Reform the Whitehall ‘disaster zone’ – Cummings lifts lid on Johnson’s deal to bring him to No. 10

Written by Alain Tolhurst on 19 March 2021 in News

Gone-but-not-forgotten adviser reveals the four conditions the PM agreed to before he was recruited to Downing Street

Credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/PA Images

Dominic Cummings has said he had four conditions that he laid out at a meeting in his living room with Boris Johnson before agreeing to become the prime minister's chief adviser, including changing how Whitehall works.

Appearing before parliament's Science and Technology Committee this week, Cummings said the prime minister came to see him at his home the week before he entered No.10 in July 2019 and asked him to join his administration as his chief adviser.

The aide, who has been a long-standing critic of the civil service, explained how he said yes in exchange for a promise from Johnson to be able to set up a new research and development agency and to shake up the civil service.

Cummings said Johnson asked him whether he would "come into Downing Street to try and help sort out the huge Brexit nightmare". Cummings agreed, but only if Johnson committed to meeting four key conditions.

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"I said 'yes, if – first of all – you're deadly serious about actually getting Brexit done and avoiding a second referendum'," he told MPs.

"'Second, double the science budget, third, create some ARPA-like entity and, fourth, support me in trying to change how Whitehall works and the Cabinet Office work because it's a disaster zone’. And he said ‘deal’."

Cummings was giving evidence to the committee about the creation of his brainchild the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (Aria) – the “ARPA-like entity” he had requested – which will be given £800m to identify and fund research into "high-risk, high-reward" science projects.

But Cummings insisted he will not have any involvement in the organisation, which has independence from government. 

"I wouldn't want to be involved. I shouldn't be involved," he continued. "The only way I could add any value would be if you picked the wrong people in the first place. If you pick the right people, then what could I possibly contribute to it?”




About the author

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @Alain_Tolhurst.

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