Dominic Cummings Admits Prime Minister Prioritised Economy Over Lives

In her first select committee meeting, Anum Qaisar-Javed MP put questions to the Prime Minister's former top advisor, Dominic Cummings, about the UK Government's handling of the pandemic.



Full transcript:


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

Thank you, Mr Cummings, for joining us today. You have referred to failures, and you have made apologies. However, is it fair, and a fair assessment, to say that there has been a wealth of expert knowledge available—whether that is from SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies], the CMO [Chief Medical Officer] or even university papers that have researched covid—and that SAGE discussed travel restrictions in early February and noted that “direct flights from China are not the only route for infected individuals to enter the UK”? With hindsight, we have seen that to be true, and we now know that most cases were in fact from Europe. So we have got this expert advice. However, as you will be aware, quarantine measures for overseas travellers were not introduced until June time, and there were still exempted countries and exempted people. Who was advising the Prime Minister and Government not to close the borders, and on what basis?


DOMINIC CUMMINGS:

Essentially, there were two phases to this: before April, and then from April. Before April, the advice was completely—I heard this discussed several times with the Prime Minister in No. 10. He was told, and we were all told repeatedly, that the advice is not to close the borders, because essentially it would have no effect. At this time, another group-think thing was that it was basically racist to call for closing the borders and blaming China, the whole Chinese new year thing and everything else. In retrospect, I think that was just obviously completely wrong. However, in the same way as for lots of things, you cannot blame the Prime Minister directly. That was the official advice. The official advice was, categorically, that closing the borders will have no effect. I inquired into it. I said explicitly, “If we are not going to do it like Singapore and Taiwan, we are going to have to have a bloody good explanation to the public, because they are going to be asking, ‘Why on earth are we under these restrictions but the borders are open?’”


After April, though, it is a completely different story. Once we had switched to plan B: “Right, we are going to build, we are going to do Test and Trace, we are going to do vaccines, we are going to try to stop a second wave and so on.” Fundamentally, there was no proper border policy, because the Prime Minister never wanted a proper border policy. Repeatedly in meeting after meeting, I and others said, “All we have to do is download the Singapore or Taiwan documents in English and impose them here. We are imposing all of these restrictions on people domestically, but people can see that everyone is just coming in from infected areas. It is madness. It is undermining the whole message that we should take it seriously.”


At that point, he was back to, “Lockdown was all a terrible mistake. I should have been the mayor in ‘Jaws’. We should never have done lockdown 1. The travel industry will all be destroyed if we bring in a serious border policy.” To which, of course, some of us said, “There’s not going to be a tourism industry in the autumn if we have a second wave. The whole logic is completely wrong. If we don’t bring in a proper border policy now, and a bunch of other things, we are going to have a second wave in the autumn and everything is going to be shut—forget just tourism.” But he had The Daily Telegraph, with their stupid campaign on the whole subject. He had Tory MPs going crackers about it at the same time. Essentially, at that point, he was in, “We should never have done lockdown. I should have been the mayor in ‘Jaws’. Now I am going to be. Open everything up and get on with it.” Me and others just could not win that argument. We never won the argument. As of today—look at the whole thing about variants—we still do not have a proper border policy in my opinion.


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

Is it a fair assessment to say that the economy, and finance, was prioritised over people’s lives when you think about a border policy to encourage people to travel into this country in order to spend money and to rejuvenate the economy? Was that prioritised over people’s health?


DOMINIC CUMMINGS:

Again, I would say you have to distinguish. It would not be fair to blame the Prime Minister for what happened before March, because all the scientific advice from SAGE and the DH was to do that. He definitely was not prioritising tourism over the economy in January/February. I heard him say specifically to the science advisors and the Department of Health, “Hang on, aren’t a lot of people going to think we are mad for not closing the borders?” The Prime Minister did push on that in January/February, and it would be wrong and unfair to say that he prioritised the economy at that point. However, after April, it is a different story. At that point, yes, he was prioritising the economy.


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

I find this really interesting. Prior to my election, I was a secondary school teacher. I taught modern studies and politics, and I specifically remember a lesson in early January 2020, when the first outbreak happened. I remember that we were discussing it in class, and I was explaining to the pupils that there is an area called Wuhan in China and that this is happening here. We were linking it to what I teach. In order to develop their critical thinking skills, we spoke about what steps they would be taking if they were the Prime Minister or a Government adviser. My 13-year-old bairns understood the concept of closing the borders or stopping people entering or leaving the country. If 13-year-old kids from Edinburgh could understand that, is it fair to say that they were thinking more critically than the Government?


DOMINIC CUMMINGS:

Correct. I think there is no—my perspective on it is that huge parts of the public health. If you just look at the—this is part of a general issue. Huge parts of the public health administrations in Britain and America were captured by memes, which were obviously ludicrous. They said, “Don’t wear masks. Masks could be dangerous,” which turned out to be complete nonsense. They said, “Don’t close the borders”—it is, as you say, common sense—which was obvious nonsense.


In my opinion, it is unarguable. Obviously, we should have shut the borders in January. We should have done exactly what Taiwan did on whatever it was, new year’s eve or whatever. We should have said, “Dunk…that’s it.” Yes, that has some disruption, but the kind of costbenefit ratio is massively, massively out of whack, and at least it is worth a try, like lots of things. At least you try it. What is the worst that will happen? If it doesn’t work, you still have the whole nightmare to deal with, anyway.


As it was, we were dealing with the whole nightmare, so there was just no fundamentally good logic to not shutting the borders in January, in my opinion. And there was never any logic to it after April. To begin with, the Prime Minister was confused. Everyone was. Everything, as I described, was a nightmare. But from the summer, fundamentally the view was that we are past it now, covid is history, etc, etc, which was obviously a terrible, terrible mistake.


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

Leading on from that, during this point the devolved regions were calling for tighter restrictions in terms of border controls. Who in the Government had responsibility for achieving a four nations agreement on this?


DOMINIC CUMMINGS:

Essentially, the Prime Minister had responsibility for it, and there were numerous meetings in the Cabinet Room where it kind of percolated up through the system. The Department for Transport was not keen on doing it, either, because they were all worried about the effects on tourism. Fundamentally, that decision was made repeatedly in the Cabinet Room at No. 10.


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

Are you of the opinion that the views of the leaders of the devolved nations were listened to during this, specifically when thinking about the border policy?


DOMINIC CUMMINGS:

I cannot really say if they were listened to or not, to be honest. I cannot really remember what they were saying, and I cannot really remember much of the discussion around that question, I’m afraid.


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

As I said, I am a teacher. We have school inspections. With Ofsted you have four grades: grade 1 is outstanding; grade 2 is good; grade 3 is requires improvement; and grade 4 is inadequate. How would you rate the Government response?


DOMINIC CUMMINGS:

I would say some individual brilliant performances. Overall system: total failure.


ANUM QAISAR-JAVED MP:

So you would give it a grade 4: inadequate.