Sir Patrick Vallance kept diaries over the pandemic in which he called Boris Johnson’s decision-making “bipolar”, the Covid inquiry has heard.
It was revealed on Tuesday that Sir Patrick, the Government’s then chief scientific adviser, wrote a nightly diary throughout the pandemic, a copy of which he has now submitted to the inquiry as evidence.
His entries detail his frustration at the “chaos” in No 10 and the former prime minister’s “flip-flopping” when making decisions about restrictions.
Sir Patrick also accused ministers of “cherry-picking” information provided by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which was subsequently used in a Cabinet Office document reviewing the two-metre rule on social distancing. Ministers have always insisted they followed the science in tackling the coronavirus.
Sir Patrick’s diaries also revealed claims of No 10 being “at war with itself”, alleging faction fighting involving Michael Gove and also Carrie Johnson, the former prime minister’s wife.
Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry, branded the atmosphere inside Downing Street as “toxic” and also alluded to “internecine” warfare that had hampered the response to the pandemic.
In one damning diary extract, Sir Patrick wrote of Mr Johnson: “This flip-flopping is impossible. One minute do more, next do nothing.
“He doesn’t seem to push actual resolutions. Morning PM meeting, he wants everything normal by September, and then you deal with things locally and regionally.
“He’s now completely bullish on opening everything. As another person said, it’s so inconsistent. It’s like bipolar decision-making.”
The Covid Inquiry resumed its public hearings on Tuesday, opening its second module, scrutinising government decision-making and the response to the pandemic.
Expressing concern that the Government was “cherry-picking” from the science, Sir Patrick wrote: “I’m worried that a ‘Sage is trouble’ vibe is appearing in number 10.”
In one extract, Sir Patrick wrote:
The Sage documents advising the Government included detailed information on how the virus was thought to spread and included a recommendation from scientists that the two-metre rule should only be used as a “ballpark” figure and not set in stone.
Mr Johnson told the House of Commons in June 2020 that the two-metre rule, which was introduced in March, should continue to be adhered to, but introduced a one-metre plus guideline for when two metres was not possible.
In another diary entry, Sir Patrick said it was obvious that no one in No 10 had bothered to read Sage’s scientific advice on the two-metre rule:
On Sept 19 2020, at a time when the Government was deciding whether to put the country into a circuit-breaker lockdown, the former scientific adviser wrote of Mr Johnson: “He’s all over the place and completely inconsistent. You can see why it was so difficult to agree to lock down the first time.”
Sir Patrick also noted a comment made by the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, in November 2020:
In his opening statements Mr Keith said he had received messages from more than 250 WhatsApp groups from “24 custodians”, as well as thousands of pages of one-to-one WhatsApp threads.
He said WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and Dominic Cummings, his then chief adviser, paint a “depressing picture of the toxic atmosphere” in No 10 at the height of the pandemic.
He described “factional infighting” in the Government, and “internecine attacks on colleagues”.
The inquiry heard that a text sent from Mr Case to Matt Hancock on April 29 read: “The Cabinet Office is a totally dysfunctional mess at present, so not a great place to be.”
Mr Keith read out an email to the inquiry from Mr Cummings from July 13 2020, in which said: “The current Cabinet Office doesn’t work for anyone. It’s high friction, low trust, and obviously many good parts, but overall no performance.
“Friction is built into the system, including institutional friction between Number 10 in the Cabinet Office.”
It also emerged that neither Sir Patrick nor Prof Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, were consulted by Rishi Sunak, the then chancellor, over his Eat Out To Help Out before it was announced in the summer of 2020.
Sir Patrick and Sir Chris say in their witness statements that “had they been consulted, they would have advised it was highly likely to increase transmission”, Mr Keith revealed. The revelations threaten to be embarrassing for Mr Sunak, ahead of a general election next year.
Hancock ‘made stuff up’
The Telegraph previously revealed in its Lockdown Files that Mr Sunak’s flagship scheme to rescue restaurants was ridiculed by Mr Hancock, who called it “eat out to help the virus get about”.
The inquiry also heard that Mr Hancock was held in “low regard” by Mr Johnson and was known, according to him, to get “over excited” and “make stuff up”.
The former health secretary was mentioned in a “significant number” of WhatsApp and diary entries, which contained multiple references to Mr Johnson’s “general belief that he was less than candid” when providing updates on his department’s work.
Ministers and other government officials will be hauled before the inquiry to give evidence over the coming months, with Mr Johnson, Mr Cummings and Mr Gove among those set to appear in November.
The Covid Inquiry has said it will “pay particular scrutiny” to the decisions taken by the then prime minister and his cabinet, with Mr Johnson’s WhatsApp messages likely to be a key piece of evidence.
Led by Baroness Hallett, it will also examine the decisions behind regional restrictions, also known as the “tier system”; work from home orders; mask wearing advice and border controls.
It will scrutinise modelling data by scientists, which gave estimates on transmission of the virus and death rates.
Other witnesses will include expert advisers, including members of Sage; civil servants and health officials from the NHS, the Department of Health and Social Care and the now defunct Public Health England.