reported by the BBC but denied by Downing Street.

Asked if Mr. Johnson was the right person to guide the country through the pandemic, Mr. Cummings responded simply: “No.”

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The Dominic Cummings Chronicles: The Can’t-Miss Sequel

LONDON — A year ago this week, a brusque, defiant figure in shirt sleeves appeared in the sun-dappled garden behind 10 Downing Street to give one of the most extraordinary news conferences in recent British political history.

On Wednesday, that same man — Dominic Cummings, then the most powerful adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson; now arguably his most dangerous enemy — will testify before two Parliamentary committees on Britain’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is being billed as a can’t-miss sequel in the Cummings Chronicles.

Mr. Cummings is expected to unload a trove of inside details about how Mr. Johnson bungled Britain’s initial response, necessitating what he claims were months of needless and ruinous lockdowns. His account, some of which he previewed in a dense, didactic Twitter thread over recent days, is likely to embarrass a leader who bounced back from that wobbly performance, largely on the strength of Britain’s swift rollout of vaccines.

“Dominic Cummings has long been known as a man who brings a bazooka to a knife fight,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent. “I suspect he shall not walk quietly into the night.”

firing him in November. Last month, the aide turned publicly on his ex-boss, accusing him of unethical behavior in the costly decoration of his flat in Downing Street and of trying to shut down a leak investigation because he feared it would antagonize his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

With its promise of further juicy details about an alliance gone bad, the testimony is likely to be political theater of a rare vintage. British papers have speculated that Mr. Cummings will say Mr. Johnson missed numerous early coronavirus meetings because he was busy working on his long-delayed book about Shakespeare.

127,700 deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

“If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine,” Mr. Cummings said in a Twitter post. In another, he wrote, “One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe.”

The problem with Mr. Cummings’s message is the messenger. His decision to flout the rules — most notoriously in going on a family outing to Castle Barnard that he claimed he undertook to test his eyesight — arguably did more to damage the government’s credibility than any single incident during the pandemic.

“He is a tainted source,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. “But just because he has an ax to grind and a credibility problem, doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth.”

For Mr. Johnson, the saving grace may be that Mr. Cummings is testifying at a time when Britain’s vaccination campaign has driven down cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Though there are concerns about flare-ups of a variant first seen in India, the government remains on track to reopen the English economy fully on June 21.

Nor is it clear how much lawmakers will press Mr. Cummings on Mr. Johnson’s personal peccadilloes. On Tuesday, there was a fresh reminder of his checkered history, with the release of a report by the Conservative Party that concluded Mr. Johnson’s disparaging references to Muslims during his days as a newspaper columnist had fostered the impression that the party is “insensitive to Muslim communities.”

For all the static around Mr. Johnson, however, his party just scored impressive victories in regional elections in England.

“Cummings would be able to do severe damage to a prime minister and a government that was in trouble and was unpopular,” Mr. Bale said. “But this government is not in trouble and the prime minister is very popular.”

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Decorating Scandal Engulfs Boris Johnson and Puts Fiancée in Spotlight

LONDON — Of all the unsavory ethical questions swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson these days, the one that has stuck is how he paid for the costly makeover of his apartment in Downing Street. And it has put his 33-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, under a particularly scorching spotlight.

Mr. Johnson has been accused in news reports of secretly using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement his public budget for redecorating the apartment — a charge that, although Mr. Johnson says he has repaid the money, has prompted an investigation by Britain’s Electoral Commission. But it is Ms. Symonds and her purportedly expensive taste in wallpaper and designer furniture that has become a running theme on social media and in British tabloids.

“#CarrieAntoinette” is trending as a Twitter hashtag, while the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, had himself photographed studying wallpaper at the British department store John Lewis — a labored stunt meant to make light of reports that Ms. Symonds derided the Downing Street décor left by Mr. Johnson’s no-nonsense predecessor, Theresa May, as a “John Lewis nightmare.”

Never mind that Ms. Symonds has not actually been quoted saying anything about John Lewis. The reference, in a profile of her in Tatler magazine, is attributed to an unnamed person who once visited her in the apartment. Tatler did report that Ms. Symonds oversaw the renovation project, and her involvement means she, too, may have to turn over evidence to the Electoral Commission.

For Ms. Symonds, a former Conservative Party communications chief who now works for an animal-rights group, it is the latest trial in a year overstuffed with dramatics: the near-fatal illness of Mr. Johnson after he contracted the coronavirus; the birth of their son, Wilfred; and the bitter purging of Mr. Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in which she is reported to have played a behind-the-scenes role.

It all has put Ms. Symonds at the heart of a familiar narrative, one replete with sexism and double standards: the grasping, manipulative politician’s partner. She joins a parade of women, from Hillary Clinton to Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose murmurings to their men were the subject of fevered suspicion.

The fact that her relationship with Mr. Johnson coincided with the breakup of his 25-year marriage, and that she became the first unmarried partner to move into Downing Street, only adds to Ms. Symonds’ tabloid portrayal as a libertine Lady Macbeth or an upwardly mobile Marie Antoinette — choose your cliché.

“The outsized fascination with Carrie Symonds’ role in the prime minister’s circle reflects outdated sexist tropes that regard women in positions of influence as inherently devious,” said Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group and a research fellow at the London School of Economics.

Her defenders say that as an accomplished political player in her own right, Ms. Symonds has no less right to offer advice to the prime minister than any other unpaid adviser — and he would be wise to take it.

And yet, others say, there are legitimate questions to ask about Ms. Symonds’ influence, which goes beyond the news media’s obsessive focus on home improvements at Downing Street. Her ardent defense of animal rights was reported to have contributed to the government’s decision to halt a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, which contradicted the advice of scientists and veterinarians.

Friends of Ms. Symonds have been installed in key positions in Downing Street and, in the telling of Mr. Cummings, protected by her even after evidence of wrongdoing. On his blog, he claimed that Mr. Johnson wanted to shut down a leak investigation after it became clear that the culprit was Henry Newman, a close adviser to Ms. Symonds.

Mr. Cummings quoted Mr. Johnson as saying to him, “If Newman is confirmed as the leaker, then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie, as they’re best friends.”

Downing Street has denied that Mr. Johnson tried to shut down the investigation, but it did not comment about Ms. Symonds’ role.

Her defenders say she has a savvy political sense and could well have aspired to a seat in Parliament if she hadn’t begun a relationship with Mr. Johnson. To the extent that she is giving him advice, some say, it is helpful: cutting loose Mr. Cummings and other hard-core Brexiteers softened the prime minister’s image and improved his popularity before the recent ethics issues pulled him back to his more familiar role as a political scalawag.

“She was fantastic — she is very loyal and was hugely supportive,” said John Whittingdale, a former culture secretary for whom Ms. Symonds served as a special adviser. He described her as “a strongly committed Conservative” and a “very strong Brexit supporter” at a time when that was a less popular position.

“The people who are attacking Carrie clearly see a route to damage the prime minister by attacking her,” he said.

Ms. Symonds labors under a few handicaps, one of which is the lack of a job description for a prime minister’s partner. The role has no constitutional status, and unlike that of first lady in the United States, little administrative support. Successful spouses have usually had strong identities outside Downing Street.

Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis, was a businessman, as is Mrs. May’s husband, Philip. David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, ran a fashion company, while Ms. Blair, who once had her own political ambitions, worked as a high-level barrister during her husband’s decade in office. Though Ms. Blair’s influence came under criticism early on, the scrutiny subsided as she built a flourishing legal career.

“She always knew she could go back to her job at the bar, which made it less demeaning to be the appendage,” said Fiona Millar, a journalist and onetime aide to Ms. Blair. Ms. Symonds, she said, “doesn’t seem to have that life outside politics, which the people who’ve been successful at it did have.”

The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a co-founder of The Independent newspaper, and a lawyer for the paper, Josephine McAfee, Ms. Symonds was raised by her mother (both parents were married to other people at the time).

Her young adulthood was deeply affected by an incident in 2007 when she was targeted by a taxi driver who served her spiked drinks while driving her home. Ms. Symonds testified against the man, John Worboys, who was jailed as a serial sexual predator.

Well connected and social, Ms. Symonds became a public relations aide for the Conservative Party, eventually rising to chief communications officer, where she encountered Mr. Johnson. The couple had hoped to get married last summer, after his divorce from Marina Wheeler became final, but delayed the date because of coronavirus restrictions.

Life in Downing Street is less glamorous than it might appear, Ms. Millar said. While the job comes with a spacious Westminster apartment, a baronial weekend home, Chequers, and an annual decorating budget of £30,000 ($41,600), the government does not pay for food or household staff. Outside of public occasions, the couple are expected to cook for themselves or get takeout.

Living above the office, as Mr. Johnson struggled with the pandemic and his own illness, was challenging, people who know Ms. Symonds said. She contracted Covid herself, while pregnant, and then cared for their baby while Mr. Johnson, 56, was still shaking off his illness.

“There were times last week that were very dark indeed,” Ms. Symonds tweeted after he was released from an intensive care unit. Despite that, she retained her interest in environmental protection.

“Since having Wilf & not being able to get to the shops during lockdown,” she posted four months later, “I’ve relied on Amazon for lots of baby essentials, but I’ve been dismayed at the amount of plastic packaging. Please sign this petition to ask Amazon to give us plastic-free options too.”

Political commentators say they see Ms. Symonds’ fingerprints in Mr. Johnson’s embrace of green policies. They say she has played to his pragmatic instincts by nudging him toward a more conciliatory politics.

Few prime ministerial partners have been so deeply immersed in politics. Not only does she know the Conservative Party well, she also has strong contacts among its lawmakers, political journalists and the special advisers who play a powerful role in Downing Street and elsewhere in the government.

Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said people have questioned Ms. Symonds’ influence “because of her specific insights and connections and background as a political operative and because of Boris Johnson’s malleability, and the fact that no one is sure what in his head.”

Some of the uneasiness about Ms. Symonds is as much about Mr. Johnson as her. With few fixed positions and a lack of ideological moorings, he leaves the impression that his decisions can be swayed by those with greatest access to him. During a year of lockdowns, that circle sometimes shrank to Ms. Symonds.

“The reason we’re fussing over this is that we think we have an inadequate figure as prime minister,” said Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who is a senior research fellow at the U.K. in a Changing Europe, a London think tank. “If we thought we had a really good prime minister, would we really care who his spouse is, beyond hoping he has a happy personal life?”

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U.K.’s Johnson on the Defensive as Ethical Questions Mount

LONDON — The ethical allegations swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson got more serious on Wednesday after Britain’s Electoral Commission announced it would open a formal investigation into whether Mr. Johnson secretly used political donations to refurbish his apartment in Downing Street.

The commission said it found “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offense or offenses may have occurred.” Mr. Johnson is accused of using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement the budget for upgrading his official quarters, which are above the offices at 11 Downing Street.

Mr. Johnson insisted he paid for the refurbishment out of his own pocket, but he has not disclosed whether he repaid a donation made to the Conservative Party once the accusations surfaced. He is entitled to £30,000 ($41,600) a year in public funds to decorate his apartment, but apparently concluded that budget was inadequate.

The news of a formal investigation raised the political stakes for Mr. Johnson, who has been engaged in an ugly exchange of charges and countercharges with his disaffected former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. In Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson seemed uncharacteristically rattled and angry.

tough questioning from the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, the prime minister said, “I have paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally.” He said he would make more disclosures about the financing if an independent adviser just appointed by the government deemed it necessary.

“I conformed in full with the code of conduct and officials have kept advising me through this whole thing,” Mr. Johnson said.

Questions about the prime minister’s apartment makeover are only one of multiple issues dogging him as his government has become bogged down in an ethical quagmire. He is also accused of making callous statements about imposing another lockdown and giving wealthy businesspeople unusual access.

Mr. Johnson denied news reports that he told aides last fall he would rather let “the bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third lockdown. But he acknowledged that he had expressed deep frustration, saying “they were very bitter, very difficult decisions for any prime minister.”

government’s successful rollout of coronavirus vaccines, which he predicted voters would reward in regional elections on May 6.

He defended his contacts with a British billionaire, James Dyson, over his company’s emergency manufacturing of ventilator machines in the early days of the pandemic, noting that Mr. Dyson, whose company is known for making high-end vacuums, said this week that the two men were not close.

Still, the cloud of allegations kept Mr. Johnson on the defensive, with a succession of lawmakers accusing him of deflecting, dissembling or worse.

“Are you a liar, Mr. Prime Minister?” said the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National Party, Ian Blackford, drawing a slap on the wrist from the speaker of the House of Commons, who said the question was “unsavory.”

Mr. Starmer, a former crown prosecutor, tried to pin down Mr. Johnson on specific points regarding the refurbishment, noting that ministers who knowingly utter untrue statements in the House are obliged to resign.

He pressed Mr. Johnson about who paid the initial invoice for the work on the apartment, and asked him to respond to a report that a wealthy Conservative Party donor, David Brownlow, had contributed £58,000 ($80,000), which was used to pay for part of the upgrade.

Mr. Johnson declined to address either point, repeating only that he paid for the refurbishment. He tried to turn the attack back on the opposition, claiming that it was ignoring public health and economic issues that ordinary people care about in favor of frivolous questions about interior decoration.

“He goes on and on about wallpaper, which as I’ve told him umpteen times, ‘I paid for,’” Mr. Johnson said, gesticulating angrily.

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For U.K.’s Johnson, Plenty of Mud but Will It Stick?

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long had a weakness for a funny line, even in the face of an unfunny problem like the pandemic. When coronavirus cases first spiked last spring, he promised that a lockdown would “squash the sombrero.” When he spoke to businesspeople about an emergency plan to manufacture ventilators, he joked that it could be called “Operation Last Gasp.”

Now, Mr. Johnson stands accused of something darker: declaring at a tense meeting last fall that he would not bow to pressure to impose yet another lockdown, even if it meant letting “the bodies pile high in their thousands.”

He has denied the claim, made by anonymous sources to multiple British newspapers. But the papers, as well as the BBC, are not backing down from their reporting. The dispute has called into question not just Mr. Johnson’s credibility, which is regularly in doubt, but also his humanity, which is usually not.

pay for the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street home, and of trying to shut down an investigation of who leaked plans for a lockdown when it became clear that the probable leaker was a friend of his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

“Boris Johnson has a serious problem with Cummings going rogue because everything we know about Dominic Cummings is that he is a loose cannon,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent and an expert on the British right. “You don’t want him in the opposition camp.”

While the backbiting and knife fighting have riveted Britain’s political class, some analysts question whether it resonates much beyond the hothouse precincts of Westminster. Britons, they say, are more swayed by their country’s robust vaccine rollout and their ability to buy a pint at the pub after a year of grinding lockdowns. Plus, after decades on the political stage, Mr. Johnson’s foibles are hardly new.

As Mr. Goodwin put it, “The fact that he is seen as a bit of a clown and a bit of a buffoon is priced in.”

when he and his family violated proscriptions against leaving home during the first lockdown and traveled hundreds of miles from London to Durham, an incident that corroded the public’s faith in the coronavirus rules.

Mr. Johnson stood by his adviser, but Mr. Cummings was forced out several months later after losing an internal struggle, and the rift between the two men now seems bitterly personal. Mr. Johnson is reported to have called newspaper editors himself last week to accuse his former aide of leaks about the government.

build a narrative of sleazy dealings, cronyism and lying that inflicts real damage on a government that has overcome its succession of mistakes in its handling of the pandemic, largely thanks to the vaccine rollout.

Though Mr. Johnson became prime minister less than two years ago, his Conservative Party has been in power since 2010. Analysts pointed to an earlier era when, having been in power for more than a decade, the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major was ground down by scandals and crises.

“There is a warning from history, from the 1990s, when the government failed to contain repeated allegations of sleaze,” Mr. Goodwin said, noting that it set up the Labour Party for its largest victory in recent history.

Some analysts predicted the public would be forgiving of Mr. Johnson’s outburst about the lockdown because they, too, found the repeated restrictions burdensome and because no one believes he would actually welcome thousands of deaths. They would also take into account his own ordeal with the virus and his decision to order another severe lockdown after Christmas.

“People can be cross because they are tired,” said Andrew Gimson, one of Mr. Johnson’s biographers. “He was exhausted and he’d been through a near-fatal illness, from which he had not fully recovered when he made that remark.”

Others, however, predicted that the flap over Mr. Johnson’s refurbishment of his apartment would throw a harsh spotlight on his sense of impunity, lack of transparency and unwillingness to make do with the perks offered a prime minister.

Mr. Johnson already has access to an annual public grant of £30,000 ($41,600) to upgrade his quarters. Newspaper reports say he augmented that with funds from a Conservative Party donor because Ms. Symonds wanted to get rid of the furniture used by his predecessor, Theresa May, which had been described as being in the style of the British department store, John Lewis.

The government insists Mr. Johnson paid for the upgrade out of his own pocket, though it is unclear whether he repaid money from the donor. However it was financed, the couple’s apparent disdain for John Lewis-style décor may sit badly with ordinary people, for whom the store is a symbol of bourgeois prosperity.

“Johnson has always stayed one step ahead of the sheriff,” Mr. Powell said. “But at some stage in No. 10, you can’t get away with lies that can be proven to be lies.”

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