Rishi Sunak has criticised the government’s response to Covid – suggesting independent scientific advisers were given too much authority.
Mr Sunak – chancellor in the pandemic – told the Spectator magazine there had not been enough discussion about the negative side effects of lockdowns.
He said the government had “empowered” official scientists and tried to “scare people” through advertising campaigns.
But ex-No 10 aide Dominic Cummings said he was talking “dangerous rubbish”.
Mr Cummings, who was a key Downing Street adviser during the first part of the pandemic, accused Mr Sunak of “unfairly” blaming Boris Johnson and others.
“The Sunak interview is dangerous rubbish, reads like a man whose epicly bad campaign has melted his brain and he’s about to quit politics,” he added.
Mr Sunak is battling Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to replace Mr Johnson as Conservative leader and prime minister in two weeks’ time.
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During the campaign, both candidates have sought to highlight areas where they disagreed with the government in which they served, with Ms Truss saying she was opposed to the rise in National Insurance.
As chancellor from February 2020 to July 2022, Mr Sunak played a key role in the government’s response to coronavirus, including establishing the furlough scheme and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Speaking to the Spectator, Mr Sunak insisted he did not want to blame individuals but said he believes a series of mistakes were made by ministers during the pandemic.
He said ministers were not given enough information to scrutinise analysis produced by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – a group of independent experts advising the government.
He told the magazine he had asked for summaries of the assumptions behind Sage’s modelling for the first year of the pandemic, but could “never get” them.
“This is the problem,” he was quoted as saying, “if you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed”.
Mr Sunak said more discussion about the “trade-offs” of lockdowns could have made them “shorter” and “different”.
“The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: ‘Oh there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy’.
“Those meetings were literally me around that table, just fighting. It was incredibly uncomfortable every single time.
“I was like, ‘forget about the economy – surely we can all agree that kids not being in school is a major nightmare.’ There was a big silence afterwards. It was the first time someone had said it. I was so furious.”