Trump asked UK to bomb Iraq, disrupting Covid-19 planning, says former aide
Former US President Donald Trump asked the UK to join his country in a bombing campaign in Iraq in March 2020, a move which "disrupted" UK planning around the emerging Covid-19 threat, a former aide to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.
Speaking to a British parliamentary committee, Dominic Cummings - a political strategist seen by many as masterminding the UK's departure from the European Union - said that meetings arranged on 12 March to discuss how the UK should respond to the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic were undermined after "national security people" arrived at Downing Street and announced that "Trump wants us to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East tonight".
Cummings said the request from Trump had come in the wake of the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 and that national security staff had called for meetings throughout the day to deal with the request.
"So everything to do with Cobra that day on Covid was completely disrupted because you had these two parallel sets of meetings," Cummings told MPs, referring to the government meeting room used to deal with matters of national crisis.
"You had the national security people running in and out, talking about, 'Are we going to bomb the Middle East?', and we had the Covid meeting being delayed, trying to figure out, 'Are we going to do household quarantine?'"
He said an additional point of confusion had been created by Johnson's then-girlfriend Carrie Symonds, who had been upset by a report in the Times alleging that Johnson had "grown weary" of their household dog and wanted to rehome it.
"We had this completely insane situation in which part of the building saying, 'Are we going to bomb Iraq?', part of the building was arguing about whether or not we're going to do quarantine or not, and the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial," said Cummings.
'Lions led by donkeys'
In explosive testimony on Wednesday, Cummings said Johnson was recklessly insouciant in the early days of the crisis in February 2020, even volunteering to get infected with Covid-19 live on television to show there was nothing to fear.
But he said that even after nearly dying himself from the virus weeks later, the prime minister declined to learn from mistakes and ignored scientists' advice in September to introduce a second lockdown, leading to many more deaths over winter.
Covid-19 has claimed nearly 128,000 lives in the UK - the fifth-highest official death toll in the world and the highest in Europe.
"The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis," Cummings told a parliamentary committee.
He described political leadership during the crisis as "lions led by donkeys over and over again".
"When the public needed us most, the government failed," he said, apologising "to all the families of those who died unnecessarily".
Many political commentators framed Cummings as the power behind the throne after he was appointed chief adviser by Johnson when he became leader of the ruling Conservative Party in July 2019.
However, Cummings came under fire after he was accused of undermining the government's lockdown messaging early in the pandemic when he went on a lengthy cross-country journey with his family.