The Liberal Democrats have called for an inquiry into whether Rishi Sunak breached the ministerial code by holding secret meetings with Dominic Cummings.

The Times reported on Sunday that the prime minister had held two sets of talks with the former chief adviser to Boris Johnson as he considered bringing the controversial figure back into Downing Street.

Mr Cummings later confirmed the meetings in December 2022 and July 2023 in a blog post, claiming he had turned down an offer to “work secretly” for Mr Sunak.

But while a Number 10 source did not deny the discussions took place, they claimed “no job was offered”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a visit to RAF Lossiemouth military base in Moray, Scotland, to praise members of the RAF, Army and Navy who will spend time away from their families this Christmas while on duty. Picture date: Monday December 18, 2023.

Labour criticised the prime minister for “secretly begging Mr Barnard Castle to run Downing Street again”, saying it showed he was “out of ideas and too weak to come up with his own”.

Now the Lib Dems have gone a step further, claiming the meetings with Mr Cummings had not been recorded on Mr Sunak’s transparency returns – despite the requirement of the ministerial code to record any meetings where official business is discussed.

Calling for an official inquiry, the party’s chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said it had been “a clear breach of the ministerial code”, adding: “These shady attempts to bring back Cummings through the back door need to be properly scrutinised.

“We urgently need to know why these meetings weren’t declared in the proper way, and if any officials were present or informed.

“Given reports that major changes to government policy were discussed that would impact on millions of people’s lives, from taxes to the NHS, the public deserves full transparency, not another cover up.”

But a government spokesperson denied any wrongdoing, saying: “In full accordance with the ministerial code, meetings with private individuals to discuss political matters do not need to be declared.”

The talks that came back to bite Sunak


Rob Powell Political reporter

Rob Powell

Political correspondent

@robpowellnews

Out of office but still causing problems for prime ministers – the discussions we now know took place between Dominic Cummings and Rishi Sunak raise several practical and political questions.

Firstly, was the ministerial code broken through the failure to declare these talks?

The Liberal Democrats say yes, as it’s alleged that official business like taxation and the NHS were discussed.

The government says no, claiming the talks were in a private capacity and to discuss political matters.

Secondly, has Rishi Sunak been honest about his dealings?

During the July 2022 leadership campaign, he said Dominic Cummings would have “absolutely nothing” to do with any government he led. Yet months later, the pair were speaking.

Thirdly, does this add to existing tensions between the prime minister and his party?

Some right-wing MPs will see this as proof of collusion between Rishi Sunak and the man who did more than most to bring down Boris Johnson.

Other moderates who were critical of Dominic Cummings’ methods in government will question the judgement of consulting such a controversial figure.

Lastly, does this tell us anything about Rishi Sunak’s political instincts for the direction of his administration?

After bringing back David Cameron, Labour has sought to frame these latest revelations as more evidence of a prime minister out of ideas and desperately reaching out to political figures of years gone by for guidance.

Downing Street would dispute that.

What’s clear though is this is more evidence of aftershocks caused by a tumultuous decade in politics coming back to damage Downing Street.

Speaking to Sky News, Labour’s shadow paymaster general, Jonathan Ashworth, added his call for the meetings to be looked into, saying it was “curious” they weren’t declared when the prime minister “promised to restore integrity”.

He added: “He’s not being straight with the British people. He actually stood on a podium and said Dominic Cummings would have nothing to do with his government – his words. And now he’s on his knees, begging Mr Cummings to return to Downing Street.

“He’s misled, if not lied to the British people. So, of course, these things need to be looked into properly. But in the end, it’s typical of Rishi Sunak.

“He cannot deliver on his promises, whether that’s fixing the NHS, whether that’s making easing the cost of living crisis, because he put up tax or stopping the boats all the promises that he makes to the British people, he breaks.”

According to a post on Mr Cummings’ blog on Sunday, the first meeting between him and Mr Sunak took place shortly after the latter took over Number 10 at the end of 2022.

“The PM wanted an actual plan including how to grip power and get things done, a political strategy and a political machine to change the political landscape and beat Labour,” wrote Mr Cummings.

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Cummings ‘sought to act as PM’

The former adviser insinuated a job offer was put to him, saying he “might do it”, but his acceptance had “conditions” – including changes to nuclear weapons infrastructure, pandemic planning and the approach to AI.

But he said Mr Sunak “decided against the deal I proposed” and instead wanted Mr Cummings to “work secretly on politics and communication in return for a promise that I could come to No10 and sort out my priorities after the election” – something the adviser “declined”.

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Mr Cummings said the pair then spoke in July 2023 when he was “asked to see him again”, but it was “essentially a repeat” of the conversation from the previous year.

“I said I could try to turn things around but my core conditions were the same,” he wrote. “I was not prepared to work as a secret political adviser to win the election without assurances on deep state priorities and the ability to ensure urgent action was taken.

“No deal was possible.”

Asked about the meetings, a Number 10 source said: “It was a broad discussion about politics and campaigning, no job was offered.”



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