Gavin “Lord” Barwell, the former Croydon MP and sometime Downing Street chief of staff, has waded into the row over yesterday’s explosive account of the government’s chaotic and ill-prepared response to covid-19 given to a Westminster committee by Dominic Cummings.
Barwell worked at No10 when Theresa May was Prime Minister. Cummings was effectively his direct successor.
Barwell expressed his views of the seven-hour parliamentary testimony given by Cummings, describing it as both “jaw-dropping” and “depressing”.
Barwell also agreed with Cummings’ urgings for there to be a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic by Boris Johnson and his ministers, and that the investigation should begin this year.
Cummings, with what Barwell described as “revenge served piping hot”, levelled devastating allegations at Johnson’s government and those who lead it.
“The former Downing Street chief adviser’s accusations were numerous, detailed and vitriolic,” was the way the FT reported it this morning.
Cummings told the joint select committee hearing, “When the public needed us most, the government failed. Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die.”
With almost 128,000 deaths, the UK has the world’s fifth-highest official covid-19 toll, far higher than the government’s initial worst-case estimates of only 20,000.
In his Twitter thread, Barwell said, “The headline is clearly him saying ‘Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die’.
“We already knew it, but it was still remarkable for the person who was Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser for most of the period to admit it.”
Cummings’ allegations fell into two categories: personal attacks against ministers who he judged were out of their depth and unfit for their jobs, and critiques of the British state for its lack of preparedness for a pandemic.
Cummings told MPs that health secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked “15 or 20 times” for a combination of lying and poor judgment.
“I said ‘sack him’ almost every week, sometimes almost every day.” Cummings alleged that Mark Sedwill, then head of the Civil Service, told Johnson that he had lost confidence in Hancock’s ability to tell the truth.
Cummings also let rip against Johnson, with whom he had worked closely on the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2019 General Election. “Fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job,” Cummings said.
This, according to Barwell, was “the most jaw-dropping moment”.
Barwell enjoys moonlighting as a media politics pundit. He has a book coming out later this year. He, too, has something of an axe to grind over Johnson, who he clearly sees as having deliberately undermined the premiership of Theresa May and his own work on fashioning an exit from the European Union.
Last night Barwell tweeted of the Cummings testimony, “The most jaw-dropping moment was him saying that it was ‘completely crackers’ that he and Boris Johnson were in their respective roles.
“He played a key role in making Boris PM. Why did he do that if he has such a low opinion of him?”
Cummings claimed that, even in March 2020, the government had no proper planning for dealing with such a pandemic. Cummings also said that he had heard Johnson say in his private study in No10 that he would prefer to “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third lockdown. Ultimately, Johnson was forced to announce another lockdown in January this year.
Barwell praised two of his former Conservative parliamentary colleagues, former ministers Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt, for their chairing of the session. “They had a witness who wanted to talk, but as well as letting him describe the government’s failings they pressed him on his own actions,” Barwell wrote.
“Nonetheless, a joint select committee inquiry is not enough.
“Today demonstrated why we need a full public inquiry and Dominic was right to say that it should start this year. It is important that all those who he criticised have a chance to respond.
“The picture he painted of Boris Johnson’s No10 was a depressing one. It is not one I recognise from my time working there.
“It felt like today was a mixture of the truth and revenge served piping hot.
“Most of us aren’t much interested in the latter, but we should all be interested in the former. We need to learn from the last year and a bit because this won’t be the last pandemic.”
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