Thursday, December 2News That Matters

Minister dismisses Dominic Cummings claims as ‘tittle-tattle’ – with Labour demanding inquiry

A Cabinet minister has dismissed claims the prime minister sought to halt a Downing Street leak inquiry to protect a friend of his fiancee as “tittle-tattle”.

Labour have called for an independent inquiry following a series of astonishing allegations from Boris Johnson‘s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party will also attempt to haul a senior minister before parliament on Monday to answer an urgent question on the claims.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his senior aide Dominic Cummings as they leave Downing Street, central London.
Image: Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, has made allegations about Boris Johnson

In a 1,000-word blog post, Mr Cummings said:

• He was not behind the leak of WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and billionaire Sir James Dyson
• The prime minister suggested halting a Downing Street leak inquiry as it might have implicated a friend of his fiancee Carrie Symonds
• Mr Johnson attempted a “secret” plan to have Conservative donors to pay for the renovation of his Downing Street flat.

Mr Cummings – who wrote the blogpost in response to claims from Number 10 “sources” that he was behind recent leaks about Mr Johnson’s private conversations – also questioned the prime minister’s “competence and integrity”.

However, asked about Mr Cummings’s claims, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss condemned the allegations as “tittle-tattle”.

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“I think this issue is a massive distraction from what we should be focussed on, which is how we are recovering from the pandemic, the vaccination programme and the work we’re doing to rebuild the economy,” she told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday show.

Ms Truss stressed Mr Johnson had “met the costs of the refurbishment” of his Downing Street flat himself and had “acted completely in line with the rules”.

“I have been assured that the rules have been fully complied with and I know that he has met the costs of the flat refurbishment,” she said.

“I absolutely believe and trust that the prime minister has done that. What people want to know is that in line with the rules the prime minister has met the cost of this refurbishment.

“That has happened. All the costs will be declared in line with the rules.”

However, Ms Truss repeatedly refused to say when Mr Johnson paid the costs, amid suggestions a Conservative donor had initially offered up a £58,000 sum.

“All the details will be given out in line with the rules,” Ms Truss added. “There are certain reporting procedures and those procedures are being followed.”

Meanwhile, asked about the claim that Mr Johnson tried to stop an inquiry into how plans for last November’s national COVID lockdown in England were leaked before being formally announced, Ms Truss dismissed the allegation as “tittle-tattle”.

“The prime minister, who I work very closely with, has consistently through this crisis acted in the best interests of the country,” she said.

“These noises off are simply not helpful, they are not contributing to a positive future and they don’t reflect what is actually going on in Downing Street.”

Ms Truss stressed the so-called “chatty rat” leak inquiry was still “ongoing” – nearly six months after it was first launched – adding: “I hope it finds who the individual was who conducted this leak because it’s very, very unhelpful when confidential is leaked from the government.”

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Johnson and Cummings are ‘two boys fighting’

The international trade secretary failed to answer when the prime minister would appoint a new ethics adviser, but she said the role would be filled “shortly”.

The prime minister has not yet appointed a replacement for Sir Alex Allan, who quit as the independent adviser on ministerial standards November last year after Mr Johnson overruled his conclusions about Home Secretary Priti Patel’s “bullying” treatment of civil servants.

More angst awaits Number 10 after Mr Cummings vowed to answer questions about the issues he raised “for as long as the MPs want” when he appears before a House of Commons committee on 26 May.

Labour’s shadow home office minister Jess Phillips described the public feud between Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings as “scrapping between two very powerful men who seem more interested in who’s lying about what and who’s leaking what than about the substance of the issue”.

“And that is whether contracts get given out by text messages, about whether tax breaks get given out by text messages or whether the prime minister uses his pals to get money to have his flat done up,” she added.

“Whether I back Dominic Cummings’s view or Boris Johnson’s view, what we need is a proper independent inquiry where it isn’t about two boys fighting, it’s about taxpayers in our country.”

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Ms Phillips confirmed Labour would seek to ask an urgent question in the House of Commons on Monday about the allegations surrounding Mr Johnson.

But she added there was also a need for an independent inquiry.

“This needs to be properly root and branch, not the prime minister calling up his best friends in different newspapers to have a pop at Dominic Cummings and Dominic Cummings touring round select committees or writing blogposts,” Ms Phillips said.