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What Does the Departure of Dominic Cummings Mean for Brexit?

Whether you are in the camp that believes Dominic Cummings is a genius ‘super forecaster’ who was going to revolutionise the Government and the civil service, or not, his influence now appears to have been diminished. On 14th November 2020, Mr Cummings left from the front door of the PM’s residence with his cardboard box supposedly for the last time. The reasons behind his departure have been the subject of a great deal of media conjecture, and it is likely we will never know precisely what happened, but it is worth reflecting on what this may mean for Brexit and the COVID-19 response.

Will The Departure Of Dominic Cummings Affect Brexit?

As Cummings was one of the main ‘Vote Leave’ figures, it is tempting to believe that his departure means that any attempt to get a deal over the line is more likely to succeed. Ministers, including the UK environment secretary, George Eustice, have tried to dispel this notion. Eustice said, “The negotiations have been led by David Frost from the beginning. He’s got a very talented, experienced team of technical experts around him….He’s led these negotiations from the start and obviously remains in place and continues to do so. So I don’t actually think the departure of Dominic Cummings makes any particular impact on the negotiations, since Lord Frost has been leading those”.

According to former PM, Gordon Brown, what will be more influential on whether we get a trade deal is Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House in a few weeks. Speaking to Andrew Marr, Brown said “I think the arrival of Joe Biden has made all the difference…I see a trade deal coming pretty soon. The Government simply cannot afford to be at war with America on the one hand and Europe on the other at the start of the new year. So if he [Johnson] doesn’t change his internal market bill he’s at war with America, if he doesn’t get a negotiation settled with Europe he’s at war with Europe. I think he’s made up his mind already that he’s going to get a settlement and there will be a settlement soon, I think.”

This makes logical sense (if logic can really be applied to our current politics). It would be hard to imagine a committed leaver such as Dominic Cummings leaving if he wasn’t convinced he had done his bit in getting Brexit over the line. In other words, he thinks his job is done. And if we are to get some form of a trade deal with the European Union, this is more likely to happen if there is pressure within the Conservatives to align with the inbound president-elect.

What Does His Departure Mean For The COVID-19 Response?

It is widely agreed that Dominic Cummings undermined the perception of the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic response by driving to Barnard Castle during the first lockdown to ‘test his eyes’. It is also interesting to note that for all of Dominic Cummings belief in the power of ‘big data’ and data analytics to solve the biggest problems of our day, this wasn’t used to any great impact to reduce the UK COVID-19 outbreak. It is believed that countries such as South Korea, which faired well during the pandemic had done so by leveraging big data and AI. They used this technology across the board, including for contact tracing, developing test kits, diagnostics, telemedicine, genetic mapping of the virus, and for other purposes to beneficial effect.

To compound matters, it was reported in the Financial Times that a public relations firm director who was paid £670,000 to provide PR advise to Kate Bingham, the head of the UK government’s coronavirus vaccine task force, is a business associate of Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law. For these reasons and more, it is probably fair to say Dominic Cummings will not be remembered in a positive light in terms of bringing COVID-19 under control, and his departure is unlikely to have any impact on the future approach to the pandemic. His legacy is likely to be seen as one of engendering a lack of trust and showing indifference during this pandemic.

Are We Likely To See The Return Of Dominic Cummings?

Now he has left number 10, some believe he will never return. According to the New Statesman, “Cummings now has next to no chance of returning to Government in any meaningful way. He is one of the few characters in public life that a majority of the public know they dislike, and he has lost the trust of both his major benefactors, Johnson and Gove. His departure has likely strengthened the position of both men, who are no longer being defined by a chief aide whose severe style finally wore thin”. The departure of both Cummings and number 10’s director of communications, Brexiteer, Lee Cain, maybe the start of a reset by Boris Johnson, ahead of a big year for the UK in 2021.

Final Words

In years to come, Dominic Cummings will no doubt be most remembered for his role in the Vote Leave campaign. The three word catchphrases such as “Take Back Control”, “Get Brexit Done” were his ideas. He may also be remembered as someone who promised to break apart the Whitehall machine and the civil service but had no plan for rebuilding them. Much of how he is remembered, and politicians those who pushed for the UK to leave the EU, will be determined by how Brexit goes in the next decade.

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