Senior government officials spoke to Buckingham Palace to express worries about Boris Johnson’s conduct in office, and discussed asking Queen Elizabeth to raise concerns with him during their private audiences, a BBC documentary has said.
It does not specify which of Johnson’s actions prompted the concerns, but highlights clashes between Dominic Cummings, who was Johnson’s chief of staff at the start of his prime ministership, and Sir Mark Sedwill, the former head of the civil service.
One source told the series Laura Kuenssberg: State of Chaos, that Johnson “had to be reminded of the constitution”.
According to the programme, which examines political upheaval in the UK between the Brexit vote and Liz Truss’s brief period as prime minister, the discussions with the palace took place around May 2020, near the start of the Covid pandemic.
Amid what are called “significant tensions” between Johnson’s political staff and the civil service, the programme says calls between No 10 officials and the palace went “over and above routine communication” to discuss the concerns.
One hope among officials, the programme said, was that the queen could raise the matter in her private conversations with the prime minister.
One unnamed source said the atmosphere in Downing Street during that period was “utterly grim, and totally crazy”, and that relationships between political officials and civil servants were “just toxic”.
The programme says Buckingham Palace had previously raised “acute concern” after Johnson forcibly suspended parliament in the summer of 2019, a move carried out in the name of the queen, which was subsequently found to be illegal.
The former deputy cabinet secretary – the second most senior civil servant in government – Helen MacNamara, described significant tensions after Johnson had been in hospital with Covid early in the pandemic, but declined to talk about any communications with the palace.
“There were definitely times after the prime minister came back from his illness when the kind of the perception amongst the political team at No 10 about the failings of the system and the failings of the civil service and the failings of different institutions, it was just so extreme the way that they were articulating that, they were in absolutely kind of smash everything up, shut it all down, start again … we were systematically in real trouble,” she said.
Johnson had already caused controversy for the palace when in 2019 he suspended the Commons for five weeks ahead of the Brexit deadline.
His advice to prorogue Parliament to the then queen was found to have been unlawful by the Supreme Court.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment, the BBC said.