Six eye-opening claims by Dominic Cummings as ex-aide reveals plot to oust Boris Johnson

UK Prime Minister faces a fresh onslaught from former adviser over response to pandemic

Boris Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings speaks to the BBC in London. AFP
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a fresh onslaught on Tuesday from his former top adviser Dominic Cummings, who claimed he had plotted to oust his boss within days of a landslide election victory.

It was one of a series of startling claims in an hour-long interview in which Mr Cummings said that Mr Johnson “doesn’t know how to be prime minister”.

In his latest attack on Mr Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Cummings told the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg that the premier had tried to resist a second lockdown as the death toll mounted last autumn.

Downing Street dismissed the attack and said Mr Johnson had been guided by the best scientific advice.

Sceptics say Mr Cummings is motivated by revenge after falling out with Mr Johnson and leaving his role last year, although he denies this.

Here are the highlights of what Mr Cummings claimed in the interview:

Plot to oust Boris Johnson

Mr Cummings claimed that he and his allies discussed removing Mr Johnson in late 2019, only days after the prime minister led the Conservative party to its biggest election victory in more than 30 years.

The result gave Mr Johnson a mandate to complete the bitterly contested Brexit process, which was triggered after Mr Cummings led the Vote Leave campaign to victory in the 2016 referendum.

But within days, Mr Cummings claims, he and his allies were being sidelined by Mr Johnson and discussing plans to remove him.

“We were already saying that by the summer, either we’ll all have gone from here or we’ll be in the process of trying to get rid of him and get someone else in as prime minister,” he said.

“He doesn’t have a plan, he doesn’t know how to be prime minister, and we only got him in there because we had to solve a certain problem, not because he was the right person to be running the country.”

Mr Cummings suggested his interview was part of a continuing effort to remove Mr Johnson. “The sooner he goes the better,” he said.

Exploiting his Downing Street role

Mr Cummings said he and “a network of people” including former Vote Leave allies sought to exploit Mr Johnson’s premiership despite doubting his ability to do the job.

He said he had agreed to become Mr Johnson’s top adviser in 2019 on the condition that the government would pursue Mr Cummings’ agenda, which included a science and technology push and overhauling the civil service.

“Precisely because Boris knows that in lots of ways he obviously shouldn’t be prime minister, he knows that he needs help, he knows that he needs to bring in various people to help him — that also provides an opportunity to push the country in a much more positive direction,” Mr Cummings said.

“The least bad option seemed to be — exploit the current situation to try and push certain things through.”

He denied the suggestion that he had conned voters by working to elect Mr Johnson despite his private doubts. “I don’t think it’s a con … we tried to solve very hard problems in the order that we can solve them in,” he said.

Carrie Johnson’s influence

Returning to a theme he has raised before, Mr Cummings claimed that Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson, was an influential player in government.

He claimed that Mrs Johnson interfered in government appointments and tried to have political aides fired or promoted.

“Carrie’s view was and is — the Prime Minister doesn’t have a plan and he doesn’t know how Whitehall works,” Mr Cummings said.

Downing Street rejected the claim on Tuesday and said that appointments were “entirely made by the Prime Minister”.

Mr Cummings previously claimed that Mrs Johnson had been behind the appointment of Sajid Javid as the UK’s new Health Secretary last month.

Brexit doubts

Mr Cummings was a divisive figure before his time in Downing Street thanks to his leadership of the Vote Leave campaign.

He accepted that he had sought to provoke the Remain campaign with a controversial claim about Britain’s expenditure on EU membership.

But despite being one of the figures most associated with Brexit, Mr Cummings said nobody could be certain that Britain’s departure from the EU was a good idea.

“Is Brexit a good idea? No-one on earth knows what the answer to that is,” Mr Cummings said. “I think anyone who says they’re sure about questions like that has got a screw loose.”

He subsequently said that developments since 2016 had vindicated the arguments that Vote Leave had made.

Lockdown row

Mr Cummings launched a series of allegations about Mr Johnson’s handling of the pandemic at a parliamentary committee hearing in May.

He renewed his attack in the BBC interview, accusing Mr Johnson of seeking to avoid a new lockdown last autumn because most Covid victims were elderly.

“We can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80,” was how Mr Cummings portrayed the prime minister’s attitude.

Asked for evidence to support his claims, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson had texted the comments to him and others.

Responding to the claims, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had taken the necessary action and been guided by scientific advice.

“The government he leads has delivered the fastest vaccination roll-out in Europe, saved millions of jobs through the furlough scheme and prevented the NHS from being overwhelmed through three national lockdowns,” it said.

Plan to see Queen

In comments trailed by the BBC before the interview aired, Mr Cummings claimed he talked Mr Johnson out of seeing Queen Elizabeth II at the height of the pandemic in March 2020.

He said Mr Johnson had not thought through the risks of passing on the virus to the monarch, who was 93 at the time.

By the time of the alleged incident, which was denied by Downing Street, Mr Johnson had told citizens to avoid unnecessary travel or contact with others.

“I said to him, there’s people in this office who are isolating, you might have coronavirus, I might have coronavirus,” Mr Cummings said.

He said he told Mr Johnson: “You can’t go and see the queen. What if you go and see her and then give the queen coronavirus? Obviously you can’t go.”

Updated: July 21, 2021, 9:48 AM