Boris Johnson’s government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain.
Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). However, following reports in The Guardian newspaper, the government admitted that Cummings had sat in on group meetings, prompting the opposition Labour Party to ask for “answers” over his exact role.
The row emerged as the government’s general COVID-19 approach came under increasing scrutiny and the official death toll approached 20,000 in one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.
In a statement, a Number 10 spokesman said: “It is not true that Mr Cummings or Dr Warner are ‘on’ or members of SAGE. “Mr Cummings and Dr Warner have attended some SAGE meetings and listen to some meetings now they are all virtual. “They do this in order to understand better the scientific debates concerning this emergency and also to understand better the limits of how science and data can help government decisions.” The statement added that it was “factually wrong and damaging to sensible public debate” to suggest the committee’s advice was affected by the government.