Sturgeon called Boris a ‘f****** clown’ over ‘utter incompetence’ in handling Covid, WhatsApps reveal

Scotland’s former first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called Boris Johnson a “f***ing clown” at the time of the second Covid lockdown, bombshell messages have revealed.

WhatsApp messages shared between the ex-SNP leader and her top adviser, Liz Lloyd, shown at the Covid inquiry demonstrated the utter disdain with which the then-prime minister was held.

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Johnson’s address announcing a second national lockdown on 31 October 2020 was “f***ing excruciating” and “awful”.

She told Ms Lloyd: “His utter incompetence in every sense is now offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere,” adding: “He is a f***ing clown.”

It came as Humza Yousaf, the SNP leader, admitted the Scottish government’s handling of information was “frankly poor” as he announced a review into its use of WhatsApp in a bid to end the controversy over deleted messages.

The new messages shared at the inquiry on Thursday also revealed the extent to which Ms Sturgeon and her officials discussed the political implications of pandemic policies.

The SNP government has come under fire in recent days after messages revealed top officials had discussed how to use the Covid crisis to forward the cause of Scottish independence.

Ms Lloyd told Ms Sturgeon she wanted a “good old-fashioned rammy” with the Tory government so she could “think about something other than sick people”.

Liz Lloyd, Nicola Sturgeon’s former top adviser, arriving at the Covid inquiry (Getty)
Liz Lloyd, Nicola Sturgeon’s former top adviser, arriving at the Covid inquiry (Getty)

The adviser told Ms Sturgeon she had “set a timetable” for the UK government to answer the Scottish government on the furlough scheme as a “purely political” move in the November 2020 messages.

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yeah, I get it. And it might be worth doing. I’ve sent a rough formulation of what I might say tomorrow.”

Asked if she was looking for a spat, Ms Lloyd replied: “I was looking for a spat with a purpose.”

Handwritten notes also showed Ms Lloyd suggested a possible strategy of “calling for things” that the Scottish government could not do to “force the UK government to do things”.

Ms Lloyd told the inquiry that the Scottish government were “clearly not complimentary” about the UK government’s way of communicating new rules with the public. “We had to mitigate the chaos that appeared around some of the decisions they took.”

Discussing calls between the government, she said Mr Johnson “wasn’t well briefed, he wasn’t listening – engagement with him became slightly pointless”. Ms Lloyd added: “They didn’t get us anywhere.”

Sturgeon is under scrutiny over her use of private emails and deletion of messages (PA)
Sturgeon is under scrutiny over her use of private emails and deletion of messages (PA)

Last week, it emerged from Sturgeon cabinet meeting minutes from June 2020 that her ministers agreed to consider how the Covid crisis could be used to boost support for Scottish independence.

Her ministers “agreed that consideration be given to restarting work on independence” with the case updated based on “arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis”. The Scottish Tories said it was “disgusting” to use the crisis to “break up” the UK.

Mr Yousaf rejected accusations the Scottish government made Covid decisions for political reasons. “Our motivation – every step of the way – was to ensure we kept the people of this country safe,” he told the Scottish parliament shortly before his own appearance at the inquiry.

Appearing at the Covid inquiry, Mr Yousaf admitted the Scottish government’s handling of information was “frankly poor”. He said: “I apologise unreservedly to the inquiry and to those mourning the loss of a loved one.”

The SNP leader announced that he had commissioned officials to deliver “an externally-led review” into the use of mobile messaging apps and the use of non-corporate technology in the Scottish government.

Mr Yousaf later confirmed to the Covid inquiry that the review would not have access to messages deleted by ministers and senior officials.

The SNP leader – Scotland’s health secretary during the pandemic – also admitted that he had used personal phones to conduct government business rather than a government-issued phone.

The messages were all deleted “after a month for cyber security purposes”, according to a document from October 2023 that details how ministers used informal communications.

However, Mr Yousaf realised some messages were recoverable as he had retained a previous phone handset. The SNP leader has maintained that he has personally handed over all his relevant Whatsapps to the inquiry.

Humza Yousaf arriving at the Covid inquiry (Getty)
Humza Yousaf arriving at the Covid inquiry (Getty)

Ms Sturgeon’s use of private party emails is also under fresh scrutiny. It emerged that she had provided a public health expert with an SNP email address – saying she could be contacted “privately”. She told Professor Devi Sridhar: “Don’t worry about protocol.”

Scottish Labour has demanded an investigation. But a source close to Ms Sturgeon denied concealment on Thursday – saying any emails relevant to the pandemic she received in her private inbox “were passed to the Scottish government”.

Ms Sturgeon is also under pressure over deleted messages. The ex-SNP leader previously suggested that she had never used informal messages to make Covid decisions.

It then emerged that messages were routinely deleted. But Ms Sturgeon has insisted that informal messages erased on her own devices were later obtained and submitted to the inquiry.

Humza Yousaf defended his use of masks while giving evidence (PA)
Humza Yousaf defended his use of masks while giving evidence (PA)

Mr Yousaf also defended his use of masks after it emerged that a top health adviser had told him he could be exempt while attending an event if he had “a drink in your hands at all times”.

The first minister said national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch’s advice that “literally no one” followed mask guidance for standing in public places was simply him “over speaking”.

He used the same term when defending Ms Sturgeon and the Scottish government’s decision-making after it emerged that Prof Leitch said the then-first minister “actually wanted none of us” in crucial meetings.

The inquiry counsel asked Mr Yousaf if this was an indication that Ms Sturgeon “really took decisions in connection with the pandemic herself”.

Mr Yousaf said there had been “times the former first minister needed a tighter cast list” for meetings, but denied cabinet ministers were not involved in big moves. “I think this is a classic example of Jason perhaps over speaking,” he added.

Mr Yousaf also branded the Scottish Police Federation a “disgrace” in messages exchanged with former SNP deputy first minister, John Swinney, over the implementation of Covid rules. He said: “Sometimes when you are venting to a colleague you use language you regret.”

Earlier, Ms Lloyd denied that a decision about guest limits on weddings showed she was involved in making up policy that was made “on the hoof” with Ms Sturgeon. She was shown messages exchanged on 22 September 2020, where Ms Sturgeon said: “We haven’t thought about weddings.”

A media briefing was then delayed so a decision could be made to keep wedding and funeral numbers at 20. Ms Lloyd said a decision taken to change numbers would be “on the hoof”, but “sticking with a decision already taken was more coherent”.