Boris Johnson apologised to Matt Hancock for hiring Dominic Cummings and the “damage” the ex-adviser did to UK’s Covid response, according to the former health secretary.
The claim is made in Mr Hancock’s written evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which has been published after he finished giving evidence in person on Friday.
Mr Hancock used part one of his appearance on Thursday to paint the former prime minister’s ex-chief adviser as a “malign actor” who subjected his staff to abuse as they grappled with the emergence of coronavirus.
The former cabinet minister divulges further details in his 176-page written submission, claiming Mr Cummings attempted to “centralise power” to himself and worked without the then-prime minister’s approval during the pandemic response.
He also appears to hint that Mr Cummings may have been behind leaks from within Downing Street, suggesting that they stopped when Mr Johnson and his de facto chief-of-staff were both ill with coronavirus in spring 2020.
Mr Hancock said Mr Cummings’ decision making was “known to be erratic” and labelled his alleged decision to continue to hold in place a ban on government ministers appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme at the start of the pandemic “beyond ridiculous”.
He said that “the then-prime minister has apologised to me for appointing his chief adviser and for the damage he did to the response to Covid-19”.
Asked whether Mr Johnson had apologised for hiring Mr Cummings, the former prime minister’s spokesman said: “Boris Johnson will be at the Covid inquiry next week and is looking forward to assisting the inquiry with its important work.”
Mr Hancock played a key role in the response to the pandemic, but his performance has been repeatedly criticised by a number of other inquiry witnesses, including Mr Cummings.
Hitting back as he gave evidence on Thursday, the former health secretary said Mr Cummings had attempted to exert influence over decision-making in a way that was “inappropriate in a democracy”.
Expanding on that argument in his written comments, the MP said Mr Cummings in late February 2020 “instigated a decision-making process from No 10, which he insisted supplanted prime ministerial decision making”.
He said a “major challenge” for the government when deciding on suitable actions for tackling the virus was that “senior figures in No 10, including the prime minister’s chief adviser, were in fact not aligned” with Mr Johnson, but yet were issuing instructions “as if they had the prime minister’s full authority”.
Referencing the period in April 2020 when then-deputy prime minister Dominic Raab was put in charge while Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings were ill with Covid, Mr Hancock stated that the “proper lines of accountability were respected far more in this time”.
In what appears to be a thinly-veiled swipe at Mr Cummings, he said: “This time was a very good example of how the state can operate in a time of crisis when convention is respected.
“Ministers do not play politics, and advisers do not leak government decisions to the media in order to get their own way or exert disproportionate influence on decision-making in the name of their boss without their boss’ approval.”
Mr Hancock is sitting as an Independent MP after being stripped of the whip in November 2022 by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak following the announcement that he would be appearing on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! programme.