Dominic Cummings claims he secretly met with Rishi Sunak about possible return

PM branded ‘weak and desperate’, as Boris Johnson’s ex-adviser reveals Tory leader asked for advice on how to ‘smash’ Labour

Adam Forrest
Sunday 31 December 2023 13:32
Inquiry not interested in Cummings’ salacious style and language, Keith tells Johnson

Dominic Cummings has claimed he and Rishi Sunak held top secret meetings as the PM considered bringing him back into the fold ahead of the next general election.

The PM reportedly asked Boris Johnson’s ex-chief aide for advice on winning over the public as he pushed for a “secret deal” with Mr Cummings to help the Tories “smash” Labour in 2024.

Mr Sunak was branded “weak and desperate” by Labour and the Liberal Democrats for “secretly begging” Mr Cummings to return to No 10.

The Tory leader, whose party is trailing behind Labour in the polls, apparently decided against the plan after two meetings and after Mr Cummings made a series of demands about government priorities.

Mr Cummings urged Mr Sunak to abandon his cautious economic approach, hold an emergency budget, settle the NHS strikes and double the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate of income tax from £50,271 to £100,000, the Sunday Times reported.

He also reportedly advocated leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as part of the Rwanda deportation plan.

No 10 has not denied Mr Cummings’ account of secret meetings in July and December 2022, but said no job offer was made.

A Downing Street source said: “It was a broad discussion about politics and campaigning, no job was offered.”

Dominic Cummings revealed Mr Sunak’s offer of a ‘secret deal’

The former Vote Leave campaign director, behind the 2019 Tory landslide victory, is one of the most controversial advisers in No 10 history but sensationally left in autumn 2020 after a power struggle with then-PM Mr Johnson.

The pair were said to have met in last July in North Yorkshire and again last December in London, alongside Mr Sunak’s chief of staff Liam Booth-Smith.

The meetings were so discreet that even some of Mr Sunak’s inner circle were apparently unaware.

Mr Cummings told the paper: “He wanted a secret deal in which I delivered the election and he promised to take government seriously after the election.

“But I’d rather the Tories lose than continue in office without prioritising what’s important and the voters.

“The post-2016 Tories are summed up by the fact that Sunak, like Johnson, would rather lose than take government seriously. Both thought their MPs agreed with them, and both were right.”

Rishi Sunak’s party is trailing Labour in the polls

According to the report based on Mr Cummings, Mr Sunak told the strategist: “The MPs and the media will go crazy. Your involvement has to be secret.”

The former aide said he was only prepared to offer his help if Mr Sunak would commit to prioritising the “most critical things”, citing nuclear weapons infrastructure, pandemics, Ministry of Defence procurement, artificial intelligence (AI) and “broken core government institutions”.

Mr Cummings said he was “only prepared to build a political machine to smash Labour” if the PM would commit to things “we started fixing in 2020 but Boris abandoned”.

Following the report, Mr Cummings posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Don’t know why someone at No10 blabbed about this but...”

“Brief statement on Times story about the PM asking me to smash Labour and win the election, what I asked for in return (e.g sorting out the horror show of our nuclear weapons infrastructure, pandemic defences), & why we couldn’t do a deal.”

Former prime minister Boris Johnson pictured with his ex-chief adviser

The Liberal Democrats have called for an official Cabinet Office inquiry into whether Mr Sunak breached the ministerial code by failing to declare his meetings with Mr Cummings.

The party pointed to Mr Sunak’s transparency returns, which do not include the meetings, and urged an inquiry to look at whether the discussions were reported to the Cabinet Office, as required under the code.

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said the “shady attempts to bring back Cummings through the back door need to be properly scrutinised”, adding: “We urgently need to know why these meetings weren’t declared in the proper way.”

A government spokesperson said: “In full accordance with the ministerial code, meetings with private individuals to discuss political matters do not need to be declared.”

It came as a video re-emerged showing Mr Sunak claiming during the summer Tory leadership contest that Mr Cummings would have “absolutely nothing to do with any government that I am privileged to lead”.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy questioned Mr Sunak’s judgement over “secret meetings” with “this loathsome individual who has brought so much chaos on our country”.

The frontbencher told his LBC programme: “You’d have thought he would have learned something from his poor judgement on Suella Braverman.”

Labour also said the revelation showed Mr Sunak is “out of ideas” and relying on “the ghosts of Tories past”.

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said: “After promising to restore integrity to Downing Street, he’s secretly begging Mr Barnard Castle to run Downing Street again. From Cameron to Cummings, the prime minister is admitting he’s out of ideas and too weak to come up with his own.”

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: “This is a desperate move from a desperate prime minister. Taking advice from a person who was integral to another failed Conservative premiership just further underlines this.”

Arch Boris Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries said Mr Sunak had “repeatedly denied on the record having contact with Cummings which makes him an on the record liar”.

Mr Cummings was appointed Mr Johnson’s chief adviser in July 2019 and is widely credited with helping him win the 2019 general election. But he left the following year after a spectacular fallout with Mr Johnson.

He later admitted he had been working to bring an end to the prime minister’s tenure. He also became embroiled in a public scandal when it emerged he had driven from London to County Durham at the height of lockdown.

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