Dominic Cummings 'Clearly Undermined' Lockdown, Says Ex-Civil Service Chief

Ned Simons
·Politics news editor, HuffPost UK
·2-min read
(Photo: PA)
(Photo: PA)

Dominic Cummings “clearly undermined” the government’s messages on its coronavirus lockdown, the former top UK civil servant has said.

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser triggered a huge backlash after he was revealed to have driven to County Durham after his wife developed coronavirus symptom.

In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, Mark Sedwill said it had been “clearly a difficult moment for the government”.

“It was a mistake - whether everyone should quit every time they make a mistake, I don’t think is right,” he said.

“But it clearly undermined the government’s coherent narrative about people following the rules.”

Sedwill, who stood down last month as cabinet secretary, also admitted there were “legitimate” questions about Whitehall’s preparedness for the pandemic.

“Although we had exercised and prepared for pandemic threats, we didn’t have in place the exact measures, and we hadn’t rehearsed the exact measures,” he said.

“I think there is a genuine question about whether we could have been better prepared in the first place and that is obviously a very legitimate challenge.”

Sedwill, who was appointed to the post under Theresa May, stepped down after reportedly clashing with Cummings.

He was one of a number of senior officials to leave in the months after Johnson became prime pinister last year.

He rejected suggestions that their departures had been “part of a campaign” to get rid of officials ministers did not like, saying the situation was “more complex”.

“Governments want people they have confidence in, of course,” he said.

“We go through periods of this kind when there’s perceived to be an attack on the underlying values of the civil service, but actually, those values and the institutions serving governments with impartiality have always prevailed and I’m confident they will continue to do so.”

But he said that attacks in the press on senior officials over Brexit and other issues had been “unpleasant” and damaging.

“It is damaging to good governance and those responsible should recognise the damage they’re doing, even if they’re indulging themselves in some short-term tactical ploy,” he said.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.