Crass and aggressive language laid bare in evidence of exchanges between Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Patrick Vallance.

Crass and aggressive exchanges, flipflopping over pandemic decision-making and callous attitudes towards the fate of older people were laid bare in evidence to the Covid inquiry on Tuesday.

Verbatim messages from the then prime minister and his key advisers, and other written and verbal evidence, represent the most damning testimony to have emerged so far.

Here are some of the most striking examples.

Dominic Cummings used misogynistic language to denigrate senior civil servant

In a WhatsApp exchange, the prime minister’s chief adviser wrote to another senior adviser, Lee Cain, on 22 August 2020: “If i have to come back to Helen’s bullshit with PET [propriety and ethics team] designed to waste huge amounts of my time so i cant spend it on other stuff – I will personally handcuff her and escort her from the building. I dont care how it is done but that woman must be out of our hair – we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the british state while dodging stilettos from that cunt.

“We gotta get Helen out CabOff. She’s fucking up frosty [David Frost]. She’s fucking up me and [the Downing Street permanent secretary Simon] case, Shes trying to get spads [special advisers] fired and cause trouble on multiple fronts … Can we … chat re her moving to CLG [the communities department] or dft [the transport department]? I get the distinct impression MS [the cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill] isn’t acting swiftly and she is trying to hang on waiting to get hooks into new CabSec and stay in there … we need her out ASAP. Building millions of lovely houses.”

Boris Johnson urged Cummings to end ‘orgy of narcissism’

On 15 November 2020, the prime minister told Cummings: “You speak of briefings from team Carrie. She hasn’t briefed anyone and my instructions to all were to shut the fuck up. How is any of us supposed to know where these briefings come from? Look at the claims made on behalf of allies of Lee [Cain] and Dom [Cummings]. That I am out in 6 months. That I can’t take decisions. That Carrie is secretly forging lockdown policy!! And about a billion equally demented claims. Are you responsible for all that crap? No? Then look at it from my point of view. This is a totally disgusting orgy of narcissism by a government that should be solving a national crisis. We must end this. That’s why I wanted to talk and see what we could jointly do to sterilise the whole thing. But if you really refuse then that’s up to you.”

Cummings claimed Matt Hancock was ‘killing god knows how many’

On 7 May 2020, Cummings warned Johnson about the health secretary’s failure to test in care homes. He said: “[Matt] Hancock is unfit for this job. The incompetence, the constant lies, the obsession with media bullshit over doing his job. Still no fucking serious testing in care homes his uselessness is still killing god knows how many. This morning you must ask him when will we get to 500k per day and where is your plan for testing all care home workers weekly.”

Johnson replied: “Ok and let’s get Dido Harding [the head of the test-and-trace programme] in today as well and Kate Bingham [who became chair of the UK vaccine taskforce].”

Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill was ‘babbling’ about chickenpox in March 2020

On 12 March, Cummings told Lee Cain: “Sedwill babbling about chickenpox god fucking help us …”

According to Cummings, Sedwill told Johnson: “‘PM you should go on TV and should explain that this is like the old days with chickenpox and people are going to have chickenpox parties. And the sooner a lot of people get this and get it over with the better sort of thing.’

“And this had been mentioned before this analogy and I said: ‘Mark, you should stop using this analogy of chickenpox parties and the cabinet secretary said why. And [the data expert] Ben Warner said: ‘because chickenpox doesn’t spread exponentially and kill thousands and thousands of people.’

“And the look on people’s faces when Ben said this, that was quite a crystallising moment because it made us (a) think who on earth is briefing the most important official in the country along these lines. This is terrifying.”

Johnson: ‘Covid is nature’s way of dealing with old people’

Notes from the former chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance in August 2020: “[Boris Johnson was] obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going. Quite bonkers set of exchanges.”

In December 2020, Vallance noted: “Numbers are going up & up. PM told he has been acting early and the public are with him (but his party is not). He says his party ‘thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just Nature’s way of dealing with old people – and I am not entirely sure I disagree with them. A lot of moderate people think it is a bit too much.’ Wants to rely on polling. Then he says, ‘We should move things to Tier 3 now.’”

Vallance continued: “Cabinet. Agreed that things need to be scaled back. Christmas must be smaller, shorter & local … Chief whip says ‘I think we should let the old people get it & protect others.’ PM says ‘a lot of my backbenchers think that & I must say I agree with them’ … He says ‘let’s put Berkshire into Tier 3 & then I can just travel there.’ Before Cabinet I said to Gove ‘you did well not to say I told you so re putting London into Tier 3.’ He grins.”

Johnson told Cain, his director of communications, via WhatsApp in October 2020: “Jeeez. I must say I have been slightly rocked by some of the data on covid fatalities. The median age is 82-81 for men 85 for women. That is above life expectancy. So get COVID and live longer. Hardly anyone under 60 goes into hospital (4 per cent) and of those virtually all survive. And I no longer buy all this nhs overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate. There are max 3m in this country aged over 80.”

Cain replied: “All understood – but how does this change the policy? Still not politically viable yet to change course – but maybe once mass testing up and running.”

Johnson said: “It shows we don’t go for nation wide lockdown.”

Cummings called for a reshuffle to remove ‘fuckpigs in charge’

A WhatsApp message from Cummings to Johnson on 23 August 2020: “Don’t think sustainable for GW [Gavin Williamson] to stay [at] dfe [Department for Education]. Think lee [Cain] needs to brief reshuffle after SR [spending review] ASAP. Will get people in line. Focus minds intensely for next 16 weeks, and you spell out explicitly to Cabinet when next meet – I’ve had enough of the leaks and briefing, there’ll be a reshuffle between SR and Xmas, I’m looking for quiet competence, not interviews and briefing and the usual gimmicks …

“if you dont get the CAB[inet] back into line you wil have months more of the mayhem briefing … leaking – this has seriously damaged your authority – you need to get this back, you need to read riot act to CAB and SW1 shd know theres a reshuffle coming between SR and Xmas.

“At the moment the bubble thinks youve taken your eye off ball, youre happy to have useless fuckpigs in charge, and they think that a vast amount of the chaotic news on the front pages is coming from no 10 when in fact it’s coming from the Cabinet who are ferral – if you maintain your approach of last few months, your authority will be severely weakened and you will lose good people cos they dont want to be part of something that looks like mayhem. I urge you to ponder on this this week. If we dont grip things over next month, things cd easily snowball out of control amid the disastrous con news – and there cd be talk of leadership challenges

“I also must stress i think leaving [health secretary Matt] Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or shd believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the cunt in charge of the NHS still – therefore we will back around that cabinet table with him and [the NHS chief executive Simon] stevens bullshitting again in Sep. Hideous prospect.”

Cain replied: “Not sure when you think reshuffle should happen. Before sept to move Hancock? Or November?”

Cummings dismissed PM’s approach as ‘Jaws mode wank’

The inquiry was shown a foul-mouthed WhatsApp exchange between Cummings and Cain lamenting Johnson’s resistance to lockdown. Johnson had claimed that the real hero of the film Jaws was the mayor who kept the beaches open when there was a risk of a deadly shark attack.

On 19 March 2020, Cummings told Cain: “Sonic [nickname for another adviser] just been to CABOFF [Cabinet Office] on this shielding package, says clusterfuck, everyone babbling GDPR, arguing over who in charge of website etc, chaos. hes bringing em into no10 sounds like [w]ill have to read riot act 215 ish.”

1.22pm: “Get in here he’s melting down. Rishi saying bond markets may not fund our debt etc. He’s back to Jaws mode wank.”

3.36pm: “I’ve literally said same thing ten fucking times and he still won’t absorb it. I’m exhausted just talking to him and stopping the trolley.”

4.48pm: “I’ve had to sit here for 2 hours just to stop him saying stupid shit.”

Cain replied: “I’m exhausted with him.”

Cain cited a tweet from the Times reporter Steven Swinford that said: “Slightly confusing message from Boris Johnson At the beginning of his press conference we can turn the tide within [weeks].” Cain wrote: “No words.”

Cummings replied: “what did i say – it’s only a matter of time before his babbling exposes fact he doesnt know.”

Asked about this exchange, Cain told the inquiry on Tuesday: “Covid was the wrong crisis for this PM’s skill set, which is different from not potentially being up to the job of being prime minister.”

Cain said it was a ‘huge blunder’ to ignore Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals

In his written evidence to the inquiry, Cain said: “Another policy that came to the fore was the provision of free school meals to children from low-income families during the summer and Christmas holidays which had been advocated by [the Manchester United footballer] Marcus Rashford. I remember asking in the Cabinet Room of 20 people, how many people had received free school meals. Nobody had – resulting in a policy and political blind spot. This was a huge blunder. The PM (to some degree understandably) said we needed to draw a line in the sand on public spending commitments, but this was clearly not the place to draw that line – something the PM was told by his senior team of 20 people.”

Cummings complained the Cabinet Office was ‘terrifyingly shit

On 12 March 2020, Cummings told Cain: “We got big problems coming CABOF is terrifyingly shit, no plans, totally behind pace, me and Warners [Ben and Marc Warner] and lee/slacky [No 10 aide James Slack] are have to drive and direct. Mark [Sedwill, the cabinet secretary] is out to lunch – hasnt a scooby whats going on and his own officials know he doesnt.

“We must announce TODAY – not next week ‘if feel ill with cold/flu stay home’. Some CABOFF want delay cost havent done the work and dont work weekends. We must force the face today, we are looking at 100-500 thousand deaths between optimistic / pessimistic scenarios. 1918 was 250k for comparison.”

Johnson’s approach to Covid would ‘oscillate’

Cain’s written evidence to the inquiry said: “Another challenge was that the prime minister would occasionally oscillate between lockdown and other potential policy options (a recurring theme during the critical decision points of Covid and, to some degree, understandable given the gravity of the decisions). The prime minister worried about the impact on the economy and questioned the modelling and demographics of the fatalities around Covid.”

Cain told the inquiry: “I think anyone that’s worked with the prime minister for a period of time will become exhausted with him. Sometimes he is quite [a] challenging character to work with, just because he will oscillate, he will take a decision from the last person in the room. I think that’s pretty well documented in terms of his style of operating.”

Referring to Johnson’s indecision, Cummings said: “Pretty much everybody called him the trolley.”


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