunctional system.”
Cummings: ‘Pretty much everyone called Boris Johnson the trolley'
13:05 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has said “pretty much everyone” called Boris Johnson the trolley during the pandemic, Archie Mitchell reports.
The ex-PM’s then chief of staff was asked at the Covid inquiry about how he, the cabinet secretary, his director of communications and others used the term “about his propensity to change direction”.
Mr Cummings replied: “Pretty much everyone called him the trolley.”
Cummings: Dysfunctional government had pockets of excellent people
13:02 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings said there were “pockets of excellent people and pockets of excellent teams doing excellent work” in government during the pandemic, Archie Mitchell reports.
But the former Downing Street chief of staff said these were embedded in “an overall dysfunctional system”.
Cumming: Cabinet Office filled with the wrong people
12:59 , Matt Mathers
Cummings tells inquiry there were “a lot of the wrong people in the wrong job” in the Cabinet Office as he described a culture of “constantly classifying everything to hide mistakes”.
“The Cabinet Office over a long period of time has accumulated more and more power, formal and informal,” he said.
“It’s become incredibly bloated. It’s acquired huge numbers of people, huge numbers of teams. And particularly on the whole, the sort of deep state, national security side, crisis management, has become in all sorts of ways extremely opaque and effectively completely invisible to any political figure, including the prime minister.
“So it was extremely difficult to know in Number 10 who exactly in the Cabinet Office was doing what, whose responsibility it was, who were we supposed to talk to to get action and that was critical, particularly in the first couple of months (of the pandemic).”
Cummings: ‘We’re wasting time in crap meetings’
12:56 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings sent an email to No10 staff in May 2020 saying Boris Johnson was “wasting far too much time in crap meetings”, Archie Mitchell reports.
“We are not using the PM’s time well.” Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff said in the early months of the pandemic.
In the email, shown to the Covid inquiry, Mr Cummings called for any Covid briefings to be cleared by him or another official, Tom Shinner, among a slew of other changes.
“Without radical changes further disasters are guaranteed,” Mr Cummings added.
Watch: Cummings uses ‘revolting’ language to describe Cabinet ministers during Covid
12:49 , Matt Mathers
Cummings: 'Crackers’ I was appointed to No10
12:47 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has said it is “crackers” he was made the chief of staff in No10 under Boris Johnson, Archie Mitchell reports.
Asked at the official Covid inquiry whether this is a view he still holds, Mr Cummings said: “For sure.”
Cummings: My expletive-laden descriptions of cabinet ministers 'were widespread view'
12:46 , Matt Mathers
Cummings tells inquiry he was “reflecting a widespread view” when he used expletive-laden descriptions of cabinet ministers.
Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said: “We’re going to have to coarsen our language somewhat” as he read out some of the terms used by Mr Cummings in WhatsApp and email messages, including “useless f*******, morons, c****.”
“I apologise,” Mr Cummings said.
Asked by Mr Keith whether he contributed to a lack of effectiveness on the part of ministers, Mr Cummings replied: “No, I think I was reflecting a widespread view amongst competent people at the centre of power at the time about the calibre of a lot of senior people who were dealing with this crisis extremely badly.”
Cabinet secretary up to 100 times more powerful than ministers, Cummings says
12:42 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has claimed Britain’s top civil servant, the cabinet secretary, is between 10 and 100 times as powerful than any other minister, except the prime minister, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former Downing Street chief of staff said the media “aim to cover up this fact”.
Mr Cummings also said the prime minister’s principal private secretary is also "much more powerful" than anybody in the cabinet apart from the prime minister.
Dominic Cummings: ‘My appalling language is my own’
12:33 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has been quizzed over calling colleagues “useless f***pigs, morons and c***s”, with the Covid inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith KC asking if his “revolting” language contributed to a lack of effectiveness of cabinet ministers, Archie Mitchell reports.
“My appalling language is my own,” Mr Cummings said.
But he added that he was “reflecting a widespread view amongst competent people at the centre of power”.
Cummings told to ‘slow down’ as he gives evidence
12:29 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings was told to “slow down” as he started giving evidence to the inquiry.
Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff is being asked about his role in government during the Covid pandemic.
‘One for the ages'
12:23 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain’s description of Covid being the “wrong crisis” for Boris Johnson was “one for the ages,” The Independent’s chief politics commentator John Rentoul says.
“I was in the inquiry hearing for Caino’s words for the ages: ‘It was the wrong crisis for this PM’s skill set,’” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
I was in the inquiry hearing for Caino’s words for the ages: “It was the wrong crisis for this PM’s skill set.”
— John Rentoul (@JohnRentoul) October 31, 2023
Cain: Lack of diversity in PM’s top team led to blindspot on free school meals campaign
12:13 , Matt Mathers
Boris Johnson was told “hungry children” were not the place to start when considering restraint on public finances in the pandemic, Caine tells the inquiry, as he described the overnment’s “huge blunder” around the Marcus Rashford free school meals campaign.
Lee Cain said there had been a clear lack of diversity in the prime minister’s top team when it came to informing policy and decision-making.
In a written statement to the inquiry, Mr Cain said: “I remember asking in the Cabinet Room of 20 people, how many people had received free school meals. Nobody had – resulting in a policy and political blind spot. This was a huge blunder.
“The PM (to some degree understandably) said we needed to draw a line in the sand on public spending commitments, but this was clearly not the place to draw that line – something the PM was told by his senior team.”
PM wanted old people to ‘accept their fate and let young people get on with it’
12:08 , Matt Mathers
Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries have revealed that Boris Johnson wanted older people to “accept their fate” and let the young “get on with life and get the economy going”, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former chief scientific adviser recalled a “bonkers” set of exchanges with the PM and said he believed Covid was “just nature’s way of dealing with old people”.
Boris Johnson had ‘useless f***pigs’ in charge, Cummings said
12:01 , Matt Mathers
Boris Johnson was accused by Dominic Cummings of having “useless f***pigs” in charge in a sweary email in which he was urged to sack several ministers, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former PM was told by his then chief of staff Mr Cummings that the so-called Westminster “bubble” thought he had “taken his eye off the ball” in August 2020.
Mr Cummings told him he appeared “happy to have useless f***pigs in charge” and accused “feral” cabinet members of leaking to the press.
“Leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake - he is a proven liar who nobody believes or should believe on anything,” Mr Cummings wrote to Mr Johnson.
He went on to list Mr Hancock alongside Grant Shapps, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss as “problem leakers”.
And he highlighted the problem of “second order leakers” plaguing the government.
Cain: ‘Unfair’ to criticise PM for not making clear domestic abuse victims could leave home
11:57 , Matt Mathers
It would be “unfair” to criticise Boris Johnson for failing to make clear to domestic abuse victims that they did not have to stay at home during Covid restrictions, his former communications chief has said.
Lee Cain told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that the Government did “the best we could” to communicate with groups and sectors about specific issues during the pandemic.
He was asked by inquiry counsel Andrew O’Connor KC about criticism that the then-prime minister did not address those at risk of domestic abuse during press conferences to spread the stay-at-home message.
Mr Cain said: “I think it would be unfair to criticise the PM on that particular issue. I mean, it would depend on if he’d been briefed, if there was something particularly we were trying to get across.”
Boris Johnson’s back to work drive made ‘absolutely no sense’
11:53 , Matt Mathers
Boris Johnson’s drive to get workers back into their offices during the pandemic made “absolutely no sense,” his former head of comms has said, Archie Mitchell reports.
Lee Cain told the Covid inquiry that “businesses were not even asking for people to come back to work”. “In face they were encouraging their employees to stay at home,” he said.
And he added: “To me it made absolutely no sense whatsoever.”
Cain: Right-wing Tories and print media wanted quicker end to lockdowns
11:51 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has said pressure from right-wing Tories and the print media “underpinned” Boris Johnson’s indecision on whether or not to have a “circuit-breaker” lockdown in autumn 2020, Archie Mitchell reports.
Mr Johnson’s former head of comms told the Covid inquiry the ex-PM was “torn on this issue” and would have been calling for Britain to “open up the beaches” in his previous role as a columnist.
“I think that was part of the reason for the oscillation because the rigid measures were very much against his political DNA,” Mr Cain said.
Bombshell WhatsApp messages reveal Dominic Cummings’ secret foul-mouthed rants about Boris Johnson
11:47 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings said he was forced to sit with Boris Johnson for hours to “stop him saying stupid s***” in sweary WhatsApp messages revealed today at the Covid-19 inquiry.
In a pivotal day, Mr Johnson’s former communications chief Lee Cain is giving evidence, followed by Mr Cummings, the former prime minister’s chief of staff during the pandemic.
The inquiry was shown WhatsApp messages Mr Cummings sent to Mr Cain saying the former prime minister had gone “back to Jaws mode w***” and that was he “exhausted” trying to explain things to Mr Johnson.
Joe Middleton reports:
Government was ‘doing its best without diversity’, Lee Cain
11:46 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has told the official Covid inquiry that government decision-making was held back by a lack of diversity, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former Downing Street head of comms said one of the challenges faced by officials and ministers was the dynamic of the room, which during the pandemic was white and middle aged.
This had an impact on groups such as split families, who Mr Cain agreed risked “slipping through the cracks” of government policy.
Cain ‘strongly’ stands by lockdown messaging
11:39 , Matt Mathers
Cain tells the inquiry he “strongly” stands by the lockdown messaging campaign of “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”, as he admitted disagreeing with a committee of behavioural scientists.
The former No 10 director of communications described the messaging as having been “seen as one of the most powerful public health campaigns in modern memory”.
He said focus groups and polling had been used to inform the campaign, rather than the “slightly questionable” insights of the Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), adding that “behavioural science isn’t always correct”.
Mr Cain told the inquiry: “I think the broad view was slightly questionable of some of the insights of Spi-B, so I didn’t have a huge amount of dealings with them at that particular point and the sort of dealings I did, I didn’t find particularly helpful.
“We had a fast research loop that we would do via focus groups, via polling, things that we had seen, you know, we’d use pretty readily in political campaigning that was incredibly effective.”
Indecision was a theme inside Boris Johnson’s Downing Street
11:09 , Matt Mathers
Indecision was a "theme’’ inside Downing Street during the pandemic and could be "worse than the wrong decision’’, Boris Johnson’s former communications chief has said, Archie Mitchell reports.
Lee Cain told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry: "Indecision can sometimes be worse than the wrong decision in certain circumstances.
And I think indecision probably was a theme of Covid that people did struggle with inside Number 10.’’
But the long-term aide also defended the former prime minister’s struggle to make a decision over the first Covid lockdown, saying in a statement it was "to some degree understandable" that he "would occasionally oscillate" between locking down the country and other potential policy options.
Mr Cain told the inquiry: "I would say that it’s pretty easy for advisers like myself to say the prime minister should have done X, the prime minister should have done Y.
"I do think that this was probably one of the biggest peacetime decisions in recent years the prime minister’s had to undertake, and it clearly weighed incredibly heavy on him. And I think it’s him and him alone who has to take that decision, so it is understandable that he wrestled with it."
He added that Mr Johnson’s indecision over the second lockdown was "slightly more difficult to defend".
Rishi Sunak compared handling Covid to the film, Jaws
11:00 , Matt Mathers
Boris Johnson espoused “Jaws w**k” in communicating how the government should handle Covid, debating whether the mayor in the blockbuster shark attack movie was right to keep the beaches open, Archie Mitchell reports.
A message sent by Dominic Cummings during the early stages of the pandemic revealed the ex-Downing Street chief of staff’s frustration at Boris Johnson’s approach, as well as “stopping the trolley” - a reference to the then PM.
“Rishi saying bond markets may not fund our debt etc, he’s back to Jaws mode w**k,” Mr Cummings said.
In a sweary tirade, he said: “I’ve literally said the same thing ten f****** times and he still won’t absorb it. I’m exhausted just talking to him and stopping the trolley.”
Covid was the ‘wrong crisis for Boris Johnson’s skillset,’ Cain
10:56 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has said Covid was the “wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skill set”, adding that Boris Johnson would “would often delay making decisions” and “change his mind on issues”, Archie Mitchell reports.
“Sometimes in politics, that can be a great strength,” Mr Cain told the official Covid inquiry, citing Brexit as an example.
“If you look at something like Covid, you need quick decisions, and you need people to hold the course,” Mr Cain said.
“So I felt it was the wrong challenge for him,” he added.
Cain: Downing Street suffered from ‘lack of leadership’
10:44 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain, Boris Johnson’s former communications chief, said he agreed there was a "lack of leadership’’ and "chaos’’ in government, Archie Mitchell reports.
Counsel to the Covid inquiry Andrew O’Connor KC put it to him: "The general theme of lack of leadership, chaos, if you like, is one that you agree with?’’ The long-term aide replied: "Yes.’’
The Cabinet Office was ‘terrifyingly s***’ - Cummings
10:33 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has been shown a WhatsApp message sent by Dominic Cummings during the pandemic which described the Cabinet Office as "terrifyingly s***", Archie Mitchell reports.
The former head of comms in Downing Street said he agreed but would "not quite use that language".
The message from Mr Cummings to Boris Johnson said: "We got big problems coming, Cabinet Office is terrifyingly s***, no plans, totally behind pace."
Mr Johnson’s ex-chief of staff went on to say him, Mr Cain and other political aides were having to "drive and direct".
Covid inquiry: Watch evidence session live
10:31 , Matt Mathers
As we are reporting, Lee Cain is giving evidence to the Covid inquiry.
Dominic Cumming is up later this morning.
We’ll bring you updates throughout the session. You can also watch proceedings live on The Independent’s YouTube channel.
Lee Cain: Johnson had no ‘clarity of purpose’ by March 2020
10:28 , Matt Mathers
Boris Johnson had no "clarity of purpose" by March 2020 and no "serious plan" to deal with the pandemic, Lee Cain has said, Archie Mitchell reports.
Referring to an action plan published by the government on March 3, Mr Cain said: "Anyone who read the document will see that it’s not a it’s not a plan to deal with Covid.
“That is a very thin overview of how we may manage the virus if it progresses."
Boris Johnson compared Covid to Swine Flu
10:24 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has said Boris Johnson stressed the importance of "not overreacting" to the emergence of the pandemic in January 2020, likening it to viruses such as swine flu, Archie Mitchell reports.
"He was worried about the government being swept up in a in a sort of media hysteria and overreacting and causing more harm than then he would otherwise," Mr Cain told the official Covid inquiry.
A message sent by Mr Cain in early March said: "He doesn’t think it’s a big deal and doesn’t think anything can be done and his focus is elsewhere, he thinks it’ll be like swine flu and he thinks his main danger is talking economy [sic] into a slump."
"Yes, the prime minister should have done more," Mr Cain told the inquiry.
Cain: Covid was a low priority in January 2020
10:14 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has said Covid was seen in January 2020 as a “low priority” and just “one of many” issues being discussed inside Downing Street, Archie Mitchell reports.
The former head of communications said only “the most difficult” issues are dealt with in No10, but added it was being monitored closely by officials in the department of health.
But he added: “As we moved through January and February, it’s clear we got that assessment wrong, but I think you can probably see why we made the decisions that we did at the time.”
Cain begins evidence
10:12 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain has started giving evidence to the Covid inquiry.
He is asked about his role as communications chief and adviser to the prime minister.
He said he had a good working relationship with Johnson when asked if the pair were friends.
Below is a closer look at the spin doctor at the heart of Britain’s Covid response:
Sunak: King’s speech will focus on growing economy
09:55 , Matt Mathers
Rishi Sunak said the King’s speech would focus on measures to “grow the economy, to strengthen society and to keep people safe”.
Opening a cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning, the prime minister said the recently ended last session of parliament had been “historic” and would have a “big impact”.
“But we’re not stopping there, we will keep demonstrating to the country that we are ambitious for what we want to achieve.”
The King is expected to open the new session of parliament on 7 November.
Johnson did ‘everything he could’ to avoid discussing Covid at start of pandemic
09:40 , Matt Mathers
Boris Johnson did “everything he could” to avoid discussing Covid at the outset of the pandemic, a former Tory health minister has claimed.
Lord Bethell told Radio 4’s Today programme it was “very difficult” to get a response from Downing Street when the virus first started to take hold in late January/early February 2020.
Lord Bethell was parliamentary under-secretary in the health department from March 2020 to September 2021.
Cummings and Cain arrive for box office evidence session
09:21 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain have arrived for their box office appearances at the Covid inquiry.
The two top former Boris Johnson aides arrived at Dorlan House in central London, dressed in dark jackets, shirts and ties.
Cain gives evidence first at 10am, followed by Cummings, whose session is expected to run well into the afternoon.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 31, 2023
Former Tory health minister: ‘Covid hearings were very chilling’
09:10 , Matt Mathers
A former Tory health minister has said Monday’s hearings at the Covid inquiry were “very chilling”, and “point to an office culture that had gone badly wrong”, Archie Mitchell reports.
After a series of WhatsApp messages between top officials revealed Boris Johnson’s “flip-flopping” on key decisions made it “impossible” to tackle the pandemic, Lord Bethell said the culture in Downing Street was “appalling”.
Pointing to Mr Johnson, who appointed him as health minister in March 2020, Lord Betell said: “It is 100 per cent about leadership. Cultures are defined by the people at the top.
“Yesterday we saw and heard a lot about the leadership style of Boris Johnson and its limitations.”
He told the BBC: “I found it very chilling… And what it points to is an office culture that had gone badly wrong, that bullying and chaotic behaviours had become normalised, and that is the most appalling culture when you’re trying to organise a national response to a pandemic.”
Starmer to deliver speech reiteraing Labour position on Hamas-Israel war
09:05 , Matt Mathers
Sir Keir Starmer will be competing for airtime with Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings as he delivers a major speech in London setting out the party’s stance on Israel’s war against Hamas, Archie Mitchell reports.
The Labour leader is hoping to settle a row which has been building in his party since the terror group’s deadly attacks this month, calling for humanitarian pauses but not a ceasefire.
He will argue that a permanent ceasefire could lead to more violence in Israel and Gaza, while humanitarian pauses can pave the way for the renewal of a political process to pursue peace via a two-state solution.
Sir Keir has overseen the suspension of the whip from senior Labour MP Andy McDonald, after he said: "We won’t rest until we have justice, until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty."
A Labour spokesman said the remarks were "deeply offensive".
And he has withstood pressure from several frontbench MPs who have broken ranks to call for a ceasefire, against party policy.
It comes amid fears the party could hemorrhage support among Muslim voters over its support for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
Top Tory claims Churchill and Chamberlain’s officials would have sent ‘similarly embarrassing’ WhatsApps
09:00 , Matt Mathers
A Tory minister has claimed Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain’s officials would also have sent “embarrassing” WhatsApps about the former prime ministers, Archie Mitchell reports.
Transport minister Richard Holden made the claim after messages released by the Covid-19 inquiry on Monday showed Britain’s top civil servant branded Boris Johnson’s government a “tragic joke”.
Mr Holden told Times Radio: “If there were conversations between people and they’d been recorded all throughout history as they are on WhatsApp, then would it be similarly embarrassing.
“Would Churchill and Chamberlain have faced similar what their colleagues said about them on X or Y day? I’m absolutely positive they would have.”
Cummings trolls Hancock ahead of inquiry appearance
08:51 , Matt Mathers
Dominic Cummings has trolled Matt Hancock by posting a clip of the former health secretary receiving a tirade of abuse during an episode of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
In a sweary and heated exchange, one of the show’s trainers accuses Hancock, who served as health secretary during the pandemic, of being Mr f*cking know-it-all”.
She also describes him as a “sarcastic little f*cker!” who just wants to “talk, talk talk”.
Posting a clip of the exchange on his X page, ahead of his appearance at the inquiry, Cummings wrote: “she speaks for England & remarkably like some whatsapps at the time from women all over Whitehall”.
Warning - the clip below contains swearing:
she speaks for England & remarkably like some whatsapps at the time from women all over Whitehall https://t.co/vmcn4yWvXc
— Dominic Cummings (@Dominic2306) October 30, 2023
ICYMI: Ex-No10 chief admits he ‘disappeared’ messages in PM’s WhatsApps group chat
08:35 , Matt Mathers
Martin Reynolds was grilled about switching the function to delete messages in the then-PM’s group April 2021 – just after Mr Johnson announced an inquiry – as he gave evidence on Monday.
Adam Forrest reports:
So, ‘Party Marty’, why were No 10’s WhatsApp messages set to disappear?
08:15 , Matt Mathers
Former Boris Johnson aide Martin Reynolds struggled to answer questions at the Covid inquiry today. But with Dominic Cummings about to give evidence, it could be Johnson and Rishi Sunak who will soon be doing the squirming, writes Sean O’Grady.
Read Sean’s full piece here:
Watch: 'People will die anyway soon', Boris Johnson claimed to have said during Covid inquiry
07:55 , Matt Mathers
The extraordinary WhatsApp messages that reveal the ‘chaos’ of Boris Johnson’s government
07:40 , Matt Mathers
A series of scathing WhatsApp messages sent between Boris Johnson’s top team have accused the former prime minister of making it “impossible” to tackle Covid, as he created chaos and changed direction “every day”.
The extraordinary messages sent between the likes of Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain and Simon Case reveal the strong disquiet among Mr Johnson’s advisers, with Mr Case, the cabinet secretary and top civil servant, at one point declaring: “I am at the end of my tether.”
Archie Mitchell reports:
07:25 , Matt Mathers
Lee Cain had been due to appear before the inquiry yesterday but his session was delayed because Martin Reynolds’s evidence ran over.
Cain is scheduled to appear first at 10am this morning, followed by Cummings. According to the inquiry agenda, the former chief of staff’s session will run into the afternoon, beyond 2pm.
Yesterday, Cummings was described as one of the most powerful chiefs of staff ever.
Pinned post: Covid inquiry continues
07:07 , Matt Mathers
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the Covid inquiry.
Lee Cain, former director of communications and Dominic Cummings, ex-chief of staff - two of Boris Johnson’s closest aides - are due to give evidence today.
Yesterday saw Martin Reynolds, the former principal private secretary and Imran Sahfi, the private secretary for public services, appear before the inquiry.
Here is a summary of the evidence given on Monday:
Watch: NHS left unprotected during pandemic, says Shafi
07:00 , Tara Cobham
‘We have a weak and indecisive prime minister'
06:00 , Tara Cobham
Lead counsel Hugo Keith KC referred to comments previously heard by the Covid inquiry describing Mr Johnson’s “ridiculous flip-flopping” - a note from former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance - and the Government looking like a “terrible, tragic joke”, a comment made by the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
Another read “we have a weak and indecisive prime minister”, although it was not stated who had made that comment.
Mr Keith put it to Mr Johnson’s former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds: “In the face of a viral pandemic, if those views are right, that was a deeply unfortunate position to be in, was it not?”
Mr Reynolds replied: “Yes.”
The country was in a “deeply unfortunate position” when the pandemic hit, with a “weak and indecisive prime minister” in charge, the Covid inquiry has heard.
Ex-No10 chief admits he ‘disappeared’ messages in PM’s group chat
05:00 , Tara Cobham
Martin Reynolds was grilled about switching the function to delete messages in the then-PM’s group April 2021 – just after Mr Johnson announced an inquiry – as he gave evidence on Monday.
Mr Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, told the inquiry he “cannot recall exactly why I did so” – before adding that he did not believe it was to “prevent” the inquiry having access to the messages.
Adam Forrest, Political Correspondent reports:
I’ve retained my WhatsApp messages relating to Covid pandemic, says Humza Yousaf
04:45 , Shweta Sharma
Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf has said he has not deleted WhatsApp messages relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, following press reports his predecessor and senior officials may have.
Last week a note to the chairman of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry from one of its counsels said the inquiry was of the belief that the “majority” of informal messages, including on WhatsApp had “not been retained”.
The First Minister said on Monday he had retained his messages, but that there had been a Scottish government policy on social media messaging which advised their deletion after 30 days.
Women staff were being ‘talked over and ignored’, report into No 10 culture during pandemic finds
04:14 , Shweta Sharma
An internal report into the culture at the top of government in the early months of the pandemic found that women staff were being “talked over and ignored” and “bad behaviours” were being tolerated from senior leaders.
The report, by former top aide Martin Reynolds and then deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara, was written in May 2020 amid concerns about discipline, “macho behaviour” and misogyny, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard yesterday.
Released as part of a batch of documents relevant to the inquiry, the report asked more than 45 people who worked closely with No 10 what could be done to better support the prime minister in May 2020.
Watch: Johnson stressed ‘need to avoid overreaction’ at start of pandemic
04:00 , Tara Cobham
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