The Covid inquiry at instances appears like watching a trial by which the prosecution and defence are carried out concurrently – whereas it’s theoretically break up into area-specific modules, the subject material jumps round, with typically dramatic proof introduced at surprising instances. This week’s hearings have been no exception. These are the principle issues we realized.
A prime civil servant discovered Boris Johnson’s No 10 exasperating
Arguably the important thing witness of the week was Mark Sedwill, who was the cupboard secretary – the UK’s prime civil servant – till September 2020. Lord Sedwill was typically measured and cautious in his lengthy testimony on Wednesday however didn’t dispute the thought of Johnson being badly suited to deal with the Covid disaster, liable to veer between opinions and unable to coherently handle a group.
Requested if he agreed with such assessments by others earlier within the inquiry, Sedwill stated: “I recognise them however I wouldn’t categorical them that manner myself.” He described his function as making an attempt to create a system round Johnson to “drive a choice”, one involving ministers in addition to advisers. This was, he stated, “exhausting” for these across the prime minister.
The identical official didn’t belief Matt Hancock
Once more, this arguably counts as affirmation moderately than information, however it is extremely putting that Sedwill brazenly stated he didn’t belief the well being secretary in submit on the time.
He agreed with testimony about Hancock being seen as not routinely trustworthy, including that he would commonly double-check issues stated by the minister with others “to verify he wasn’t over-promising”.
One of the constant themes of the inquiry thus far has been individuals who labored with Hancock being very impolite about him. In Sedwill’s proof it emerged he had urged Johnson to sack his well being secretary to “save lives and defend the NHS”, a grimly humorous play on a Covid-era well being slogan.
In a single WhatsApp message from Sedwill proven to the listening to he says: “Hancock thus far up BJ’s [Boris Johnson’s] arse his ankles are brown.”
The present cupboard secretary was much more damning
Maybe the standout proof was extracts of messages between Sedwill and Simon Case, the person who succeeded him as cupboard secretary and continues to be within the job, flashed up on to the inquiry reside stream and eagerly screen-shotted by watching journalists.
The primary and most inflammatory tranche of messages emerged on Tuesday, throughout proof by Edward Udny-Lister, Johnson’s chief of workers in the course of the pandemic, with the 2 civil servants describing these inside No 10 on the time as “toxic”, “mad” and unfit to control.
“I’ve by no means seen a bunch of individuals much less well-equipped to run a rustic,” Case wrote to Sedwill in July 2020, when Case had the job of lead civil servant for Downing Avenue. “These persons are so mad. Not toxic in the direction of me (but), however they’re simply madly self-defeating.”
In an eye-opening vignette, Case stated he had informed Johnson that changing one other senior No 10 official had proved troublesome as a result of “numerous the top-drawer folks I had requested had refused to return due to the poisonous fame of his operation”.
One other alternate between the pair, proven throughout Sedwill’s proof, confirmed Case describing Johnson and the folks round him as “principally feral”, to which Sedwill stated in reply: “I’ve the chew marks.”
Dominic Cummings was blamed (once more)
Throughout his testimony, Lister didn’t notably dispute the outline of working situations inside No 10 as set out by Case and Sedwill, however positioned the duty on Cummings, Johnson’s then chief adviser.
“He was not a simple man to take care of and that was a rigidity,” Lister stated of Cummings, saying Johnson ought to have taken motion. “There was a character conflict that was continually happening, and there was an environment.”
Requested how effectively he acquired on with Cummings, Lister stated: “We labored collectively. We had desks going through one another. I can’t say there was any shut relationship.”
Officers thought Johnson was too gradual on a second lockdown
Because the summer time of 2020 moved into autumn and an infection charges rose, folks round Johnson have been more and more exasperated at his unwillingness to impose a short “circuit breaker” lockdown.
Messages in September and October between Ben Warner, a knowledge scientist introduced into No 10 by Cummings, and Lee Cain, Downing Avenue’s then director of communications, confirmed they feared Johnson was repeating the over-slow imposition of the primary lockdown.
“I really feel like we’ve by chance invented a time machine,” Warner wrote to Cain. “We’re so fucked. Why are we not appearing in London and concrete areas now? Similar errors as March.”
Rishi Sunak’s actions additionally involved officers
The inquiry heard that the then chancellor launched his flagship “eat out to assist out” hospitality scheme in summer time 2020 with out consulting the federal government’s Covid taskforce, leaving officers “blindsided” by the Treasury.
Different proof, from the diary of Sir Patrick Vallance, on the time the federal government’s chief scientific adviser, stated that in autumn 2020 Sunak was making “more and more particular and spurious arguments” towards new restrictions on hospitality companies, and was influencing Johnson on this.
In October, Vallance complained that Johnson “owns the truth for a day, after which is buffeted by a dialogue with CX [chancellor of the exchequer]”. Across the similar time, one other extract from Vallance’s diary referred to the Treasury as “the pro-death squad” given the eagerness to elevate restrictions.
Johnson did say ‘let the our bodies pile excessive’
When it was first reported greater than two years in the past that Johnson remarked in autumn 2020 that he would moderately “let the our bodies pile excessive” than impose a brand new lockdown, his Downing Avenue spokesperson and ministers together with Michael Gove stated this was not true.
Nevertheless, the witness assertion of Lister – a longtime Johnson aide, loyalist and pal – confirmed it had been stated. Lister’s assertion additionally confirmed that early within the pandemic Johnson steered he be injected with Covid on TV to show it was not dangerous.