LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – British Prime Minister Boris 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 Britain suffering the worst pandemic death toll in Europe.
Mr Cummings, who was Mr Johnson’s most powerful adviser until his acrimonious departure in November, has set the scene by sending a string of tweets making plain his disapproval of the way ministers handled the crisis. He will give evidence to a committee of members of Parliament investigating Britain’s pandemic response on Wednesday (May 26) morning.
For Mr Johnson, the danger is that Mr Cummings’ revelations tarnish the government’s recent record of a successful vaccine roll-out and a gradual easing of restrictions that is so far on track. The premier rode the wave of optimism over the end of lockdown to a series of important local election victories this month and recent economic data put Britain on course for a strong recovery.
But Mr Cummings’ evidence threatens to bring the public debate back to a far more troubled period in Mr Johnson’s tenure, a time when he initially brushed aside the dangers posed by Covid-19 and then almost died from the disease himself.
In recent days, Mr Cummings has claimed that the government initially pursued a strategy of “herd immunity” – exposing a proportion of the population to the virus – which Mr Johnson’s office has denied. He also spoke of the “almost total absence of a serious plan for shielding/social care” for around one million vulnerable people.
Last month, Mr Cummings published a blog saying Mr Johnson had fallen far below “the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves”.
The question is whether Mr Cummings has enough insider information to seriously wound Mr Johnson, who has come through recent controversies unscathed.
The government’s successful vaccine programme has seen almost three-quarters of British adults given at least one dose. People aged 30 and 31 will be invited to book their shots from Wednesday.
Despite a surge in cases of the so-called India variant, Mr Johnson is now looking ahead to the full reopening of the economy on June 21, which remains on course after data showed vaccines remain effective against the strain.
Mr Johnson’s allies will also argue that the public will not put much weight on Mr Cummings’ comments, given the former aide’s own errors of judgement last year. Mr Cummings was widely condemned during the first lockdown for driving more than 402km (250 miles) from London to another home in north-eastern England.
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