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Dominic Cummings has leaked a WhatsApp message purportedly from Boris Johnson in which the PM brands health secretary Matt Hancock “totally f***ing hopeless”.
Three weeks after Cummings’s bombshell testimony at a House of Commons committee about the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in which the PM’s former chief adviser repeatedly attacked Johnson and Hancock, Cummings has published an explosive 7,000-word blog.
In it, he shares a screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation, apparently with Johnson, from the early hours of 27 March last year. It sees Cummings complain about the UK’s limited testing capacity at the time.
Cummings says: “We are still stuck on about 5-7k and MH [Matt Hancock] saying today he’s ‘sceptical’ about getting to 10k by Monday which he said wd [sic] ‘definitely’ happen on Tuesday. This means tens of 1000s of NHS staff arent [sic] at work over next critical 3 weeks - - apart from my earlier point re testign [sic] being integral to escape plan…”
"Johnson Boris" responds: “Totally f***ing hopeless.”
The exchange is dated from four days after the first national lockdown was imposed, as the NHS approached a peak of first wave hospital admissions.
The chaos in Downing Street during that time is further demonstrated by the three missed calls that came 14 minutes after the "totally f***ing hopeless" message, also shown on that screenshot.
Cummings said Johnson was trying to tell him he had just tested positive for COVID-19, which the PM nearly died from a couple of weeks later.
Watch: Five of the most important moments from Dominic Cummings's testimony last month
Cummings's post on Wednesday morning came in response to Hancock's own committee appearance on Thursday last week, in which the health secretary defended his performance following Cummings' allegations last month.
He claimed in the blog: "Hancock gave a fictitious account to MPs last week and portrayed himself as a heroic figure who had been in agreement with the PM throughout the crisis."
Cummings, who left Downing Street in November last year, also said Johnson "has supported this fiction".
Cummings previously told the committee he repeatedly urged the PM to fire Hancock. In his newsletter, he said that despite the PM's "whingeing" to top advisers about Hancock's performance, Johnson "would never say to him... stop this routine or you're fired".
In another message exchange on 27 March, purportedly with Johnson, Cummings says: "They've totally f***ed up ventilators. I just heard officials admit we have been turning down ventilator offers because 'the price has been marked up'."
"It's Hancock," comes the response from "Johnson Boris". "He has been hopeless."
PPE: 'A disaster'
In another message, on 27 April last year, the PM appeared to call the situation around a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medics “a disaster” and alluded to diverting responsibilities from Hancock to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
“I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on,” Johnson apparently added.
When Hancock appeared before the committee last week, he said he had seen no evidence to suggest any medics died because of a lack of PPE. He suggested there were issues with distribution, and not supply.
This was despite reports of doctors and nurses being forced to improvise, including using bin bags, and Hancock was accused by Labour frontbencher Dr Rosena Allin-Khan of “trying to rewrite history”.
Cummings said in his blog that Hancock's Department of Health's PPE "procurement operation collapsed" and that it had been turning down equipment due to a 25% price mark-up.
He said Hancock sought to blame NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Cabinet Office for the “PPE disaster” in April last year.
He alleged: “The lack of PPE killed NHS and care home staff in March-May.”
Care homes: 'A new version of reality'
At Hancock's committee appearance last week, the health secretary said the government tried to throw a “protective ring” around care homes.
Cummings dismissed this in his blog. "The reality: covid patients were sent untested from hospital to care homes and Hancock neglected care homes and testing throughout April partly because Hancock was trying to focus effort on his press conference at the end of April claiming success for his announcement on 2/4."
This is a reference to Hancock's promise, on 2 April last year, to reach 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. He held a Downing Street press conference on 1 May saying that target had been reached, but was also accused of "massaging the statistics".
"His behaviour in April distracted attention from testing in care homes and the PPE debacle," Cummings said.
"A public announcement was in principle definitely right but he did what he always did – he focused on the media and himself then lied."
Hancock defended the testing target last week, saying the purpose "was to galvanise the system. It worked."
He said the best estimate from Public Health England is that 1.6% of the transmission into care homes came from hospital discharges.
But science and technology committee chair Greg Clark suggested this was a “stretch of the imagination” to believe, given that “we simply don’t have the data because people weren’t tested”.
What has Boris Johnson said about the blog?
Cummings published the blog at 11.34am, about half an hour before Prime Minister's Questions began.
Johnson was asked by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford to confirm if the messages were "genuine and whether the derogatory comments that he expressed on his health secretary are valid or not".
The PM did not respond.
Downing Street later insisted Johnson has full confidence in Hancock but did not dispute the authenticity of messages in which he apparently called him “hopeless”.
Labour said the messages showed the need for an immediate start to the public inquiry into the handling of the outbreak.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “This is more evidence that the Conservatives were too slow to lock down, too slow to deliver PPE and too slow to protect our care homes.
“With this evidence that even the PM thinks Hancock is useless, why in the worst pandemic in our history has he left him in charge?
“Hancock and Johnson need to respond to these latest revelations and immediately start the public inquiry into their handling of the pandemic.”
Watch: Ian Blackford asks PM about Cummings texts