Downing Street confirmed that Dominic Cummings had listened to meetings with senior scientists advising the government on the coronavirus epidemic – but denied claiming that he was part of the secret group.
Opposition parties have said that political advisers have no interest in attending meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) and have asked that its deliberations be opened for further examination.
Mr cummings, the Prime Minister’s senior advisor, was among 23 participants at a key SAGE meeting when nationwide lockdown was announced on March 23, The Guardian reported.
Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked with Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum, also attended the meeting.
SAGE, which provides scientific and technical advice to help decision-makers in emergencies, advises the government on coronavirus epidemic.
Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said he was “shocked” to see political figures participating in SAGE meetings.
He told the Guardian, “If you give scientific advice, your advice should be free from political bias.
“It is so important. “
A number 10 spokesperson confirmed in a firm statement that Mr. Cummings and Dr. Warner attended or listened to SAGE meetings, but denied having affected the group’s advice in any way.
The spokesperson said, “It is not true that Mr. Cummings or Dr. Warner are” on “or members of SAGE.
“Mr. Cummings and Dr. Warner have attended some SAGE meetings and are listening to certain meetings now that they are all virtual.
“They are doing this to better understand the scientific debates around this emergency and also to better understand the limits of how science and data can help government decisions.”
“Sometimes they ask questions or offer help when scientists report problems to Whitehall. “
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The government has never published a list of SAGE members or participants, but individual members may reveal that they are part of the group.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the current chief scientific adviser who chairs SAGE, said in a letter to Parliament earlier this month that the decision not to disclose its membership was based on the advice of the Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).
He said it helped protect the personal safety of members while protecting them from “lobbying and other unwanted forms of influence that could impede their ability to give impartial advice.”
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of Health for England and member of SAGE, told MEPs on Friday that neither he nor Sir Patrick had any objection “in principle” to the details of the members’ release.
He told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that CPNI’s advice was based on the fact that SAGE was a subcommittee of Cobra – the government’s civil contingencies committee – and sometimes dealt with matters related to security.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the revelation that Mr. Cummings had attended SAGE had raised “important questions” about the credibility of the government’s decision-making process.
He said, “Dominic Cummings has no place in the government’s scientific coronavirus advisory group.
“He is a political adviser, not a medical or scientific expert. If the public wants to trust the Sage, the government must make it clear that Dominic Cummings can no longer participate or attend. “
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the disclosure highlighted the need for a public inquiry into the government’s management of the pandemic.
He said, “The public must trust that it is expert advice that guides government decisions, not questionable political advisers. The lack of transparency is an absolute scandal.
“To uncover the truth and give Boris Johnson the opportunity to answer serious questions, it is clear that an independent inquiry will be required to formally review the government’s response to the pandemic. “
Richard Horton, editor of the medical journal The Lancet, tweeted, “While it is true that Dominic Cummings attended SAGE meetings, the government led by Boris Johnson has completely corrupted independent scientific advice. “