Official declines to comment on whether Cummings contributed at SAGE coronavirus meetings

Dominic Cummings is questioned by reporters as he leaves his home in London. Photograph: Sky News.

Dominic Cummings is questioned by reporters as he leaves his home in London. Photograph: Sky News. - Credit: Archant

The medical director of NHS England has declined to comment on whether or not Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings made contributions to a meeting of scientists advising the government on the coronavirus outbreak.

Downing Street dismissed claims its scientific advice could be politicised following the disclosure that Cummings has attended meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Professor Stephen Powis, one of the few publicly-known members of the panel, emphasised it was a 'scientific discussion' when asked about what contributions Cummings made to meetings.

He told a Downing Street briefing that his experience of SAGE has 'absolutely been about scientists and experts'.

'At SAGE, it is a scientific discussion. What I have witnessed and experienced is a scientific discussion between scientific advisers,' Prof Powis said.

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'Robust discussion at time as we consider the evidence, conclude what the evidence is telling us, sometimes point to where the evidence is missing and where we need to gain and generate further evidence.'

He added that the group then provides advice to government officials 'in terms of the scientific basis of the choices that government quite rightly has to make as elected representatives'.

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Pushed on whether or not Cummings made a contribution, Prof Powis said: 'It's the scientists that make the scientific contributions and the scientists and the experts in that group, that are absolutely involved in generating the advice.

'The advice comes from those scientific experts to government, and government officials, that's exactly what Sage is set up to do.

'And that is exactly what my experience is of the way SAGE works.'

The controversy over SAGE - which will advise ministers on the lifting of restrictions - came after The Guardian reported that Cummings had been present at key meetings.

The newspaper reported that Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, had also been present.

In a strongly worded statement, a No 10 spokesman confirmed that Cummings and Warner had attended or listened in to SAGE meetings, but denied they had in any way affected the group's advice.

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