Boris Johnson described Matt Hancock as “totally fucking hopeless” during the early stages of the pandemic, concerned by the health secretary’s promises on testing, text messages published by Dominic Cummings have revealed.
Writing on Substack, the prime minister’s former chief aide published a slew of texts and documents from emergency Cobra meetings that he said would combat what he called “lies” from Downing Street and the health secretary about the initial handling of the pandemic.
Cummings had been asked to hand over documents to a select committee inquiry into the pandemic but did not meet the committee’s deadline before Hancock gave evidence last week.
In his post, Cummings said:
Johnson considered “taking Hancock off and putting [Michael] Gove on”.
No strategy for full lockdown was modelled until 14 March, and he published documents predicting 250,000 deaths in the first wave.
Johnson told “rambling stories and jokes” during emergency meetings and refused to ask awkward questions raised by officials.
Johnson intends to quit after the next election in order to make more money.
Jeremy Hunt, who co-chairs the committee where Cummings and Hancock gave evidence, tweeted that he was sceptical that the documents released by Cummings proved Hancock had lied.
He said the messages “show the PM’s total frustration … but do not prove anyone ‘lied.’”
Downing Street refused to comment on Cummings’ claims, while also declining to deny the veracity of the screenshots, or to reject the specific claims. “I don’t plan to get into the detail of what’s been published,” Johnson’s spokesperson said. Asked if the images of the PM’s messages were genuine, he said: “Our focus is on not examining those specific images, but delivering on the public’s priorities.”
Door-stepped by broadcasters and asked if he was “hopeless”, Hancock replied: “I don’t think so.”
In his blog, Cummings said Hancock had come up with a “new version of reality” that he had been responsible for pushing the increase in testing capacity, and that the health secretary had been pursuing the abandoned single-peak, herd immunity strategy until 16 March.
“Testing, like vaccines, was removed from his control in May because of his incompetence and dishonesty,” Cummings wrote on Substack.
He said Hancock told No 10 that the supply of PPE was “all under control” in the week of 23 March, which Cummings said was a false assurance and meant weeks were wasted that could have been used to source equipment.
“If No 10 is prepared to lie so deeply and widely about such vital issues of life and death last year, it cannot be trusted now either on Covid or any other crucial issue of war and peace,” he wrote.
“Hancock continues to have direct responsibility for things like dealing with variants and care homes. Having such a secretary of state in a key role is guaranteed disaster. It is urgent for public safety that he is removed.”
He said Johnson had been “encouraging ministers to give false accounts to parliament” and that the public inquiry would not sufficiently hold the prime minister to account. He said Johnson intended to quit two years after the next election in order to “make money” and move on from politics.
“So we either live with chronic dysfunction for another five years or some force intervenes,” he wrote.