Trump distracted UK Covid efforts with request to join Iraq airstrikes, PM’s former aide claims

Dominic Cummings tells committee that abrupt US request came amid scramble to deal with coronavirus

Former Boris Johnson advisor Dominic Cummings delivers explosive testimony on the UK’s Covid response

Former president Donald Trump distracted from Britain’s emergency Covid meetings in early 2020 by abruptly asking the country to join airstrikes on Iraq, a former aide to Boris Johnson has said.

According to Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to the prime minister, the British government began the “insane” day of 12 March, 2020, by scrambling to devise a strategy for dealing with the nascent pandemic. Just as it was deciding whether or not to impose a lockdown, Mr Trump called.

“Suddenly, the national security people came in and said, ‘Trump wants us to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East tonight’, and we need to start having meetings about that through the day with Cobra as well,” Mr Cummings told members of Parliament in an explosive evidence session on Wednesday.

At this point in time, Covid-19 cases in the United Kingdom were just beginning to creep up, with around 68 new infections reported per day. By mid-April, that number would reach about 5,000.

Mr Cummings said he had begun the day by urging Mr Johnson by text to announce a lockdown, and later that day the country’s leaders gathered to decide their policy at the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, or Cobra.

“So everything to do with Cobra that day on Covid was completely disrupted because you had these two parallel sets of meetings,” Mr Cummings said. “You had the national security people running in and out talking about, ‘Are we going to bomb the Middle East?’”

The United States at that moment was eager to attack the weapons facilities of an Iran-backed militia, which the Pentagon blamed for a rocket attack that killed three soldiers in Iraq – two of them American and one British. The US did ultimately carry out the bombing, but without Britain’s participation.

Meanwhile, Mr Cummings said, compounding the chaos at Cobra was the fact that Mr Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, was demanding that the government’s press office squash a negative story about her and her dog.

“So, we have this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying, ‘Are we going to bomb Iraq?’, part of the building was arguing about whether or not we’re going to do quarantine or not do quarantine, the prime minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial,” Mr Cummings said.

Mr Johnson did not announce a national lockdown until 23 March. In the meantime, daily Covid-19 cases in the UK crept up to about 730 per day. The country currently has the fifth-highest Covid death toll in the world.

Mr Trump’s company has not yet responded to The Independent’s request for comment.

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