At the core of the United Kingdom’s response to Covid-19 resided a select group of politicians and officials, whose duty was to navigate the country through the storm of the health crisis. Private messages, exposed during a public inquiry examining the government’s handling of the pandemic, provided a glimpse into the strained relations amongst these key individuals, revealing sentiments of contempt and hostility in some instances.
One noteworthy revelation from the inquiry was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s early views on Covid-19. In March 2020, he chaired his first meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, dedicated to discussing the government’s approach to the rapidly spreading virus. Yet, despite this meeting, his then Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, voiced concerns to No 10’s communications director, Lee Cain, that the PM was underestimating the severity of the situation, equating it to the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
In further communications, Mr. Cummings expressed frustration at the Prime Minister’s handling of discussions concerning how the government would finance its debt during the pandemic, describing the PM as being in ‘Jaws’ mode, a nod to a joke Mr. Johnson had made in relation to his political approach.
The inquiry also brought to public view impassioned messages Mr. Cummings wrote about Helen MacNamara, the time’s deputy cabinet secretary. Her professional approach was heavily criticised by Mr. Cummings, resulting in inflammatory comments leveled at her.
Equally revealing were the conversations between Cummings, Mr. Cain, and Simon Case concerning other politicians. Messrs Cummings and Case agreed on designating unnamed colleagues as “moronic,” while Mr. Cain described political discussions as “embarrassing”.
As the second wave of Covid-19 bore down, Mr. Johnson’s belief in the efficacy of lockdowns to control the virus seemed to wane. In October 2020, Johnson dismissed the idea of the NHS being overwhelmed. His newfound disregard for a nationwide lockdown, however, was short-lived as a fortnight later, such a lockdown was indeed implemented.
Despite the damming evidence uncovered in the inquiry, Mr. Johnson has yet to respond, although he is slated to give his testimony later this year. His spokesman affirmed that the Prime Minister is fully cooperating with the inquiry.