The COVID inquiry was shown Whatsapp chats from the early days of the pandemic in which cabinet secretary Simon Case said government decision-making made it look like a ‘terrible, tragic joke’.

Damning WhatsApp messages shown to the COVID inquiry today reveal key Boris Johnson adviser Simon Case describing the government as a “terrible, tragic joke” and labelling Carrie Johnson the “real person in charge”.

The messages between cabinet secretary Case, former Downing Street head of communications Lee Cain and former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, highlight the tensions and exasperation around the decisions of Johnson’s government.

The messages from 14 October 2020 were shown to the inquiry during a discussion about the functions of the Cabinet Office during the pandemic.

“Am not sure I can cope with today,” Case wrote. “Might just go home. Matt [Hancock] just called, having spoken to PM. According to Matt (so aim off, obvs), PM has asked Matt to work up regional circuit breakers for the North (as per Northern Ireland) today – and to bring recommendations. I am going to scream…”

Cain asked: “Wtf are we talking about,” and Case replied: “Whatever Carrie cares about, I guess.”

Case then joked: “I was always told that [Dominic Cummings] was the secret PM. How wrong they are. I look forward to telling select cttee tomorrow – ‘oh, fuck no, don’t worry about Dom, the real person in charge is Carrie’.”

Case concluded: “This gov’t doesn’t have the credibility needed to be imposing stuff within only days of deciding not too [sic]. We look like a terrible, tragic joke. If we were going hard, that decision was needed weeks ago. I cannot cope with this.”

WhatsApp messages from Lee Cain, Simon Case and Dominic Cummings.

The inquiry also heard how “slagging each other off” was commonplace in the government during the pandemic.

Alex Thomas, a former civil servant from the Cabinet Office and Department of Health and now a programme director at the non-partisan think tank the Institute for Government, told the inquiry political figures and senior civil servants insulting each other behind people’s backs was “more common than it should be”.

Thomas described the function of the Cabinet Office as “chaotic,” and said it was not a “decision-making structure that was good, either at responding quickly and authoritatively to rapidly developing external events or synthesising complex material that was coming in from scientists, economic advisers, other government departments.”

Messages between Simon Case, Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings.

In other WhatsApp messages from the same three people shown to the inquiry, dated 8 September 2020, Cummings wrote: “As always discussions with these ministers is moronic. They cannot understand priorities. They didn’t even understand what they were talking about for most of this meeting.”

Case responded: “Quite”, before Cain added: “This is embarrassing.”

Two days later, the chat continued, with Cain saying: “Hancock has got to go. Joker”, and Cummings replying: “Yup. And liar.”

Rivka Gottlieb, spokesperson for COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK said:

“Every day of the inquiry feels like it draws new appalling evidence. Today we heard that the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case claimed that Carrie Johnson was running the country in June 2020, and that Boris Johnson claimed that long Covid was “bollocks”, and “Gulf War syndrome stuff”.
“It’s beyond devastating to think about the suffering that was caused unnecessarily by the chaos in Government in 2020, and worst of all that my Dad might still be with me now if only different leaders had been in charge.”

Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock are all scheduled to give evidence during the second module of the inquiry, which is now in its second week.

The inquiry continues.

PMP Magazine



Text: This piece was first published in openDemocracy and re-published in PMP Magazine on 18 October 2023. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Flickr/Number 10. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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