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Johnson Savaged Over U.K. Covid Failings by Ex-Aide Cummings

(C) Bloomberg. Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, departs number 10 Downing Street on his way to attend a weekly questions and answers session in Parliament in London, U.K., on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Johnson is braced for an onslaught of criticism from his former adviser Dominic Cummings, who is set to reveal what he knows about government missteps that contributed to the U.K. suffering the worst pandemic death toll in Europe.

(Bloomberg) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing an unprecedented challenge to his authority after the controversial strategist who masterminded his rise to power declared he is unfit to hold the job.

During almost seven hours of testimony in Parliament, Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings catalogued the government’s “disastrous” pandemic failures, saying the premier’s poor leadership led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Cummings blamed Johnson for being slow to put the country into lockdown last year, not taking the Covid threat seriously enough and being too concerned with media headlines to be an effective leader.

Cummings’s intervention threatens to puncture the mood of optimism around Johnson’s administration flowing from the U.K.’s successful vaccination rollout and the reopening of the economy.

While Cummings is a divisive figure in the eyes of the public — and many of his accusations relate to events in the past — much of his criticism was aimed directly at the current operation of 10 Downing Street and the character of Britain’s premier.

‘Very Bad’

“Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die,” Cummings said in evidence to the House of Commons inquiry on the pandemic. “There is no doubt the prime minister made some very bad misjudgments and got some very serious things wrong.”

Asked directly whether Johnson is a fit and proper person to lead Britain out of the pandemic, Cummings replied: “No.”

It is a judgment that is dangerous for the prime minister because Cummings worked so closely with him at the heart of government and during the 2016 Brexit referendum. It was Cummings who shaped that campaign, and then devised the Conservative Party’s winning general election strategy in 2019.

There is no immediate electoral threat to Johnson, with a general election not due until 2024. Voters only this month endorsed the premier’s leadership, giving him a set of local victories, despite controversies in the weeks leading up to the polls.

Chaos

Yet political fortunes are fickle in the U.K. and Cummings’s detailed account of the chaos around the prime minister and his errors in office has the potential to damage his authority among Tory members of Parliament at Westminster. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Johnson denied that any mistakes he’d made led to excess deaths from the virus.

Among his many attacks on Johnson and the wider administration, Cummings said:

Johnson regretted ordering the U.K.’s first lockdown and repeatedly said he’d wished he’d been like the mayor in the movie “Jaws” who kept the beaches open despite the threat to public safety
After finally agreeing to impose a second lockdown in October 2020, following a delay that led to needless deaths, Johnson said he’d rather let the “bodies pile high” than agree to a third in the future
Johnson is overly obsessed with media coverage and too easily swayed by newspaper headlines
The prime minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, has an excessive influence over the premier’s decision-making
10 Downing Street is a place of “chaos,” an environment that Johnson actively cultivates to reinforce his own power

A significant part of Cummings’s critique focused on current problems with Britain’s pandemic response, arguing that the country’s border policy is woefully inadequate and the British state is not prepared to deal with future crises. He lamented Johnson’s decision to delay a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, saying that lessons had to be learned now.

Cummings also repeatedly attacked Health Secretary Matt Hancock, saying he regularly lobbied Johnson to fire the minister for lying about the state of Britain’s pandemic preparedness and interfering with the establishment of an effective testing regime. The Department of Health rejected Cummings’s claims.

A year ago, Cummings was at the center of his own storm, after driving his family more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) out of London, apparently ignoring his own government’s lockdown orders.

On Wednesday, he explained for the first time that this was not simply for childcare reasons, as he initially claimed, but because his family had faced death threats and they needed to flee for their own safety.

(C)2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Johnson Savaged Over U.K. Covid Failings by Ex-Aide Cummings

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