A series of scathing WhatsApp messages sent between Boris Johnson’s top team have accused the former prime minister of making it “impossible” to tackle Covid, as he created chaos and changed direction “every day”.
The extraordinary messages sent between the likes of Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain and Simon Case reveal the strong disquiet among Mr Johnson’s advisers, with Mr Case, the cabinet secretary and top civil servant, at one point declaring: “I am at the end of my tether.”
The ex-PM’s top officials also branded him “weak and indecisive” and referred to him as a “trolley”. Chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, meanwhile, said Mr Johnson was “all over the place” and “so completely inconsistent”.
The WhatsApp messages and diary entries, shown to Mr Johnson’s former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds at the official Covid inquiry, laid bare the chaos behind Downing Street’s response to Covid.
In a bombshell three hours of testimony about his time as Mr Johnson’s PPS, Mr Reynolds was asked about everything from the government’s preparedness for the pandemic to his own role in the Partygate scandal of lockdown-busting events.
The ex-top civil servant, since dubbed “Party Marty”, apologised “unreservedly” for sending an email to more than 100 Downing Street staff inviting them to a “bring your own booze” garden party during lockdown.
And he admitted the government’s readiness to tackle Covid was “grossly deficient”, and that officials were operating “without a proper playbook”.
The inquiry was shown extraordinary WhatsApp exchanges and notes taken around the time of key decisions being made.
In one diary entry, Sir Patrick wrote: "Number 10 chaos as usual.
"On Friday, the two-metre rule meeting made it abundantly clear that no-one in Number 10 or the Cabinet Office had really read or taken time to understand the science advice on two metres. Quite extraordinary."
In other entries Sir Patrick described how he felt scientists were "used as human shields" by ministers.
On 19 September 2020, when a potential "circuit-breaker" lockdown was up for discussion, he wrote: "Johnson is all over the place and so completely inconsistent. You can see why it was so difficult to get an agreement to lock down the first time."
And in a devastating exchange of messages between Mr Case, the cabinet secretary, and Mr Cummings, who was Downing Street’s chief of staff at the time, Mr Johnson was described as “creating chaos”.
Mr Case said: “I am at the end of my tether. He changes strategic direction every day (Monday we were all about fear of virus returning as per Europe, March etc – today we’re in ‘let it rip’ mode because the UK is pathetic, needs a cold shower etc.)
“He cannot lead and we cannot support him in leading with this approach. The team captain cannot change the call on the big plays every day. The team can’t deliver anything under these circumstances.”
Piling in to the other cabinet ministers, he said: “A weak team (as we have got – Hancock, Williamson, Dido, No10/CO, Perm Secs), definitely cannot succeed in these circumstances. IT HAS TO STOP! Decide and set direction – deliver – explain. Gov’t isn’t actually that hard but this guy is really making it impossible.”
Mr Cain replied: “Totally agree. Am already getting lots of despairing messages from people in meetings with him. And he’s careering around on WhatsApp as usual creating chaos and undermining everybody. “
In another exchange shown to the inquiry, Mr Cummings accused Mr Johnson of going “full trolley mode”, referring to his tendency to veer between issues.
Pressed toward the end of the session on his now infamous BYOB email, Mr Reynolds said: “I would first like to say how deeply sorry I am for my part in those events and for the email message, which went out that day.
“And I would like to apologise unreservedly to all the families of all those who suffered during Covid for all the distress caused.”