Dominic Cummings lashed out against Downing Street with a series of allegations, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports
Boris Johnson's former chief aide Dominic Cummings has lashed out at the prime minister, questioning his "competence and integrity" and accusing the PM of being responsible for a series of false allegations about him in the media.
Mr Johnson’s former top adviser denied he was responsible for the leak of private texts in which the PM promised to “fix” a tax issue for the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson regarding the procurement of ventilators at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a lengthy blog posting he also claimed the prime minister had tried to stop an inquiry into the leak last year of plans for a second lockdown because it implicated a friend of his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
He said that he had also warned Mr Johnson against plans to have donors secretly pay for refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, saying they were “unethical, foolish (and) possibly illegal”.
Why did Dominic Cummings speak out? ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains
A statement from Downing Street denied any wrongdoing and said the “government is entirely focused on fighting coronavirus, delivering vaccines and building back better".
Earlier on Friday, The Times, Daily Telegraph and Sun all reported comments from an insider naming Mr Cummings as the source of the leak of the texts between Mr Johnson and Sir James.
However in a lengthy blog published on his website, Mr Cummings - who quit as the prime minister’s senior adviser last year following a behind-the-scenes power struggle in No 10 - denied the allegations, saying "it is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves".
Mr Cummings said he was "happy to meet with the Cabinet Secretary and for him to search my phone for Dyson messages".
He added: "If the PM did send them to me, as he is claiming, then he will be able to show the Cabinet Secretary on his own phone when they were sent to me.
"It will therefore be easy to establish at least if I was ever sent these messages."
What is the Dyson row about?
Leaked messages show Boris Johnson and businessman Sir James Dyson exchanged private messages about the procurement of ventialtors at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Texts showed the prime minister telling Sir James he would "fix" an issue on the tax status of Dyson staff working in the UK.
At the start of the pandemic, the government asked several companies, including Dyson, to make ventilators.
Sir James sought assurances from the Treasury that his workforce would not face additional taxes.
Sir James contacted the prime minister directly after not getting a response from the Treasury.
In the messages seen by the BBC, Mr Johnson told Sir James: "[Chancellor] Rishi [Sunak] says it is fixed!! We need you here."
In a later message, Mr Johnson said: "I am First Lord of the Treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need."
'People don't give a monkeys!' PM says people do not care who is responsible for leaked Dyson messages
Mr Cummings also took aim at his former boss over allegations he leaked news of November's lockdown to the press, alongside criticising the prime minister for looking to see if he could fund the refurbishment of Number 10 using donors' money.
He said: "The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended. I refused to help him organise these payments.
"My knowledge about them is therefore limited. I would be happy to tell the Cabinet Secretary or Electoral Commission what I know concerning this matter."
Mr Cummings said he has “made the offer to hand over some private text messages, even though I am under no legal obligation to do so, because of the seriousness of the claims being made officially by No 10 today, particularly the Covid leak that caused serious harm to millions”.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston says Cummings’ blog represents a ‘full-scale political crisis’ for the prime minister
However, he added that this “does not mean that I will answer every allegation made by No 10”.
He said the “proper way for such issues to be handled” would be through a Parliamentary inquiry into the government’s conduct over the Covid crisis.
He said this “ought to take evidence from all key players under oath and have access to documents”.
He added: “Issues concerning Covid and/or the PM’s conduct should not be handled as No 10 has handled them over the past 24 hours.
“I will cooperate fully with any such inquiry and am happy to give evidence under oath.
“I am happy for No10 to publish every email I received and sent July 2019-November 2020 (with no exceptions other than, obviously, some national security/intelligence issues).”
Asked on Friday evening about the allegations Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to say why No 10 insiders suspected Mr Cummings is behind leaks of his correspondence.
During a campaign visit to Hartlepool, Mr Johnson told broadcasters: “I think people aren’t so much interested in who is leaking what to whom as the substance of the issue at hand.
"The issue is really the question of the ventilators as you will remember James Dyson was offering to make.
“Let’s be absolutely clear I think it was right to talk to him.”
He said he is “mystified” as to why some people have “chosen to attack” his communications.
Asked if he will take legal action against Mr Cummings, the prime minister said: “I think there’s much more public interest in what we’re doing not just to procure ventilators…
“And we’re now in a position where we do have 30,000 ventilators, we’re able for instance to think about what we can do to help the people of India who are suffering so terribly at the moment.”
A No 10 spokesperson denied that Mr Johnson had ever tried to interfere in an inquiry, adding: “This government is entirely focused on fighting coronavirus, delivering vaccines and building back better.”
They also said the financing of the Downing Street flat would be "recorded in line with the requirements set out in electoral law".
“At all times, the Government and Ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law. Cabinet Office officials have been engaged and informed throughout and official advice has been followed," a Downing Street spokesperson said.
“All reportable donations are transparently declared and published – either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law.
“Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns.”
The government has also said that the prime minister met the cost of the Downing Street flat refurbishment out of his own pocket.
Labour accused Mr Johnson of a "cover up" and called for an investigation into the matters.
Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “There is something deeply suspect about how Boris Johnson and the government have been trying to cover up the luxury refurbishment of No.10.
“Throughout the course of the last year the government has been repeatedly evasive about who has been paying for the refurbishment.
"That leaves far too many questions marks over potential special favours that could have been cashed in on the back of that donation.
“Given we know it only takes a text from one of the Prime Minister’s chums to get a tax break, what might a discreet donation for a luxury refurbishment might get you?
“The cover-up around the Number 10 refurb is the tip of the iceberg of Tory sleaze.
“It has been claimed by the Prime Minister's former Chief Advisor that what was intended was unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and would break the rules on disclosing donations. These are serious accusations which need investigating in full.
“We need transparency around the timeline of the events, details of who knew what and when but also an explanation as to what precisely is so sensitive that it has taken up so much government time and meant the Head of the Civil Service had to be put in charge of the matter.”