Boris Johnson’s aide-turned-enemy Dominic Cummings set to testify at UK COVID-19 inquiry


LONDON (AP) — A former top aide who has accused ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being unfit for office is scheduled to testify Tuesday at Britain’s public inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dominic Cummings, who was the prime minister’s chief adviser during the first months of the pandemic in 2020, follows other aides who have painted a picture of Johnson as a leader who was distracted and indecisive during the country’s biggest peacetime crisis.

On Monday, former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds acknowledged there had been a “systemic failure” to prepare for the pandemic and said Johnson blew ”hot and cold” on key issues and hesitated to make important decisions.

Another ex-aide, Imran Shafi, alleged that Johnson had asked at a meeting before lockdown was imposed in March 2020, why the economy was being destroyed “for people who will die anyway soon.”

Cummings has also claimed Johnson was reluctant to impose lockdowns because he said the virus was primarily killing the elderly.

Johnson is due to testify at the inquiry later in the year.

Cummings, a self-styled political disruptor, was hired by Johnson after helping to mastermind the victorious “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 European Union membership referendum. He went to work in Downing Street when Johnson became prime minister in 2019, filling a loosely defined but powerful role that saw him dubbed “Boris’s brain.”

In May 2020 it was revealed that Cummings had driven 250 miles (400 km) across England to his parents’ house while the country was under a “stay-at-home” order and while he was ill with coronavirus. Cummings made a later journey to a scenic town 30 miles (50 km) away.

At the time Johnson resisted calls to fire him, but Cummings left his job in November 2020 and has fired broadsides at Johnson ever since on social media and his blog.

The U.K. has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, with the virus recorded as a cause of death for some 227,000 people.

Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry after heavy pressure from bereaved families. The probe, led by retired judge Heather Hallett, is expected to take three years to complete.

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