The recent furore over Dominic Cummings’ attendance at the government’s scientific advisory meetings is “bonkers”, according to a former Downing Street adviser to David Cameron.
Daniel Korski told City A.M.’s daily podcast The City View today that it was standard for senior Number 10 advisers to attend high-level meetings.
He added it was important Cummings attends “one of the most important deliberative bodies in government” throughout the coronavirus crisis.
The Guardian reported on Saturday that Cummings, Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser, and former Vote Leave data scientist Ben Warner were on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) body, which is providing scientific guidance for the government’s Covid-19 response.
However, it was soon clarified by Downing Street that Cummings and Warner were not a part of Sage, but they sit in and watch meetings.
“Occasionally they ask questions or offer help when scientists mention problems in Whitehall,” a Number 10 spokesman said.
Environment secretary George Eustice said yesterday that the government does not publish the full list of who is on Sage to ensure independent decision making and to protect the safety of members.
Korski said The Guardian story was an example of “breathless reporting”.
“When I was in government I attended a range of different meetings – some formal, some informal, some with ministers, some without, some I participated actively in, some I just listened,” he said.
“I have to say that the idea that the Prime Minister’s senior adviser should not attend what has become one of the most important deliberative bodies in government is, to me, bonkers.
“I’m pleased people around the Prime Minster are attending meetings like that.
“We have to be a little bit more sensible about this than parts of the media have been. I also get the sense that people out there appreciate that, that they’re not getting worked up by things like that.”
It comes as Johnson today made his first public appearance since falling ill with coronavirus. He warned people that lifting the coronavirus lockdown too early would lead to “economic disaster”.
The speech follows a group of Tory donors and City grandees urging the government to begin to ease social distancing restrictions in order to protect the economy.
There have also been reports of unrest among the Conservative party backbenches about the lockdown’s effect on businesses.
“I can see the long term consequences of lockdown as clearly as anyone,” Johnson said today.
“And so yes, I entirely share your urgency. It’s the government’s urgency.
“And yet we must also recognise the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus and letting the reproduction rate go back over one, because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease, but also an economic disaster.
“I refuse to throw away all the effort, and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life, and the overwhelming of the NHS.
“I ask you to contain your impatience, because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict.”