Boris Johnson had to be talked out of meeting the Queen early on in pandemic, ex-adviser claims
(CNN) — Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser has claimed that the Prime Minister tried to maintain his weekly face-to-face audiences with Queen Elizabeth during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the elderly monarch being vulnerable to the virus.
According to Cummings, Johnson said: “I’m going to see the Queen … that’s what I do every Wednesday. Sod this. I’m going to go and see her.”
“You can’t go and see the Queen. What if you go and see her and give the Queen coronavirus? You obviously can’t go,” Cummings responded. “I just said, ‘If you give her coronavirus and she dies, what are you going to [do]? You can’t do that. You can’t risk that. That’s completely insane.’”
“And [Johnson] said — he basically just hadn’t thought it through — ‘Yeah … I can’t go.’”
The Queen went into isolation with Prince Philip at Windsor Castle, outside London, soon after the purported exchange described by Cummings. It has since emerged that both Prince Charles and Prince William, second and third in line to the throne, both had the virus in the early stages of the pandemic.
A Downing Street spokesperson flatly denied Cummings’s claims.
In the wide-ranging interview with the BBC, set to air Tuesday, Cummings accused his old boss of putting “his own political interests ahead of people’s lives” through his handling of the pandemic.
The adviser claimed that Johnson was willing to let the disease “wash through the country” in order to stop the economy from falling apart because he believed the people dying were “essentially all over 80,” and therefore less economically active.
Cummings also claimed that Johnson rebuffed the advice of his most senior scientific and medical advisers to impose tougher restrictions, and pointed to the right-wing media’s calls for fewer restrictions when justifying his actions.
According to Cummings, the Prime Minister at one point called the Daily Telegraph, a right-leaning newspaper for which Johnson has worked on and off in various roles since the 1980s, his “real boss.”
Responding to the allegations, a Downing Street spokesperson told CNN in a statement that since “the start of the pandemic, the Prime Minister has taken the necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice. The government he leads has delivered the fastest vaccination rollout in Europe, saved millions of jobs through the furlough scheme and prevented the NHS from being overwhelmed through three national lockdowns.”
The interview is the latest in a string of allegations made by Cummings since departing from his job in Downing Street last November following an internal power struggle.
The most significant moment in the Cummings-Johnson spat came in May of this year, when Cummings gave evidence to Members of Parliament. During the session with MPs, he said on the record that Johnson would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose lockdown restrictions, that the Prime Minister failed to take the disease seriously at the earliest stages of the pandemic, and at one stage offered to have England’s chief medical officer “inject him with Covid” live on air to prove it was nothing to worry about.
Cummings’ comments were rebuffed at the time by Downing Street and allies of the Prime Minister suggested to CNN that the former aide’s credibility was undermined by his clear personal vendetta against the Prime Minister.
The appointment of Cummings, who was the mastermind of the 2016 Brexit campaign, has been one of the most controversial aspects of Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister. During his time as an adviser, he severely damaged Johnson’s reputation when it emerged he had traveled hundreds of miles after displaying symptoms of Covid-19, despite the country being in a national lockdown. Johnson stood by Cummings, costing him public approval.