Boris Johnson’s ex-adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed the prime minister was writing a book about Shakespeare instead of visiting flood victims and dealing with the impending COVID pandemic.

The PM agreed to write Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius in 2015 when he was mayor of London but he has struggled to find time to write it after being appointed foreign secretary the following year and then PM in 2019.

There were rumours earlier this year Mr Cummings, who resigned last November, was going to use an appearance before MPs in May to claim Mr Johnson was working on his Shakespeare biography instead of tackling the impending pandemic last year.

At the time, Mr Johnson’s spokesman denied the PM was focusing on the book in January and February 2020 but did not deny he has worked on the book, for which he received an £88,000 advance, since becoming prime minister.

But now, in the first on-record claim, Mr Cummings has said the PM asked if he could spend time writing his book in January 2020 and said he was writing it in February while dismissing COVID-19 as “the new swine flu”.

Writing on his blog, Mr Cummings said: “One morning in mid-January he [Boris Johnson] called me into his study.

“‘Dom, I want to run something by you. Do you think it’s ok if I spend a lot of time writing my Shakespeare book?’

“What do you mean?

“‘This f***ing divorce, very expensive. And this job. It’s like getting up every morning pulling a 747 down the runway. [Pause] I love writing, I love it, I want to write my Shakespeare book’.

“I think people expect you to be doing the PM’s job, I wouldn’t talk to people about this if I were you…”

Mr Cummings also said within a month of the December 2019 election Mr Johnson was “bored with the PM job and wanted to get back to what he loves while shaking down the publishers for some more cash”.

And he claimed that a month before the first lockdown, Mr Johnson was writing his book at Chevening House, the grace and favour 115-room Kent mansion usually saved for the foreign secretary while the PM’s country house, Chequers, was being repaired.

“In February, as COVID spread, he was in Chevening writing about Shakespeare and messaging No10 that COVID was ‘the new swine flu’,” Mr Cummings claimed.

The PM was widely criticised at the time for being at Chevening for 12 days instead of visiting flood victims of Storm Dennis or holding a COBRA emergency meeting on the storm.

Mr Johnson’s allies have continued to defend him, saying he has not submitted any work to his publisher Hodder and Stoughton during his time at Number 10.

But his disappearance from public view for nearly two weeks in February and his failure to attend five COBRA meetings in January and February 2020 have added to the mystery.

Downing Street said at the time the meetings were chaired by senior ministers and this arrangement was not unusual.

Mr Cummings has written about the book as he addressed Tory MPs coming under criticism for having second jobs.

He added: “WTF is he [Mr Johnson] having a go at MPs, given all his own outside earnings – and attempted outside earnings and illegal secret donations, while he’s supposed to be pretending to be PM?!”

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