Covid inquiry live: Boris Johnson’s pandemic response was ‘Trump-level mad and dangerous’

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Boris Johnson has been accused of a “mad and dangerous” response to the Covid pandemic comparable to Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.

The exchanges between Simon Case, the government’s top civil servant, and officials were shown on Monday to the inquiry into how the government handled the worst health crisis in almost a century.

When the government was reopening after the first lockdown, Case said Mr Johnson wanted to let the virus “rip” and compared his approach to that of the former US President and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“This is in danger of becoming Trump/Bolsonaro level mad and dangerous,” Case told other colleagues.

It comes as diary extracts revealed chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance accused Mr Johnson of “creating chaos” and being “completely inconsistent” during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, former top aide Martin Reynolds confirmed his internal report into government culture in spring 2020 found that female staff were being “talked over and ignored” in what showed a “significant degree of misogyny”.

Dominic Cummings, who served as the former prime minister’s chief of staff, and Lee Cain, Mr Johnson’s former communications chief, will be grilled at the inquiry later this week, alongside all Mr Johnson’s former aides.

Key Points

  • Johnson’s response to Covid was ‘mad and dangerous’ - top official

  • Johnson ‘created chaos’ over lockdown

  • ‘Party Marty’ apologises for BYOB party at end of evidence

  • Former PM described as ‘mad’ by cabinet secretary and Reynolds

  • Boris may have said: ‘Why destroy economy for people who will die anyway?’

  • Cummings up later this week

Johnson’s response to Covid was ‘mad and dangerous’ - top official

19:03 , Tara Cobham

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's approach to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic was "mad and dangerous" and his constant indecision made it "impossible" to tackle the virus, the government's top civil servant told officials.

The exchanges between Simon Case, the government's most senior official, and officials in which he also described Britain's response in 2020 as a "terrible, tragic joke", were shown on Monday to the inquiry into how the government handled the worst health crisis in almost a century.

In the autumn of 2020 when the government was discussing how to suppress the virus, Case said of Johnson: "He cannot lead and we cannot support him under these circumstances. The team captain cannot change the call on the big plays every day." He then wrote in capital letters: "IT HAS TO STOP".

Months earlier when the government was reopening after the first lockdown, Case said Johnson wanted to let the virus "rip" and compared Johnson's approach to the way US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who were known for dismissing the threat of Covid, were handling the crisis.

"This is in danger of becoming Trump/Bolsonaro level mad and dangerous," Case told other colleagues.

A spokesman for Johnson, who will appear as a witness in the inquiry in the future, declined to comment.

Simon Case, the current Cabinet Secretary, vented about the Prime Minister during the pandemic (PA Archive)
Simon Case, the current Cabinet Secretary, vented about the Prime Minister during the pandemic (PA Archive)

Women staff were being ‘talked over and ignored’, report into No 10 culture during pandemic finds

04:14 , Shweta Sharma

An internal report into the culture at the top of government in the early months of the pandemic found that women staff were being “talked over and ignored” and “bad behaviours” were being tolerated from senior leaders.

The report, by former top aide Martin Reynolds and then deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara, was written in May 2020 amid concerns about discipline, “macho behaviour” and misogyny, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard yesterday.

Released as part of a batch of documents relevant to the inquiry, the report asked more than 45 people who worked closely with No 10 what could be done to better support the prime minister in May 2020.

Women staff were being ‘talked over and ignored’, UK Covid report finds

Watch: Johnson stressed ‘need to avoid overreaction’ at start of pandemic

04:00 , Tara Cobham

‘High degree of dysfunctionality’ dealing with Johnson, says Shafi

03:00 , Tara Cobham

The former private secretary to the prime minister for public services, Imran Shafi, told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry there was a "high degree of dysfunctionality" when dealing with the then-PM Boris Johnson.

Counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC asked the witness: "The material may suggest there were a number of competing power sources in Downing Street, personality clashes, and we can see... a high degree of dysfunctionality in terms of dealing with the prime minister - would you agree?"

Mr Shafi replied: "Yes."

Mr Keith continued: "None of that leant itself well to the best sort of decision-making did it?"

Mr Shafi said: "No."

The ‘wrecked’ lives of forgotten long Covid sufferers

02:00 , Tara Cobham

Nearly four years since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, you could be forgiven for believing the pandemic is behind us. But for many, it feels far from over.

Close to two million people face a daily battle with debilitating symptoms of long Covid – the lasting symptoms of the virus that remain after the infection is gone – with some now housebound, unable to walk and even partially blind.

Alan Chambers, 49, and Allan Reeling, 76, are among those who have been grappling with the illness for years, having caught coronavirus in March 2020, two months after the UK’s first two patients tested positive for the virus.

Read more here:

Long Covid: The ‘wrecked’ lives of forgotten sufferers

Watch: Reynolds agrees Covid officials operated ‘without proper playbook’

01:00 , Tara Cobham

Johnson ‘cannot lead’, says UK’s top civil servant

00:00 , Tara Cobham

The UK's top civil servant vented that Boris Johnson "cannot lead" amid pandemic-era frustration with the prime minister's leadership, according to WhatsApp messages shared with the Covid-19 inquiry.

Simon Case, who remains Cabinet Secretary, told Mr Johnson's then-chief adviser Dominic Cummings that the prime minister was making government "impossible".

The private correspondence, which took place as the Government grappled with the spread of Covid, came during the appearance of former top aide Martin Reynolds at Lady Hallett's probe.

Mr Case, who has temporarily stepped back from his role due to a "private medical matter", told Mr Cummings that the PM "cannot lead and we cannot support him in leading with this approach".

In the message, read at the hearing, Mr Case said: "I am at the end of my tether.

“He changes strategic direction every day (Monday we were all about fear of virus returning as per Europe, March etc - today we're in 'let it rip' mode cos (sic) the UK is pathetic, needs a cold shower etc).

"The team captain cannot change the call on the big plays every day. The team can't deliver anything under these circumstances. Decide and set direction - deliver - explain. Gov't isn't actually that hard but this guy is really making it impossible."

The UK’s top civil servant vented that Boris Johnson “cannot lead” amid pandemic-era frustration with the prime minister’s leadership, according to WhatsApp messages shared with the Covid-19 inquiry (PA Archive)
The UK’s top civil servant vented that Boris Johnson “cannot lead” amid pandemic-era frustration with the prime minister’s leadership, according to WhatsApp messages shared with the Covid-19 inquiry (PA Archive)

Recap: Partygate was ‘ultimate insult’ to Covid bereaved, inquiry told

23:00 , Tara Cobham

A woman who lost her partner to Covid has hit out at UK Government officials who held illegal lockdown parties, saying there was a “culture of contempt for the ordinary people” throughout the pandemic.

Jane Morrison, of Scottish Covid Bereaved, told the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry on Friday of the hardship she faced after her partner, Jacky Morrison-Hart, died in 2020.

Ms Morrison-Hart, 49, had been admitted to hospital for a separate illness but contracted Covid-19 while at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

After battling the disease, she died a short time later in October 2020.

Ryan McDougall reports:

Partygate was ‘ultimate insult’ to Covid bereaved, inquiry told

Humza Yousaf says he has not deleted pandemic-related messages

22:15 , Tara Cobham

Scotland’s First Minister has said he has not deleted WhatsApp messages relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, following press reports his predecessor and senior officials may have.

Last week a note to the chairman of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry from one of its counsels said the inquiry was of the belief that the “majority” of informal messages, including on WhatsApp had “not been retained”.

Humza Yousaf said on Monday he had retained his messages, but that there had been a Scottish Government policy on social media messaging which advised their deletion after 30 days.

Press reports in recent days suggested former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch and chief medical officer Dr Sir Gregor Smith may have deleted messages either manually or through the use of the app’s auto-delete function.

The First Minister said on Monday: “I don’t know why there’s been press reports suggesting I’ve deleted my WhatsApp messages, that’s not true.

“I’ve retained my WhatsApp messages and, of course, whatever the Covid Inquiry asks for, I’ll be absolutely prepared to hand them over as I would for the Scottish inquiry too.”

Scotland’s First Minister has said he has not deleted WhatsApp messages relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, following press reports his predecessor and senior officials may have (PA Wire)
Scotland’s First Minister has said he has not deleted WhatsApp messages relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, following press reports his predecessor and senior officials may have (PA Wire)

Report into No 10 during pandemic found female staff ‘talked over'

21:00 , Tara Cobham

An internal report into the culture at the top of Government in the early months of the pandemic found that female staff were being “talked over and ignored” and “bad behaviours” were being tolerated from senior leaders.

The report, by former top aide Martin Reynolds and then deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara, was written in May 2020 amid concerns about discipline, “macho behaviour” and misogyny, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard on Monday.

Released as part of a batch of documents relevant to the inquiry, the report asked more than 45 people who worked closely with No 10 what could be done to better support the prime minister in May 2020.

Among the themes listed by the report are that culture was failing to get the best from people.

“Lots of people mentioned junior women being talked over or ignored,” the report summarised. “We need a modern culture of organised collaboration, not superhero bunfight.”

The report also found that “people are exhausted and stressed” and that “bad behaviours from senior leaders (are) tolerated”. Other themes included that there were “far too many meetings” taking up the time of senior leadership, and that No 10 was “always at war with someone”.

Mr Reynolds was asked about the report while giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday. He agreed with counsel that the report showed “dysfunctionality, lack of discipline, chaos and a significant degree of misogyny”.

Vigil at Barnard Castle ahead of Cummings’ Covid inquiry appearance

20:00 , Tara Cobham

Families held a vigil for Covid-19 victims at the site of Dominic Cummings’ eyesight-testing lockdown trip, ahead of his appearance at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Campaigners projected the message “228,040 Covid deaths – is that clear enough to read?” on to the walls of Barnard Castle on Monday.

The County Durham beauty spot made headlines during the pandemic when it was disclosed that Mr Cummings, former prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser at the time, had taken a day trip there in April 2020, while the country was in lockdown.

Katie Dickinson reports:

Vigil at Barnard Castle ahead of Dominic Cummings’ Covid inquiry appearance

Labour MP McDonald suspended over ‘between river and sea’ speech

19:45 , Tara Cobham

Senior Labour MP Andy McDonald has had the party whip suspended for using the controversial phrase “between the river and the sea” in a pro-Palestine rally speech.

The MP for Middlesbrough used the phrase as he urged peace between Israelis and Palestinians at an event at the weekend.

Some pro-Palestinian protesters have chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” during recent demonstrations in London, despite controversy around the slogan’s meaning.

Lydia Patrick reports:

Labour MP Andy McDonald suspended over ‘between the river and the sea’ speech

Rishi Sunak to hold live chat with Elon Musk during AI summit

19:25 , Tara Cobham

Rishi Sunak is holding a live chat with tech mogul Elon Musk during the prime minister’s artificial intelligence (AI) at Bletchley Park this week.

Mr Sunak revealed that he would have a conversation with the owner of X, formerly known as Twitter, on his social media platform this Thursday evening.

No 10 has denied Mr Sunak’s big summit is being snubbed by world leaders, since US president Joe Biden is among those skipping the gathering. Tech chiefs are set to join ministers and government officials at the two-day event.

Adam Forrest, Political Correspondent reports:

Rishi Sunak to hold live chat with Elon Musk during AI summit

Johnson’s ‘flip-flopping’ made it ‘impossible’ to tackle Covid, messages reveal

18:48 , Tara Cobham

Scathing WhatsApp messages sent between Boris Johnson’s top team accused the former PM of creating chaos during the Covid crisis – complaining that he “flip-flopped” every day on direction and made it “impossible” to tackle the pandemic.

A series of startling new revelations emerged at the Covid inquiry, as messages shared between cabinet secretary Simon Case, chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance and top adviser Dominic Cummings exposed the disdain they held for Mr Johnson.

It also emerged that Mr Johnson’s key aide Martin Reynolds set messages to “disappear” in a key Covid WhatsApp group only weeks after the ex-PM promised the Covid inquiry.

Adam Forrest and Archie Mitchell report:

Boris flip-flopping’ made it ‘impossible’ to tackle Covid, advisers’ messages reveal

Vallance said Cummings’ Durham trip ‘clearly against lockdown rules’

18:10 , Tara Cobham

Dominic Cummings’ press conference on his lockdown trip to Barnard Castle was described as a “car crash” by the former chief scientist, who said the journey had clearly gone against the rules at the time.

Sir Patrick Vallance, writing in his notebooks at the time in May 2020, also said he and England’s then-chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty felt No 10 officials were trying to “strong arm” them into appearing by Boris Johnson’s side at a Downing Street press conference afterwards.

Monday’s hearing at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard Mr Cummings, who became well-known to the public when news of his trip to the Co Durham beauty spot emerged, described as “the most empowered chief of staff Downing Street has seen”.

He will give evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday.

Aine Fox reports:

Patrick Vallance said Cummings’ Durham trip ‘clearly against lockdown rules’

Chris Whitty attacked Sunak scheme as ‘Eat out to help out the virus’

17:49 , Tara Cobham

Former private secretary to Boris Johnson Imran Shafi also said Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, had criticised Rishi Sunak’s “Eat out to help out” scheme in August 2020 – calling it “Eat out to help out the virus”.

Rishi Sunak sacks senior Tory aide for calling for Gaza ceasefire

17:07 , Tara Cobham

Rishi Sunak has sacked a senior Tory from his government job as a ministerial aide for calling breaking ranks and calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hama conflict.

Paul Bristow, a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) at the science department, called for a “permanent” ceasefire in Gaza in a letter to Mr Sunak.

The MP for Peterborough said it “would save lives and allow for a continued column of humanitarian aid [to] reach the people who need it the most”.

Adam Forrest, Political Correspondent reports:

Rishi Sunak sacks senior Tory aide for calling for Gaza ceasefire

Extraordinary WhatsApp messages revealing ‘chaos’ of Boris’ government

17:05 , Tara Cobham

A series of scathing WhatsApp messages sent between Boris Johnson’s top team have accused the former prime minister of making it “impossible” to tackle Covid, as he created chaos and changed direction “every day”.

The extraordinary messages sent between the likes of Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain and Simon Case reveal the strong disquiet among Mr Johnson’s advisers, with Mr Case, the cabinet secretary and top civil servant, at one point declaring: “I am at the end of my tether.”

The ex-PM’s top officials also branded him “weak and indecisive” and referred to him as a “trolley”. Chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, meanwhile, said Mr Johnson was “all over the place” and “so completely inconsistent”.

Archie Mitchell reports:

The extraordinary WhatsApps that reveal the ‘chaos’ of Boris Johnson’s government

Boris may have said: ‘Why destroy economy for people who will die anyway?’

16:50 , Adam Forrest, Political Correspondent

Imran Shafi, a former private secretary to the PM, also told the inquiry there was a “high degree of dysfunctionality” when dealing with Mr Johnson. The official said the then-PM “did not think Covid was a big deal” in the months leading up to the first lockdown.

Mr Shafi also revealed an extract from his notebook from a March 2020 meeting involving Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

Someone at the meeting said: “Why are we destroying economy for people who will die anyway soon”. The former private secretary said he thought Mr Johnson had made the remarks.

Watch: Why destroy economy for people dying anyway, Johnson allegedly said

16:48 , Tara Cobham

Watch: ‘Too much focus on excess death management’, says Shafi

16:26 , Tara Cobham

Shafi: There was no proper plan for pandemic

16:12 , Matt Mathers

Shafi told the inquiry that the government didn’t have a proper plan for Covid and when one was finally put together it was too late.

He was asked by Hugo Keith KC if he accepted that “control” of Covid had already been lost by 3 March 2020.

This was when the government published its plan. “When you look at the facts now, yes,” Shafi said.

He also said that there was a lack of planning by Cobra and that the centre of government - the Cabinet Office and No 10 - could have done more to lead the response to the virus.

The Department for Health and Social Care, then run by Matt Hancock, had been given most of the responsibility.

Shafi - not enough focus on preventing deaths

16:06 , Matt Mathers

Shafi tells the inquiry there was not enough focus in government about preventing in the weeks leading up to when Covid first hit the UK.

He says officials were more concerned about “excessive death management” when Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry lawyer, pointed out the virus had been running riot in Italy at the time.

“Alarm bells should have been ringing, did we have the right plans should it come to the UK on this scale?" the lawyer asked.

Shafi replies: “I think there was too much focus on excessive death management and not enough focus on preventing those deaths.”

Watch: NHS was left unprotected and people died under mitigation approach

15:40 , Matt Mathers

Recap: Ex-No10 chief admits he ‘disappeared’ messages in PM’s WhatsApps group chat

15:35 , Matt Mathers

One of Boris Johnson’s key aides turned messages to “disappear” in a key Covid WhatsApp group only weeks before the Covid inquiry was announced, it has been revealed.

Martin Reynolds was grilled about switching the function to delete messages in the then-PM’s group April 2021 – just before the inquiry was announced in May 2021 – as he gave evidence on Monday.

Adam Forrest reports:

Ex-No10 chief admits he ‘disappeared’ messages in PM’s WhatsApps group chat

Cain will be called back tomorrow morning as short break announced

15:26 , Matt Mathers

Baroness Hallett confirms that Lee Cain will be called back to the inquiry tomorrow morning.

He had been due to give evidence this afternoon but has been delayed due to Martin Reynolds’s session overrunning.

She also pauses proceedings for a short break.

Watch: Johnson stressed ‘the need to avoid overreaction’ at beginning of Covid pandemic

15:19 , Matt Mathers

Shafi questioned on repatriation of Britons from China

15:17 , Matt Mathers

Mr Shafi was pressed on why there was a focus on repatriation of Britons from China, as opposed to the possible spread of coronavirus in the UK.

He said that “a lot of the focus at the centre was how do we make sure this doesn’t come to the UK, or we contain it, rather than getting into the difficult measures that you might have to take should you fail to contain.”

Hugo Keith KC said there had been a meeting on February 4 2020 that saw coronavirus discussed, but general NHS objectives were also on the agenda.

Asked to what extent coronavirus had “made its way to the centre of government concern”, Mr Shaf said: “It had, but probably not to the extent that it ought to have.”

He said that part of the meeting saw Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock discuss the promise to build 40 new hospitals and other manifesto commitments.

Boris Johnson ‘did not think Covid was a big deal’ when it emerged

15:10 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson “did not think Covid was a big deal” in the months before Britain’s first national lockdown, his former private secretary for public services Imran Shafi has said, Archie Mitchell reports.

Speaking to the Covid inquiry about the government’s approach to Covid in January and February 2020, Mr Shafi said: “I don’t think he thought it was a big deal at that time.”

Shafi: ‘High degree of dysfunctionality’ when dealing with Johnson

15:06 , Matt Mathers

Mr Shafi tells the inquiry there was a  “high degree of dysfunctionality” when dealing with the then-PM Boris Johnson.

Counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC asked the witness: “The material may suggest there were a number of competing power sources in Downing Street, personality clashes, and we can see… a high degree of dysfunctionality in terms of dealing with the prime minister – would you agree?”

Mr Shafi replied: “Yes.”

Mr Keith continued: “None of that leant itself well to the best sort of decision-making did it?”

Mr Shafi said: “No.”

Valance and Whitty had to be ‘strong armed’ into press conference after Barnard Castle

15:02 , Matt Mathers

Sir Patrick Vallance said senior officials in Number 10 had tried to “strong arm” himself and Professor Sir Chris Whitty into appearing at a press conference around the time it emerged Dominic Cummings had gone to Barnard Castle during the first lockdown.

Sir Patrick described Mr Cumming’s Downing Street rose garden statement to the media as a “car crash” and “rambling”, and said neither he nor Prof sir Chris wanted to do a press conference with then-PM Boris Johnson after.

An extract from the former chief scientist’s notebooks, dated May 25 2020 read: “Chris and I not at all keen to do the press conference. All highly political and dwarfed by DC. We tried to get out of it by suggesting that it was not the right day to announce new measures, and that this will undermine our credibility.

“No luck – Simon Case had a go but to no avail…We both went in but then spoke to Stuart G who spoke to PM. We interrupted listening to DC’s rambling and car crash conference to speak to PM.

Did Boris Johnson downplay long Covid?

14:55 , Matt Mathers

The Covid inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith KC has quizzed Martin Reynolds on whether Boris Johnson made “disparaging remarks about the existence or severity of long Covid”, Archie Mitchell reports.

The ex-PM’s then principal private secretary said he “can’t remember” whether Mr Johnson did.

Reynolds: ‘BYOB party did not damage public trust because public only found out later’

14:51 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds said the invitation to a gathering in the No 10 garden had less impact on public confidence because details of it emerged later, Archie Mitchell reports.

"It actually broke into the news about 15 months later. So while I totally accept... I was totally wrong in the way I sent the email around and for the event, I think the impact on public confidence - although obviously now in terms of public confidence, more generally it did have a serious impact - in terms of the pandemic at that time it was less, it had less impact."

Imran Shafi giving evidence

14:43 , Matt Mathers

Imran Shafi is now giving evidence to the inquiry.

Mr Shafi served as Mr Johnson’s private secretary for public services during the Covid pandemic.

He is asked about his previously employment and the role he performed while working in Downing Street.

Martin Reynolds was warned of ‘substantial comms risks’ before BYOB party

14:41 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds was warned by Downing Street’s comms chief Lee Cain that plans to have a leaving party for a colleague came with “substantial” risks, Archie Mitchell reports.

In an exchange shown to the Covid inquiry between Mr Reynolds and Mr Cain, Mr Reynolds asked whether to do “a larger event indoors but with some people carrying on outside afterwards”.

Mr Cain said he was “not sure it works at all” and “obviously comes with rather substantial comms risks”.

‘Party Marty’ apologises ‘unreservedly’ for BYOB Partygate email

14:40 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has apologised “unreservedly” for sending an email to more than 100 Downing Street staff inviting them to a “bring your own booze” party in Downing Street’s garden during lockdown, Archie Mitchell reports.

Quizzed about the email by the Covid inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith KC, Mr Reynolds said he was “totally wrong” to have organised the event.

Dominic Cummings’s Barnard Castle drive ‘clearly against the rules’, Sir Patrick Vallance

14:40 , Matt Mathers

Sir Patrick Vallance believed Dominic Cummings’s drive to Barnard Castle during lockdown was “clearly against the rules”, Archie Mitchell reports.

The former chief scientific advisor said he and Chris Whitty were “very reluctant” to do a press conference following the revelation, which sparked fury among the public.

No 10 suffered from ‘significant misogyny’, Reynolds admits

14:29 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds was asked about a report he conducted with Helen McNamara – deputy cabinet secretary at the Cabinet Office – in spring 2020 which found women had been talked over during meetings and people were shouting at each other, Adam Forrest reports.

Asked if the report found both “chaos” and a “significant degree of misogyny”, Mr Reynolds: “I agree.” He said he had talked Mr Johnson though the report.

Asked if there was a significant reduction in the misogyny after the report, Mr Reynolds said the treatment of women “remained an ongoing cultural issue which I think we could have done more to address”.

‘All over the place and completely inconsistent'

14:27 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson was “all over the place and completely inconsistent” during the pandemic, Sir Patrick Vallance, Archie Mitchell reports.

Sir Patrick Vallance described Boris Johnson as “all over the place and completely inconsistent” in diary extracts revealed by the Covid inquiry.

The former chief scientific advisor also blasted Mr Johnson’s “ridiculous flip-flopping” in notes that reveal the scale of his discontent at the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Simon Case: ‘I’m at the end of my tether'

14:19 , Matt Mathers

Cabinet secretary Simon Case sent a message to Dominic Cummings saying former prime minister Boris Johnson “cannot lead and we cannot support him in leading with this approach”, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

In the message, read by counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC, Mr Case said: “I am at the end of my tether.

“He changes strategic direction every day (Monday we were all about fear of virus returning as per Europe, March etc – today we’re in ‘let it rip’ mode cos (sic) the UK is pathetic, needs a cold shower etc.)

“He cannot lead and we cannot support him in leading with this approach.

“The team captain cannot change the call on the big plays every day. The team can’t deliver anything under these circumstances.

“A weak team (as we have got – Hancock, Williamson, Dido, No10/CO, Perm Secs), definitely cannot succeed in these circs (sic). IT HAS TO STOP!

“Decide and set direction – deliver – explain. Gov’t isn’t actually that hard but this guy is really making it impossible.”

Cabinet secretary Simon Case was appearing before MPs (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)
Cabinet secretary Simon Case was appearing before MPs (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)

Boris Johnson was accused of going “full trolley mode”

14:14 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson’s top team mocked his indecision during the pandemic, with WhatsApp messages between officials suggesting he went “full trolley mode”, Archie Mitchell reports.

In a group chat between comms chief Lee Cain, civil service chief Simon Case and his private secretary Martin Reynolds, the trio also criticised health secretary Matt Hancock, calling him a “joker and a liar”, messages shared with the Covid inquiry reveal.

Watch: Boris Johnson descibed as ‘mad’ by top civil servant

14:10 , Tara Cobham

Inquiry resumes

14:06 , Matt Mathers

The inquiry is back underway but Lee Cain is heading off, Archie Mitchell reports.

The testimony of Martin Reynolds, dubbed "Party Marty" because of his infamous "bring your own booze" lockdown email, overran.

Boris Johnson’s former communications chief Lee Cain had been scheduled to appear before the inquiry, but has been sent home and will be back tomorrow morning.

Lee Cain arrives to give edvidence

14:01 , Matt Mathers

Lee Cain has arrived at Dorland House in central London ahead of his appearance before the inquiry.

Cain was Mr Johnson’s former communications chief, who announced his departure from Downing Street in November 202 wheb Cummings left.

He is a former journalist who worked at The Sun and the Daily Mirror.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
 (EPA)
(EPA)
 (EPA)
(EPA)

Who is ‘Party Marty’ Martin Reynolds and what did he do?

14:00 , Matt Mathers

As we’ve been reporting, Martin Reynolds has been giving evidence to the Covid inquiry.

But who is he, what was his role in government during the pandemic and why has he been asked to appear before Baroness Hallett’s team?

David Hughes and Joe Sommerlad report:

Covid Inquiry: Who is ‘Party Marty’ Martin Reynolds and what did he do?

Johnson ‘did blow hot and cold on some issues'

13:47 , Matt Mathers

Reynolds has told the inquiry his former boss “did blow hot and cold on some issues”.

Before the inquiry broke for lunch, Hugo Keith KC said: “There is a great deal of material from WhatsApps, Mr Cummings’s statement, Patrick Vallance’s diaries, showing that following his return from his illness, the prime minister again oscillated in terms of what should be done, he wondered whether he should be regarded as the ‘mayor in the Jaws film’ – shutting the beaches.”

Mr Keith then asked Martin Reynolds: “Then, within hours or days, he would take a contrary position and this was noted by Mr Cummings, Mr Case, Sir Patrick Vallance and others. Did you notice that?”

Mr Reynolds responded: “I think it’s fair to say the Prime Minister did, as it were, blow hot and cold on some issues.”

Ex-No10 chief admits he ‘disappeared’ messages in PM’s group chat

13:32 , Tara Cobham

One of Boris Johnson’s key aides turned messages to “disappear” in a key Covid WhatsApp group only weeks before the Covid inquiry was announced, it has been revealed.

Martin Reynolds was grilled about switching the function to delete messages in the then-PM’s group April 2021 – just before the inquiry was announced in May 2021 – as he gave evidence on Monday.

Mr Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, told the inquiry he “cannot recall exactly why I did so” – before adding that he did not believe it was to “prevent” the inquiry having access to the messages.

The Independent’s Political Correspondent Adam Forrest reports:

Ex-No10 chief admits he ‘disappeared’ messages in PM’s WhatsApps group chat

Watch: Martin Reynolds agrees Covid department officials operated ‘without a proper playbook’

13:30 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson’s office was ‘fluid’

13:05 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has described running Boris Johnson’s office as “more fluid” than former deputy PM Dominic Raab, Archie Mitchell reports.

Asked about Mr Raab’s style, the ex-No10 chief said he “liked a very structured private office operation” and had materials delivered at 6.00am daily.

“It was a very different operation to what I  would describe as a slightly more fluid arrangement with the Prime Minister,” Mr Reynolds said.

Reynold’s marathon testimony will run into the afternoon - significantly over schedule. Inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC says “we’re not there yet”.

Government was aware of ‘very striking’ failure of Italy’s health system

13:01 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds was asked about preparation at the top of government in the period at the beginning of March, amid concerns about the impact of the pandemic in Italy.

He said: “I think that was the week when there were real problems emerging in Lombardy and people were all realising that the nature of the pandemic is far more significant than we had anticipated.

“I think it was at the end of that week that there was a session in the prime minister’s office without the prime minister with Dominic Cummings and Helen McNamara.”

He continued: “I think, in a sense, everyone is starting to see what’s happening in Italy, in northern Italy, from memory. And everyone knows that the health system in northern Italy is actually very sophisticated and good. And we are seeing it failing to respond to the crisis in a way which is very striking.”

Covid was ‘a full circle of crisis’, Martin Reynolds

12:54 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds said Covid represented a “full circle of crisis” and caused the Cabinet Office “machine” to “gum up very seriously”, Archie Mitchell reports.

“Every single department is basically in a crisis and therefore coordinating that at the centre is immensely challenging,” the ex-No10 chief told the official Covid inquiry.

He also told the inquiry that he agrees that pandemic preparations were "grossly deficient".

The former Downing Street chief said officials were operating "without a proper playbook".

But after it was put to him by Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry’s lead counsel, that planning was "grossly deficient", Mr Reynolds said: "I agree."

Boris Johnson was out of the loop for February half term

12:41 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson was not given any information about Covid by officials between the 14th and 24th of February, during schools’ half term break, Archie Mitchell reports.

Hugo Keith KC, the Covid inquiry’s lead counsel, said there were no Cobra emergency meetings, and no books or notes sent to the then PM during the time period.

“Do you or do you not know the February half term fell around that period in February of 2020?” Mr Keith asked Mr Reynolds.

“Why is nothing been done in terms of keeping the prime minister in the loop for those 10 days?” he added.

Vanishing WhatsApps are within the rules, says No 10

12:39 , Matt Mathers

Downing Street has said ministers and officials are allowed to “disappear” their WhatsApp messages, Adam Forrest reports.

It comes as the Covid inquiry heard that Boris Johnson’s aide Martin Reynolds turned on the "disappearing messages" function in a WhatsApp group in April 2021 – just a couple of weeks before the inquiry was announced. Mr Reynolds said he could not recall why he did so.

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “The updated guidance from March [says] the use of disappearing messages is permitted, as civil servants and ministerial private offices are required to record to record and log official decisions and views for their record where it is relevant and appropriate.”

Asked if No 10 thought the current guidance was sufficient, the PM’s spokesman said: “Yes.”

Simon Case: ‘P*ssed off’ at being ‘dragged through mud’ over Partygate

12:28 , Matt Mathers

Britain’s top civil servant said he was “p*ssed off deep down” after having to step down from the Partygate inquiry amid reports he attended a lockdown-breaching drinks event, Archie Mitchell reports.

Simon Case said he was being “dragged through the mud by association” for “something trivial which I was not even involved in”.

In messages revealed during the official Covid inquiry, he told Boris Johnson’s former principal private secretary: “Just hope it all goes away quickly.”

Evidence presented to the Covid inquiry (Archie Mitchell)
Evidence presented to the Covid inquiry (Archie Mitchell)

BBC apologises over ‘sh**’ comment

12:21 , Matt Mathers

The BBC had to apologise after Martin Reynolds unexpectedly swore during the official Covid inquiry, Archie Mitchell reports.

The broadcaster cut Mr Reynolds’s testimony and apologised to viewers after he described said “unease in the civil service around the so-called ‘s*** list’ of people who were thought to be at risk in what was perceived to be a much more muscular approach to the civil service”.

Presenter Lukwesa Burak said: “We just want to apologise if you have been following this, there was some language there - he did apologise beforehand - making reference to a term that was used and included as part of this inquiry.”

Reynolds recalls ‘sh** list’ of civil servants

12:18 , Matt Mathers

Reynolds tells the inquiry there was “unease” around the so-called “sh*tlist” of civil servants.

It came amid a discussion about the internal workings of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office ahead of the pandemic.

“There was, I think, quite a bit of unease in the civil service around, and excuse my language, the so-called shitlist of people who were thought to be risks in what was perceived to be a potentially more muscular approach to the civil service.”

Mr Reynolds also said there had been an “unusual dynamic around Dominic Cummings”.

“In my view, he was the most empowered chief of staff Downing Street has seen and was the person whose writ ruled, who was able to drive things through the machine in the way I suspect few other chiefs of staff have done.”

Reynolds ‘can’t remember’ why Johnson didn’t chair Cobra meeting

12:09 , Matt Mathers

Reynolds tells the inquiry he “can’t remember” why Boris Johnson didn’t chair a Cobra committee meeting at the outset of the pandemic.

A meeting of the committee took place on 23 January 2020 and was chaired by Matt Hancock, the former health secretary.

Reynolds said he discussed the meeting with Johnson but couldn’t remember why the former PM chose not to lead it.

Government ‘machine’ struggles in full crisis mode

11:55 , Matt Mathers

Reynolds tells the inquiry the government “machine” struggles in full crisis mode.

He says individual departments are relatively good at coping with a crisis.

But when the event grips the entire structure of Whitehall, the Cabinet Office finds it “very difficult to function”.

Andy Burnham warns Starmer: Don’t brand us disloyal for disagreeing with you over Israel

11:45 , Matt Mathers

Labour’s Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has warned Sir Keir Starmer it is “simply not possible” to have a clear party position quickly on the current Israel-Hamas crisis.

Writing for The Independent, the senior Labour figure issued a plea not to brand as “disloyal” those who – like himself – have defied the party leader to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Kate Devlin and Adam Forrest report:

Burnham warns Starmer: Don’t brand us disloyal for disagreeing with you over Israel

We did not identify scale of Covid crisis quickly enough, Reynolds says

11:41 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has said the government was “not sufficiently quick” at identifying the scale of the Covid pandemic when it emerged, Archie Mitchell reports.

The former private secretary to Boris Johnson said: “You can argue, and I think I would agree that we were not sufficiently quick at identifying the scale of the problem, and of road testing, the plans and preparations we had in place.”

He went on to say the Cabinet Office did not “have the plans and processes in place” to move from the early stage of the pandemic to the “crisis” stage.

Cummings aide had ‘unusual views on eugenics’, Martin Reynolds

11:32 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has hit out at Dominic Cummings’s drive to hire “weirdos and misfits” while working in Downing Street, Archie Mitchell reports.

Mr Reynolds pointed to the hiring of Andrew Sabisky, who quit after just days in the job after it emerged he had argued that “very real” differences in intelligence between members of different racial groups may be explained by genetics.

Mr Sabisky had “unusual views on eugenics”, Mr Reynolds added.

Reynolds also tells the inquiry that “a lot of senior energy and attention” was focused elsewhere in the run up to the pandemic, including a shakeup of the civil service.

‘Brexit was overriding focus’ leading into the pandemic, Martin Reynolds

11:29 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has said Brexit was the “overriding focus” in the run up to the pandemic, but this changed after Boris Johnson’s 2019 election win, Archie Mitchell reports.

“There was a very different feel to Downing Street,” after the Conservatives’ landslide win.

The former principle private secretary to Mr Johnson said ministers and officials began looking at policy on a “five to 10 year horizon”.

And there was a “really strong focus on the forward agenda,” Mr Reynolds said.

‘I cannot recall exactly why I did so'

11:20 , Matt Mathers

Explaining his decision to turn on the disappearing messages function on WhatsApp, Reynolds tells the inquiry he may have been worried about his colleagues screenshotting and leaking them.

The inquiry heard Mr Reynolds had turned on a “disappearing message function” on a WhatsApp group titled “PM Updates” on April 15, 2021.

Asked why he had turned the function on, Mr Reynolds said: “I can guess or I can speculate, but I cannot recall exactly why I did so.”

‘I disagreed with the PM when I needed to,’ Martin Reynolds

11:17 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has hit back at a suggestion by Dominic Cummings that he was “too deferential” to Boris Johnson as prime minister, Archie Mitchell reports.

The former private secretary to Mr Johnson said: “On a number of occasions where I felt it was necessary, and I needed to step in,  I gave the PM very clear advice when I disagreed with him.

“Those were issues where I felt it was my role as the principal private secretary to step in and give that advice.”

Boris Johnson was also described by his former principal private secretary as “instinctively optimistic”, after a claim there was a degree of “optimism bias” in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Martin Reynolds told: ‘Let me ask the questions’

11:12 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds has been scolded by the Covid inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith KC, who said: “Would you mind, terribly, Mr Reynolds if I just ask the questions?” Archie Mitchell reports.

It came after the former aide to Boris Johnson tried to explain how Downing Street worked to Mr Keith.

Martin Reynolds was using disappearing messages

11:10 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds is being quizzed over why he turned on disappearing messages in a WhatsApp group with officials as Boris Johnson announced the public inquiry into Covid, Archie Mitchell reports.

The former private secretary Martin Reynolds was pressed on the issue by the inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith KC.

Mr Keith said: “Just a matter of a few weeks before Mr Johnson announced the public inquiry in Parliament.

“You turned on the disappearing message function”

Mr Reynolds said: “I did not put the disappearing function on any of my other WhatsApps and the rationale for doing this is unclear to me.”

Boris Johnson was described as ‘mad’ by cabinet secretary and Martin Reynolds

10:51 , Matt Mathers

Britain’s top civil servant described Boris Johnson as “mad” for apparently failing to realise his WhatsApp messages would eventually become public, Archie Mitchell reports.

The cabinet secretary Simon Case sent the message to Mr Johnson’s private secretary Martin Reynolds, who responded “agree”.

The message, sent by Mr Case in December 2021, said: “PM is mad if he doesn’t think his WhatsApps will be made public via Covid inquiry, but he was clearly not in the mood for that discussion tonight. We’ll have to have that battle in the new year.”

Mr Reynolds said: “Agree. Thanks for your help.”

Sue Gray’s son reveals bid to be Labour MP in winnable seat

10:45 , Matt Mathers

The son of Partygate investigator Sue Gray has revealed that he is campaigning to be a Labour candidate in a winnable south-west London seat at the next general election.

Activist Liam Conlon announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he is running to be the party’s candidate in Beckenham and Penge, a new seat for the election expected in 2024.

Adam Forrest reports:

Sue Gray’s son reveals bid to be Labour MP in winnable seat

And we’re off: Baroness Heather Hallett kicks off proceedings

10:39 , Matt Mathers

Baroness Heather Hallett has opened proceedings on what is set to be an explosive day at the official Covid-19 inquiry, writes Archie Mitchell.

The inquiry chairman started the day with a warning to those being relied on by the inquiry not to share their evidence with the press.

Giving evidence today are Boris Johnson’s former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, dubbed “Party Marty” after inviting staff to a bring your own booze garden party during the pandemic.

Also appearing before the inquiry is former head of communications Lee Cain, who suggested “the real person in charge” as Covid raged was Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie.

Part two of inquiry underway

10:36 , Matt Mathers

Part two of the Covid inquiry is underway and will examine decision-making and political governance during the pandemic.

Baroness Heath Hallet, the inquiry chair,  in her opening remarks, reminded participants of their responsibility to keep confidential documents they are sent about the hearings.

Baroness Hallet reiterates her commitment to making the inquiry as transparent as possible.

Watch live: Covid inquiry second investigation gets underway

10:30 , Matt Mathers

We’ll be bringing you updates throughout the morning as Johnson’s former aides give evidence to the inquiry.

You can also watch proceedings live on The Independent’s YouTube channel.

Follow the link below to watch all the action as it unfolds.

Timings for Monday

10:26 , Matt Mathers

Martin Reynolds will give evidence first this morning between 10:30am and 1pm.

Imran Shafie will follow Reynolds and will make his comments in the same time slot.

Lee Cain is scheduled to give his evidence between 2pm 4.30pm

Imran Shafi arrives at inquiry

10:15 , Matt Mathers

Imran Shafi, Boris Johnson’s former private secretary, has arrived for his appearance at the Covid inquiry.

Mr Shafi was wearing a suit and tie as he arrived at Dorland House in London this morning.

He will give evidence about decision-making at the heart of government during the pandemic.

 (PA)
(PA)

ICYMI: Johnson and Cummings sent ‘disgusting and misogynistic’ WhatsApps, George Osborne claims

10:15 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings sent “disgusting and misogynistic” WhatsApps that will come out at the Covid inquiry, George Osborne has claimed.

The former Tory chancellor said he understood that there would be “staggering” messages shared at next week’s hearings – when the ex-No 10 strategist Mr Cummings is set to appear.

Mr Johnson is set to give evidence to the public inquiry next month, following the long-running saga over the release his WhatsApp messages with senior advisers and ministers.

Adam Forrest reports:

Boris and Cummings sent ‘disgusting and misogynistic’ WhatsApps, Osborne claims

The rise and fall of Dominic Cummings

10:00 , Matt Mathers

A key figure in the Leave campaign and 2019 general election victory, Dominic Cummings became the most powerful person in Boris Johnson’s government.

He left Downing Street in November 2020 following reports of a bitter power struggle with Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie. Friends and allies regard him — and he regards himself — as a maverick and visionary.

Yet the man David Cameron once described as a “career psychopath” also accumulated a growing number of detractors and enemies during his time as Boris Johnson’s senior adviser.

In this article from when Cummings left the heart of power, Adam Forrest takes a closer look at his rise and fall:

The rise and fall of Dominic Cummings — and what comes next at No 10

ICYMI: Why the Covid inquiry is about to get explosive for Downing Street

09:46 , Matt Mathers

Families are disappointed the inquiry might not report before next year’s general election, writes Andrew Grice, but next week might see some political revelations.

Read Andrew’s full piece here.

(PA) (PA Wire)
(PA) (PA Wire)

Who is Lee Cain? A closer look at spin doctor at the heart of Britain’s Covid response

09:43 , Matt Mathers

Lee Cain sent Boris Johnson’s government into a frenzy after sensationally quitting his role as communications director in November 2020 over his failure to land a promotion to chief of staff.

The former prime minister was persuaded Mr Cain was not chief of staff material, with his fiancée Carrie Symonds said to be insistent about his unsuitability.

Adam Forrest reports:

Who is Lee Cain? A closer look at spin doctor who caused No 10 uproar

Who is ‘Party Marty’?

09:33 , Matt Mathers

He served as the UK’s ambassador to Libya before being appointed to the role at the heart of No 10 in October 2019.

The Cambridge graduate had previously served in a range of Foreign Office roles in Whitehall, South Africa and Brussels.

Before joining the Foreign Office, he was a City lawyer.

David Hughes and Joe Sommerlad report:

Covid Inquiry: Who is ‘Party Marty’ Martin Reynolds and what did he do?

Bombshell week for Boris Johnson as former team prepare for Covid Inquiry

09:31 , Matt Mathers

Recent hearings and document releases from the Covid inquiry have revealed embarrassing details for Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak and senior government officials.

It emerged last week that the chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean called Mr Sunak “Dr Death” after he launched Eat Out to Help Out – the restaurant discount scheme blamed for an increase Covid cases in the summer of 2020.

Archie Mitchell has a full preview of the week ahead:

Bombshell week for Boris Johnson as former team prepare for Covid Inquiry

09:30 , Matt Mathers

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the Covid inquiry.

A host of Boris Johnson’s former top aides are due to give evidence this week.

Stay tuned for all the latest updates.

Watch: NHS left unprotected during pandemic, says Shafi

22:29 , Tara Cobham

Watch: Johnson stressed ‘need to avoid overreaction’ at start of pandemic

22:24 , Tara Cobham