Boris Johnson tonight backed his top aide Dominic Cummings after he was hit with allegations of flouting lockdown rules multiple times.
From ‘career psychopath’ to Brexit mastermind, Dominic Cummings has so far cut a controversial figure during his time as Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser, after making a name for himself as the quiet yet acerbic mastermind who won the Brexit referendum.
After the successful 2016 Vote Leave campaign, he rejoined government when Boris Johnson entered Downing Street and is credited with the strategy to deliver Brexit that ultimately resulted in the Prime Minister’s landslide election victory in December.
More recently he has clashed with top civil servants including Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill in his quest to revolutionise Whitehall and was seen as the man responsible for ousting Sajid Javid as Chancellor.
Born in Durham and educated at Oxford University, Cummings helped to deliver Brexit but clashed with civil servants and cabinet ministers as he attempted to overhaul the Whitehall system.
His latest controversy surrounds allegations he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by travelling across the country in March, despite showing symptoms of Covid-19.
Calls for him to resign from both sides of the political spectrum have intensified over the past few days as the reports emerged.
Number 10 Downing Street special advisor Dominic Cummings leaves his home in London on May 24, 2020 following allegations he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by travelling across the country in March
Before rising to become the Prime Minister’s top aide, Mr Cummings worked as director of strategy for the Conservative Party in the early 2000s.
He was appointed special adviser to Conservative politician Michael Gove in the Department of Education from 2007, before being dismissed by David Cameron, who once referred to Cummings as a ‘career psychopath’, in 2014.
He quickly became known for his blunt style and his criticism of other senior politicians, once referring to Nick Clegg’s proposal on free school meals as ‘Dreamed up on the back of a cigarette packet’.
In 2012, during his time as special adviser to Gove, a senior female civil servant received a payout of £25,000 in a bullying case she took against Cummings and a senior member of Gove’s team.
From 2015, Cummings was the power behind the Vote Leave campaign that propelled Britain towards backing Brexit in 2016.
While Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were in the limelight the 47-year-old remained in the shadows pulling the strings.
He over saw a campaign that totally outflanked Remain and which is widely credited with leading to the 52-48 result in favour of quitting.
Such was his central role he was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War last year.
Such was his central role he was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War last year
He was the man behind the infamous ‘£350million-a-week for the NHS’ claim on red buses, and the ‘take back control’ catchphrase. However, a year after the referendum, Mr Cummings said it was a ‘dumb idea’.
But his success in the strategic role of the campaign saw him drawn blinking into the daylight.
A former special adviser at the Department for Education during Mr Gove’s controversial reforming tenure, he was later found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to answer MPs questions about the Brexit campaign.
He was once labelled a ‘career psychopath’ by former prime minister David Cameron, according to widely-reported remarks.
But Mr Cummings is no stranger to an insult either.
He described David Davis, then the Brexit secretary, as ‘thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus’ in July 2017.
He has also previously turned his fire on hardline Brexiteers in the Tory European Research Group in one of his trademark lengthy blogposts.
In March last year he likened some members of the group to a ‘metastasising tumour’ accusing them of ‘scrambling’ for top radio spots while ‘spouting gibberish’ since 2016.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior aid Dominic Cummings leaves his north London home on Sunday
On 24 July 2019, Cummings was appointed as a Senior Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He was accused of hypocrisy when, not long after his appointment, it was revealed that a farm that he co-owns had received €250,000 (£235,000).
Cummings had previously described such subsidies as ‘absurd’, complaining that some of them were handed out to ‘very rich landowners to do stupid things’.
Ministers reportedly previously warned Boris Johnson in February that he must ‘rein in’ top aide Cummings because ‘half the Cabinet’ feel unable to work with him.
Ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid quit the same month after he refused a demand from Mr Cummings to sack all of his staff.
Mr Javid was given an ultimatum that he must accept his political advisers being ousted to stay in No11 – but he chose to walk away.
Dominic Cummings, pictured in February, found himself at the centre of a number of government controversies
Mr Cummings sparked controversy ahead of the February reshuffle after he reportedly told a meeting of special advisers he would ‘see half of you next week’.
Also before the reshuffle, Mr Cummings suggested that the characters from the children’s television show PJ Masks would do a better job than the current Cabinet.
In a bizarre encounter with reporters outside his London home, Mr Cummings repeatedly referred to the popular TV show.
In a bizarre encounter with reporters outside his London home in February, Dominic Cummings repeatedly referred to the popular TV show PJ Masks
Dominic Cummings: The main controversies since the maverick aide joined Number 10
Andrew Sabisky: The now ex-adviser was hired as part of Mr Cummings’ drive to recruit ‘misfits and weirdos’. Mr Sabisky quit the government this week amid outcry over his previous remarks about race, women and benefits.
Sajid Javid: Mr Javid quit as chancellor at last week’s reshuffle after he refused a demand from Mr Cummings to sack all of his staff.
HS2: Mr Cummings previously called the high speed rail network a disaster zone and was against it going ahead. But he was overruled by Mr Johnson and Mr Javid.
The Budget: The Vote Leave maverick was reportedly working on Budget ideas ‘full time’ when Mr Javid was chancellor, sparking growing tensions with the Treasury.
Special Advisers: The top aide faced fierce criticism after recently telling a meeting of spads before the reshuffle that he would ‘see half of you next week’.
PJ Masks: Before the reshuffle, Mr Cummings suggested that the characters from the children’s television show PJ Masks would do a better job than the current Cabinet.
Sonia Khan: Ms Khan, a senior adviser to Mr Javid, was sacked by Mr Cummings last year and was then frogmarched out of Downing Street. She was accused of staying in touch with people close to her former boss, Philip Hammond.
As he was challenged over a range of topical issues, the No10 strategist – who has a young son – started off by quoting the catchphrase from the programme.
‘The night time is the right time to fight crime,’ he said. ‘I can’t think of a rhyme.’
When the bemused reporter tried a question on whether he had lost his influence in Downing Street, Mr Cummings replied: ‘I think we need PJ Masks on the job. PJ Masks, they’re your guys.’
Asked about the looming Cabinet reshuffle, the former Vote Leave svengali said: ‘PJ Masks would do a greater job than all of them put together.’
Sonia Khan, a senior adviser to Mr Javid, was sacked by Mr Cummings last year and was then frogmarched out of Downing Street. She was accused of staying in touch with people close to her former boss, Philip Hammond.
Cummings fired Khan without the permission or knowledge of then-Chancellor Sajid Javid.
Ms Khan has since launched an unfair dismissal case.
A drive by Mr Cummings to recruit ‘misfits and weirdos’ into the government led to the hiring of ex-adviser Andrew Sabisky.
Sabisky quit his role in mid-February after his past comments about race, women and benefits came to light. It emerged he previously suggested enforcing the uptake of contraception and claimed black people are mentally inferior.
In March, The Sunday Times reported that Mr Cummings approach to the coronavirus crisis was herd immunity and protecting the economy, a report which Downing Street slammed as ‘highly defamatory fabrication’.
The paper claimed that at one event at the end of February, Cummings said the government’s strategy at the time could be summarised by some present as ‘herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.’
On March 30, Cummings began displaying symptoms of Covid-19, three days after Mr Johnson tested positive, and was reported to be self-isolating.
Mr Cummings (pictured leaving home with his son yesterday) insisted he was entitled to make the journey to get to family
Boris Johnson last night mounted a determined defence of his controversial aide Dominic Cummings, telling allies: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover’ when he allegedly broke lockdown rules (pictured in September)
A joint investigation by the Daily Mirror and the Guardian found that Cummings had reportedly been spotted in Durham in late March and early April, having travelled to visit his parents’ home, some 264 miles from his usual residence in London, despite showing symptoms of Covid-19 and in defiance of the government’s own lockdown guidelines.
It was later alleged that Cummings had made a second trip to Durham during lockdown after returning to London.
Boris Johnson yesterday mounted a determined defence of his controversial aide Dominic Cummings for allegedly breaking lockdown rules while ill with coronavirus, telling allies: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover.’
Durham bolt-hole: The family property Mr Cummings and his family is said to have fled to during the height of the coronavirus lockdown
However last night’s claims the 48-year-old Vote Leave mastermind broke lockdown rules repeatedly is likely to test the PM’s support, with one Downing Street insider branding Mr Cummings’s behaviour ‘Domnishambles’.
Number 10 furiously rubbished the reports and said it will not ‘waste time answering a stream of false allegations from campaigning newspapers’.
But there is growing fury inside Tory ranks at Mr Cummings’ astonishing behaviour. One Cabinet minister told the Sunday Times he had made them look like ‘hypocrites’ over the harsh lockdown measures forced upon the British public.
And an adviser channelled Monty’ Python’s cult film The Life of Brian, saying: ‘He’s proved he’s not the Messiah, he’s actually a very naughty boy’.
The explosive claims against Cummings come against the backdrop of growing tensions between the maverick aide and the Whitehall establishment – leading some Tory MPs to speculate about whether ‘dark forces’ were behind the exposé.
Shortly before the story broke, sources claimed that Mr Cummings had been at the centre of an attempt to oust Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, something which No 10 sources deny.
The claims have circulated in the wake of the appointment of the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary, Simon Case, to the previously-dormant role as No 10’s own Permanent Secretary.
The move has been described by one political aide as ‘a shot across Sedwill’s bows’ – but has also been seen as an attempt to dilute Mr Cummings’s all-pervasive influence.
Mr Cummings has been a long-standing critic of the Whitehall establishment, describing the permanent Civil Service as ‘an idea for the history books’ and proposing the abolition of senior civil servants’ roles.
A senior source admitted that tensions had been ‘running high’ in No 10, with many officials exhausted by the Covid-19 crisis, but played down the idea that Mr Cummings had been the victim of a ‘hit job’ by his enemies in Government.