Boris Johnson a ‘nationally distrusted figure’, top civil servant said

The UK’s top civil servant described Boris Johnson as a “nationally distrusted figure” during the Covid pandemic, according to the latest leaks of Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages.

Comments from October 2020 were published by the Daily Telegraph, as part of the latest tranche of leaked correspondence from the former health secretary.

The remarks by Simon Case and Mr Hancock appear to form part of a conversation around testing capability.

Mr Hancock writes: “I am going to get stuck in and drive this roll out. The PM is completely right on this. Delegate delegate delegate.”

Mr Case agrees: “My concern is that we can figure out how to test, what we don’t know how to do is get people to isolate.

“We are losing this war because of behaviour – this is the thing we have to turn around (which probably also relies on people hearing about isolation from trusted local figures, not nationally distrusted figures like the PM, sadly).”

The health secretary responds “sure – but even with a massive rocket up them the lorries won’t roll until late next week – so we can fix the new isolation rules between now and then”.

Mr Case was appointed Cabinet Secretary in September 2020.

A spokesperson for former prime minister Mr Johnson said: “It is not appropriate to comment on these leaks. The public inquiry provides the right process for these issues to be examined.”

The Cabinet Office declined to comment on leaks.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris earlier insisted the trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages is not the full picture of what happened at the heart of the British Government during 2020 and 2021.

He also downplayed the gallows humour and stark admissions within the messages, suggesting they show politicians “being human beings”.

One recent story suggested Mr Hancock wanted to “frighten the pants off everyone” to inspire compliance with lockdown measures among the public.

Mr Heaton-Harris denied that was the Government’s strategy.

“I think the Government strategy was to try and protect the British public as best it possibly could… and to try and give as much information as it possibly could at the right times.”

The former health secretary was also reportedly irked by the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, now Lord Stevens, during the pandemic and even said ousting him would be a “massive improvement”.

Previous revelations from the hoard of messages include Mr Hancock and Rishi Sunak’s shared belief that former special adviser Dominic Cummings’s time in Downing Street was a “nightmare”.

Asked about the evolving story portrayed in the messages, Mr Heaton-Harris told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “It really is a partial account of what was going on and almost a view into the psyche of Matt Hancock rather than into the actual decision-making.”

The messages were shared with the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who co-authored Mr Hancock’s memoir the Pandemic Diaries, which covered his time as health secretary.

Mr Hancock has condemned the leak as a “massive betrayal” designed to support an “anti-lockdown agenda”.

In a statement this week, Mr Hancock said all the material for his book have been made available to the official Covid-19 inquiry.

Isabel Oakeshott
Isabel Oakeshott (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Ms Oakeshott has said the disclosures are in the public interest.

The Telegraph also reports on Mr Hancock’s apparent concerns over the answer to a parliamentary question regarding the role that Gina Coladangelo – the former aide with whom he had the affair that forced his resignation – had played in a G7 health ministers’ meeting in June 2021.

After being informed about the question, the former health secretary is said to have responded: “This will be another s—show if it goes wrong.”

The latest messages also show Mr Hancock criticising vaccines tsar Dame Kate Bingham.

Exchanges from October 2020 show him saying she “has view and a wacky way of expressing them & is totally unreliable”.

“She regards anything that isn’t her idea as political interference.”

Dame Kate Bingham
Dame Kate Bingham (Tom Kates/PA)

Dame Kate used an interview with the Financial Times to claim that vaccinating everyone in the UK was “not going to happen” and the country needed to just “vaccinate everyone at risk”.

The paper details a number of complaints about her from Mr Hancock.

The UK was the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine and begin a national rollout of injections, with Dame Kate’s team securing access to a range of different jabs.

During her time working with the government, she came under pressure over a reported £670,000 contract for public relations support and was also forced to deny claims she shared commercially sensitive information with investors.

Elsewhere, Mr Hancock also complains in February 2021 about Dame Kate and Clive Dix, who took over as chairman after her six-month term came to an end, amid concerns about UK access to vaccines from the Serum Institute of India.

A spokesman for Dame Kate told the paper: “These WhatsApps suggest that Matt Hancock was not aware of the published and agreed government vaccine procurement policy, did not read the reports by and about the work of the Vaccine Taskforce, and did not understand the difference between complex biological manufacturing and PPE procurement.”

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “As we’ve seen all week, these stories are wrong as they’re based on an entirely partial account.

“In the case of vaccines, Matt drove the goal of getting everyone vaccinated, often against resistance in the system. Ultimately he prevailed, thank goodness, and we got the first vaccine in the world, for everyone. Matt set all this out in his book.”