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”.
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.”
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.
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”.
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.”