Covid inquiry live: Dominic Cummings acted as ‘prime minister in all but name’, Sajid Javid says

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Dominic Cummings acted as prime minister in “all but name” during his time as chief adviser to Boris Johnson during the pandemic, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard.

Sajid Javid said he resigned as chancellor in February 2020 because Dominic Cummings made “many key decisions” on behalf of prime minister Boris Johnson.

“He tried to make all the key decisions within No10. I felt that the elected prime minister was not in charge of what was happening in his name and was largely content with Mr Cummings running the government,” he said.

At times, key budget policy recommendations came from Mr Cummings that Mr Johnson did not know about, Mr Javid added.

It comes after Jacob Rees-Mogg urged the UK Covid-19 inquiry to probe whether the virus was man made as former health secretary Sajid Javid is set to give evidence.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the controversial lab leak theory must be at the “forefront” of the inquiry to restore public trust throughout Britain.

Key points

  • Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab to testify today

  • Dame Jenny Harries to conclude evidence

  • Former health secretary Sajid Javid starts to give evidence

  • Inquiry must question if virus was man-made, Jacob Rees-Mogg says

The Inquiry has ended

17:00 , Alexander Butler

The inquiry has finished for the day and will resume at 10am on Thursday.

Raab given 'five minutes notice' before taking charge when Johnson was ill

16:55 , Alexander Butler

Dominic Raab told the Inquiry he was given five minutes notice before taking on the role as acting prime minister when Boris Johnson was ill with Covid.

Mr Raab said: “I was effectively really told on five minutes’ notice.”

He said he was informed after coming out of a press conference and that his priority was to “steady the ship”.

‘Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance got far too much grief in the media,’ Raab.

16:54 , Archie Mitchell

Dominic Raab said Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Sir Chris Whitty were “always good at giving a rounded view” of the science of Covid and he “appreciated them hugely”.

“I suspected both of them would have naturally felt defensive at times, but all of us in the Cabinet and other committees appreciated them hugely and thought they got far too much grief in the media,” Mr Raab said.

He added: “They were very humble and remained steadfastly professional when we tested their evidence.”

Dominic Raab: ‘Some bruises… are a given’

16:06 , Archie Mitchell

Dominic Raab has said there will always be people who “feel bruised by the pressure” of crisis management in government.

The former deputy PM and foreign secretary told the Covid inquiry that dealing with crises is “never perfectly manicured”.

“Sometimes that will be because someone has behaved inappropriately… I get that,” Mr Raab said.

But he added: “There are also emergency conditions which create a tension and combustibility, which I think we just need to acknowledge as a given, however perfect to the structure is.”

Raab: Government made 'best decisions' with information available

16:00 , Archie Mitchell

Dominic Raab has defended the Government’s decision-making during the pandemic, saying it made “the best decisions” with the information available at the time.

He said: “When I look back, I am very conscious that we made the best decisions, with the science as fluid as it was, at that point in time, and I think that’s the best you can, in good faith, do.”

He said it would be for the inquiry to decide whether it had made the right decisions “in retrospect”, but some economists had made the argument that the UK “locked down too much”.

Mr Raab added: “I’m not saying this is my view.”

Raab rejects claim Boris Johnson was a ‘puppet’ in Downing Street

15:21 , Alexander Butler

Dominic Raab said he did not agree with the accusation that Boris Johnson was a “puppet” in Downing Street being led by Dominic Cummings.

“The broader question you raise about whether Boris Johnson was a puppet, I’m afraid I don’t find that a serious allegation,” Mr Raab said.

“I think Boris Johnson certainly relied on his senior advisers, by the way I think you have to if you’re going to get through the work, particularly in a pandemic. I just don’t accept the characterisation that there was some sort of puppet regime.”

Dominic Raab said he did not agree with the accusation that Boris Johnson was a ‘puppet’ (PA)
Dominic Raab said he did not agree with the accusation that Boris Johnson was a ‘puppet’ (PA)

No 10 doesn’t deny Sunak believed government should ‘just let people die’

15:16 , Adam Forrest

No 10 has repeatedly refused to deny that Rishi Sunak believed the government should “just let people die” during the Covid crisis.

The accusation, made by former adviser Dominic Cummings, emerged at last week’s hearing with former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Grilled on the issue at PMQs on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said he had not said those words himself – but did not attempt to deny it is what he believed.

Mr Sunak’s official spokesman also did not try to deny this was his belief when asked about the issue, saying only: “He will set out his full evidence for the inquiry when they request it of him.”

Boris Johnson believed people were ‘going into hospital with Covid who don’t need it’, Vallance

15:16 , Archie Mitchell

Boris Johnson believed patients were entering hospitals with Covid “who don’t need it”, the Covid inquiry has been told.

In a December 2021 extract from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries, Sir Patrick recalled the former PM talking about “his anxieties” about imposing more lockdown measures.

Mr Johnson thought the government could lose public credibility and suggested behaviour changes to tackle the spread of Covid may have already taken place.

“Boosters should be the focus, what are we trying to achieve,” Mr Johnson said. Sir Patrick’s diary extract went on to recall Mr Johnson saying: “I am sure people are going into hospital with Covid who don’t need it.”

‘The country is being held to ransom by anti-vaxxers,’ Jack Doyle

15:15 , Archie Mitchell

The former Downing Street director of communications warned that Britain was being “held to ransom” by anti-vaxxers during the pandemic.

Jack Doyle called for unvaccinated people to not be allowed into hospital in December 2021, the Covid inquiry has heard.

As the Omicron Covid variant spread rapidly through the country, Sir Patrick Vallance recalled a meeting in which Mr Doyle argued for the move.

He referred to the drastic measure as “the Dougie line” - a reference to top Tory aide Dougie Smith.

Boris Johnson was at war with Rishi Sunak over Omicron, Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries reveal

14:22 , Archie Mitchell

Boris Johnson was “at war” with Rishi Sunak as the Omicron Covid variant struck, the inquiry has heard.

An extract from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries revealed that at a November 2021 meeting, Jonathan Van Tam said he had “never seen [the Nervtag virus advisory group] so rattled”.

Sir Patrick recalled that Mr Johnson was “very down” about the new variant, and that after the meeting “No10 said they are at war with No11 [Downing Street]” and that anything Javid says they assume is wrong”.

Health secretary was not invited to Omicron planning meetings

14:20 , Alexander Butler

Sajid Javid was “extraordinarily” shut out of key meetings as the Omicron variant struck, Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries have revealed.

The former health secretary was not invited to a meeting on December 18, 2021 at which the chancellor was present.

“Chancellor but no secretary of state for the Department of Health - WTF,” Sir Patrick wrote.

The former chief scientific advisor said ministers thought “they can wish it all away with arguments” and wanted “to avoid making a decision”.

Health department had ‘no clear operational accountability’, Sir Patrick Vallance

14:08 , Archie Mitchell

Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries reveal he thought the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had “no clear operational accountability”.

In an extract shown to the inquiry, the former chief scientific adviser recalled a meeting on July 20, 2021.

Sir Patrick said: “It is clear once again that DHSC has done nothing… policy meeting trying to look at risks for winter - no one had looked at AMS report or [redacted] report. It was a [redacted] with people just lobbing in [redacted] points and no clear operational accountability.”

Sajid Javid: ‘We will have to learn to live with it’... Boris: ‘And die with it’

13:30 , Archie Mitchell

The Covid inquiry has seen another bombshell extract from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries in which he recalled Boris Johnson saying Britons would have to learn to “die with” Covid.

The ex-chief scientific adviser recalled a meeting in which former health secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are going to have to learn to live with it.”

Former PM Mr Johnson then replied, “and die with it”, Sir Patrick wrote.

The note also recalled Mr Johnson referring to wearing masks as “bollocks” and that the idea of consulting with trade unions about the return to work was also “bollocks”.

The inquiry has taken a break for lunch

13:06 , Alexander Butler

The inquiry has taken a break for lunch and will return at 2pm.

Sajid Javid ‘made policy on the hoof’, Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries

12:58 , Archie Mitchell

The inquiry has been shown a diary entry by former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance in which he accused Sajid Javid and Sir Gavin Williamson of “making policy on the hoof”.

Sir Patrick’s notes revealed the former health secretary and then education secretary Mr Williamson were “jostling for dominance and airtime” amid a discussion about children going back to school.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that somebody after the meeting said Mr Javid would “rush into macho right-wing decisions playing to the audience”.

Treasury officials ‘could not understand why I wanted to stop flights’, Sajid Javid

12:48 , Archie Mitchell

Sajid Javid has told the Covid inquiry Treasury officials did not understand why he wanted to stop flights from China to the UK in the early days of the pandemic.

The former chancellor, who later served as health secretary, said he had been raising concerns about the virus since a dinner with friends who had business interests in China.

Mr Javid said he raised concerns with the then foreign secretary Dominic Raab and health secretary Matt Hancock to tell them to consider stopping flights into Britain.

The Treasury went on to advise that flights should not be stopped, partly for economic reasons. And Mr Javid recalled Treasury officials finding it “odd” that he was asking about stopping flights.

Treasury was focused on Chinese economy in January

12:43 , Archie Mitchell

As Covid struck, the Treasury’s fears were of an economic hit as a result of restrictions taking hold in China.

The department saw the “key risk” to the UK economy as a global economic slowdown, the inquiry has heard.

By the time Mr Javid resigned as chancellor in mid-February 2020, Mr Javid said he had not received any advice on measures to contain the spread of Covid.

Sajid Javid: Decisions were made before meetings took place

12:25 , Alexander Butler

The former health secretary has told the Covid inquiry he felt that decisions were taken before meetings were called to discuss them.

Sajid Javid said during the pandemic “I felt that there had been some sort of small group meeting excluding my department in advance, and some decision led by the centre had been taken”.

Mr Javid told the inquiry he would make the health case for what he felt was right. “But no matter how strongly I made that case it felt that the decision had just already been made,” he said.

Sajid Javid said he felt decisions were made before meetings were called to discuss them (PA)
Sajid Javid said he felt decisions were made before meetings were called to discuss them (PA)

Sajid Javid: Decisions were made from the centre at the last minute

12:20 , Alexander Butler

Sajid Javid has told the Covid inquiry that decisions were made in the pandemic at the last minute in a way which “caused confusion and problems with effective communication to the public”.

The former health secretary said one example was the way decisions were made about travel restrictions in the later stages of the pandemic.

“I would be advocating for restrictions on the basis of the risk to health, but if the foreign office wanted to improve diplomatic or trading relations with the country, then it would advocate for a different course,” Mr Javid said.

He added: “This sometimes meant that the decisions were only made very shortly before they needed to be implemented which caused confusion and problems with effective communication to the public and others.”

Boris Johnson ‘asked Javid to sack aides at request of Cummings'

12:08 , Alexander Butler

Former prime minister Boris Johnson “didn’t know what he was doing” when he asked Sajid Javid to sack all of his aides at the request of Dominic Cummings, the inquiry heard.

Mr Javid told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry civil servants advised him not to sack his aides as the request was coming from Mr Cummings, not the prime minister, and he would be “gone in a few weeks”.

He also said key budget policy recommendations came from Mr Cummings instead of then prime minister Boris Johnson while he worked as chancellor.

Cummings acted as ‘prime minister in all but name’, Covid inquiry hears

12:04 , Archie Mitchell

Sajid Javid has said he resigned as chancellor in February 2020 because Dominic Cummings acted as “prime minister in all but name”.

“He tried to make all the key decisions within No10,” Mr Javid said in his witness statement.

“I felt that the elected prime minister was not in charge of what was happening in his name and was largely content with Mr Cummings running the government,” he said.

Mr Javid said that, when he resigned, he warned Mr Cummings “would not stop until he had burnt the house down”.

Dominic Cummings made ‘many key decisions’ instead of Boris Johnson

11:59 , Alexander Butler

Former health secretary Sajid Javid said he thought his cabinet was designed to place Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson as the “central decision makers”

Mr Javid added that “many key decisions” were made by Mr Cummings and not then prime minister Boris Johnson, excluding other cabinet members.

“If Mr Cummings wanted something to happen, I would know about this as I was chancellor and could block it. But this was not possible for other cabinet ministers,” he said.

Former health secretary Sajid Javid starts to give evidence

11:47 , Archie Mitchell

Sajid Javid has opened his Covid inquiry evidence by stressing that “we will never fully know the scale of grief” of those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

“I sincerely hope that they get to the bottom of what happened in our country at that time, and that as a country we learn lessons from it so that if there is another time we are so much better prepared,” the former health secretary said.

Michael Gove: Covid ‘very possibly’ engineered in a lab

11:26 , Archie Mitchell

Michael Gove’s witness statement to the Covid inquiry goes further than he did on Tuesday in suggesting the virus was man-made.

After he was slapped down by inquiry counsel Hugo Keith KC on Tuesday for suggesting Covid could have been man-made, his written statement doubled down.

Addressing mistakes made by the government, the former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said ministers were “taking decisions quickly with imperfect information”.

He added: “A new virus, very possibly, we now know, one which had been engineered in laboratory conditions, had characteristics it took time to understand fully.

Inquiry must question if virus was man-made, Jacob Rees-Mogg says

10:52 , Alexander Butler

The Covid Inquiry must question if the virus was man-made, Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

Speaking to GB News, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The Wuhan lab leak theory was once considered a loony-tune idea, but now it seems to be the most probable source of the virus.

“And now we know that two US agencies, the Department of Energy and the FBI, have concluded with some confidence that the virus originated in a lab. The evidence clearly points to the likelihood that the virus came from a lab.

“If we are to restore public trust in a post Covid world, the question of the lab leak must be at the forefront of the Covid Inquiry and we must also ensure that lockdowns never happen again.”

The Covid Inquiry must question if the virus was man-made, Jacob Rees-Mogg said (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Covid Inquiry must question if the virus was man-made, Jacob Rees-Mogg said (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Face coverings ‘unlikely’ to have an impact, inquiry hears

10:39 , Alexander Butler

Face coverings were “unlikely” to have an impact on reducing transmission and risked creating a “false sense of security”, the UK Covid-19 inquiry heard.

Former deputy chief medical officer Dame Jenny Harries said she thought cloth face coverings guidance in May 2020 was “ineffective” and recommending them risked causing complacency among the public.

The inquiry was shown notes from the ex-deputy chief medical officer saying: “Just querying the logic behind needing to have two pieces of cotton fabric stacked on this version but only a single layer of cotton t-shirt in the previous model. I think they are both ineffective.”

Dame Jenny Harries: We will need to discharge Covid patients into care homes

10:18 , Archie Mitchell

England’s former deputy chief medical officer said hospitals “needed” to discharge Covid patients into care homes in March 2020.

Dame Jenny Harries said in an email in the early days of the pandemic to do so would be “entirely clinically appropriate”.

But she said “families and care homes will not welcome” the decision initially.

“While the prospect is perhaps what none of us would wish to plan for, I believe the reality will be that we will need to discharge Covid-19 positive patients into residential care settings,” Ms Harries said.

Pictured: Sajid Javid and Jenny Harries arrive at inquiry

10:15 , Alexander Butler

Former health secretary Sajid Javid arrives to testify at the Covid inquiry (Getty Images)
Former health secretary Sajid Javid arrives to testify at the Covid inquiry (Getty Images)
Former deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries arrives to testify at the Covid inquiry (Getty Images)
Former deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries arrives to testify at the Covid inquiry (Getty Images)

Michael Gove’s explosive texts over No 10’s Covid mistakes revealed

10:10 , Andy Gregory

Michael Gove warned that the government was “f***ing up” its Covid response at the height of the pandemic and would “regret it for a long time”, bombshell new WhatsApp messages aired at the Covid inquiry yesterday revealed.

The expletive-laden messages show the senior cabinet minister told No 10 strategist Dominic Cummings weeks before the first lockdown that the situation was “worse than you think”.

Mr Gove also apologised to the families who lost loved ones for mistakes made by the Conservative government – admitting that the UK was too slow into the first and second lockdowns in 2020.

Our political correspondents Archie Mitchell and Adam Forrest have this round-up of yesterday’s proceedings:

Michael Gove’s explosive texts over No10’s Covid mistakes revealed

Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab to testify today

10:07 , Andy Gregory

Once Professor Dame Jenny Harries has concluded her evidence this morning, the inquiry is set to hear from Sajid Javid – who took over as health secretary in the wake of Matt Hancock’s resignation – and Dominic Raab, who stepped in briefly as de facto prime minister when Boris Johnson was hospitalised with Covid.

Dame Jenny Harries to conclude evidence

10:06 , Andy Gregory

The inquiry begins today with Professor Dame Jenny Harries concluding her evidence.

Dame Jenny is currently chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), but prior to that served as England’s deputy chief medical officer from 2019 to 2021.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

10:03 , Andy Gregory

Good morning, and thanks for joining us. We’ll be using this blog to provide live updates on the Covid inquiry throughout the day.