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Dominic Cummings: The Vote Leave chief who invented £350m claim before admitting Brexit was a mistake

The brains behind Brexit, who David Cameron once branded a 'career psychopath', is famed for his blunt direct manner 

Maya Oppenheim
Wednesday 05 July 2017 16:52 BST
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Mr Cummings proposed the campaign for an extra £350m be spent on the NHS every week from diverted EU spending and the infamous bus which leading Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson were photographed alongside
Mr Cummings proposed the campaign for an extra £350m be spent on the NHS every week from diverted EU spending and the infamous bus which leading Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson were photographed alongside (Getty)

Dominic Cummings might have been one of the key architects of the Brexit vote but he remains little known to the public.

The behind-the-scenes ringleader served as the Campaign Director of the Vote Leave campaign and is the mastermind behind some of its most memorable slogans.

He was the brains behind the infamous £350m-for-the-NHS slogan plastered on the side of the bus and coined the phrase “vote leave, take control”.

Mr Cummings, a former special advisor to Michael Gove, has now found himself in the limelight for performing a staggering U-turn by admitting that leaving the EU may be “an error”.

In a late-night Twitter exchange, the political strategist described the referendum as a “dumb idea” before other ideas had been tested to seize back powers from Brussels.

Despite the huge influence of Mr Cummings, who David Cameron once branded a “career psychopath”, has exerted on future of Britain, he continues to be something of a mystery to the British public.

His career path

Born in Durham, Mr Cummings was the son of an oil rig project manager and a special needs teacher. He went from Durham School to Oxford University where he graduated in 1994 with a First in Ancient and Modern History.

After leaving university, he did not immediately turn his attention to politics. Instead, he lived in Russia for three years where he sought to establish an airline connecting Samara and Vienna.

Dominic Cummings said officials wanted to stop funding Kids Company but were overruled

His eurosceptism first reared its head between 1999 and 2002 when he served as campaign director at Business for Sterling - the campaign against Britain joining the Euro.

After this, he became director of Strategy for Conservative Party Leader, Iain Duncan Smith, but quit after eight months out of anger at the introduction of what he perceived to be half-measures. Between 2007 and 2014, he worked for Michael Gove as a special advisor.

There he became famed for his forthright, direct manner and "not suffering fools gladly”.

A profile of Mr Cummings penned by Conservative Home in 2014 described him as “one of the most direct people in politics” and noted it was rare for a special advisor to attract any attention let alone the amount he was getting. According to the piece, the strategist rose to prominence for mounting a frontal assault on Nick Clegg, whom he has accused of being “self-obsessed”, “dishonest” and “a revolting character”.

“It has been said of Cummings that “you underestimate him at your peril’,” the author Andrew Gimson writes. “He is exceptionally intelligent, without being exceptionally steady: a ruthless man who fights to win and is prepared to risk defeat. If he were a conventional careerist, he could be bought off or persuaded to be patient in the hope of obtaining the reward of becoming an MP and a minister. Cummings is more dangerous than that. He is an idealist.”

The politician, who married Mary Wakefield commissioning editor at The Spectator in 2011, eventually left the post to start a free school.

Despite working closely with the Conservative Party over the years, he has never joined a political party himself.

Brexit engineer

It was with the Brexit vote that Mr Cummings truly flexed his strategist prowess. Behind the scenes, he is credited with being a key player in pulling off last year’s shock vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

He proposed the campaign for an extra £350m to be spent on the NHS every week from diverted EU spending and the infamous bus which leading Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson were photographed alongside. The pledge was of course scrapped when Theresa May took over in Downing Street.

Mr Cummings was criticised by MPs at the Treasury Select Committee in April 2016 for creating campaign leaflets which could potentially mislead members of the public into believing they were created by the NHS.

His campaign strategy was summarised as: "Don’t talk about immigration"; "Do talk about business"; "Don’t make the referendum final"; "Do keep mentioning the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the over-reach of the European Union’s Court of Justice".

After 52 per cent of Britain voted to exit the EU, Mr Cummings was hailed as one of the key masterminds behind the successful campaign.

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