Boris Johnson condemned Matt Hancock as “totally f—— hopeless” in an expletive-laden text last year and considered handing some of his responsibilities for the pandemic to Michael Gove.
The Prime Minister’s frustration with the Health Secretary during the early stages of the coronavirus crisis was laid bare in embarrassing personal text exchanges published by Dominic Cummings on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson’s former chief aide revealed the messages as part of a 7,000-word blog post, in which he heaped harsh criticism on Mr Hancock and Mr Johnson – reprising the key themes of his select committee appearance last month.
In a post-midnight exchange on March 27 2020, minutes before he tested positive for the virus, the Prime Minister told Mr Cummings that Mr Hancock’s performance on ramping up testing capacity was “totally f—— hopeless”.
Boris Cummings texts 1
The Prime Minister sent the message to Mr Cummings moments after he had set out how the UK had failed to achieve an increase in testing seen in America.
In another message sent later that morning on March 27, Mr Cummings told the PM: "They’ve totally f—— ventilators. I just heard officials admit we have been turning down ventilator offers because ‘the price has been marked up’."
Mr Johnson replied: "It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless."
Boris Cummings text 3
Asked by a reporter whether he was "hopeless" on Wednesday, Mr Hancock replied: “I don’t think so.”
A source close to the Health Secretary added: "No evidence has been provided today to back up previous unsubstantiated suggestions.
“The Secretary of State addressed these issues at the select committee. He will continue to work closely with the Prime Minister to roll out the vaccine and get us out of this pandemic as quickly as possible.”
Mr Cummings also claimed in his blogpost that Mr Johnson would stand down as PM by 2026 at the latest and that Mr Hancock had misled MPs in evidence last week about his handling of the crisis.
PM looked at replacing Health Secretary with Michael Gove over PPE ‘disaster’
Mr Johnson described the Government’s attempts to procure extra personal protective equipment as a "disaster" and suggested replacing Mr Hancock with Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister.
On April 27 last year, exactly a month after describing Mr Hancock as "hopeless", Mr Johnson was fiercely critical of Mr Hancock in another private message to Mr Cummings.
In a WhatsApp message sent at 10.12pm on April 27, Mr Johnson told Mr Cummings: "On PPE it’s a disaster. I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on."
Boris Cummings texts 2
Mr Cummings advised against moving Mr Gove to health, telling the PM: "With the CABOFF [Cabinet Office] such a s— show I’m afraid this wd [would] have a severe risk of making it worse not better."
Mr Johnson replied: "Ok. Wtf [what the f—] do we do? Another meeting w [with] Matt and [Sir Simon] Stevens and [Lord] Deighton and co?"
Mr Cummings urged the PM to "get to grips with this issue: without profound changes in CanOff [Cabinet Office] these problems will not be solved. Not just PPE. Track and trace. Vaccines. Treatments. Testing.
"The Government does not control the government. The CabOff controls most of it."
In his blog Mr Cummings said: "At this time NHS staff were screaming for PPE. The dashboard daily meetings showed we were running out of critical items such as gowns.
"Reports flooded in of hospitals having run out or on the brink of running out and begging for supplies. Hancock caused further chaos by repeated briefing to the media about how new loads were flying in, bluffing his way through meeting after meeting — his whole routine."
Mr Cummings said the need to fire Mr Hancock was "urgent for public safety" because of his continued responsibility for new variants and the safety of care homes, Mr Cummings wrote.
He said: "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."
Mr Hancock ‘misled’ Parliament last week
Mr Cummings claimed Mr Hancock had given a "fictitious account" on how he had led the response to the pandemic in evidence to MPs last week.
Mr Cummings wrote: "On the original ‘plan’, testing, PPE, procurement, care homes and more, Hancock gave a fictitious account to MPs last week and portrayed himself as a heroic figure who had been in agreement with the PM throughout the crisis.
"The PM has supported this fiction and ordered the No10 press office to support many arguments he knows are lies."
Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock had suggested that he had "opposed and undermined" a bid to hit 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.
In fact, Mr Cummings claimed, "this is the opposite of the truth. I was pushing the system on testing weeks before Hancock’s announcement and to build a system for 1m per day".
Mr Cummings said that the announcement to hit 100,000 tests a day on April 2 last year "had not been prepared, he just blurted it without proper planning and discussion".
Mr Cummings added: "Did Hancock give an honest account of what happened on testing to MPs last week? Obviously not."
Mr Cummings also said that Mr Hancock "is creating a new version of reality in which the Government really did ‘throw a protective ring’ around care homes".
"The reality: Covid patients were sent untested from hospital to care homes and Hancock neglected care homes and testing throughout April partly because Hancock was trying to focus effort on his press conference at the end of April claiming success for his announcement on 2/4."
Jeremy Hunt, Tory chairman of the health select committee, said on Wednesday that Mr Cummings’ latest intervention “show[s] the PM’s total frustration… but do[es] not prove anyone ‘lied’.”
The former Health Secretary indicated that “personal accusations” should not overshadow “much more serious failures in the functioning of the state in a national emergency” pointed to by Mr Cummings in his blog post.
Dominic Raab chaired Downing Street meetings ‘properly’ when he was acting PM
The Cabinet minister who stepped in for the Prime Minister while he was in hospital chaired meetings "properly" unlike Mr Johnson, Mr Cummings claimed.
In his blog Mr Cummings lavished praise on Mr Raab, the Foreign Secretary, who as First Secretary of State stepped in to chair Number 10 meetings while Mr Johnson was in hospital.
Mr Raab chaired meetings "properly" and put pressure on Mr Hancock to up his game, unlike Mr Johnson who avoided confrontation by saying "let’s take it offline" and shouting "forward to victory".
Mr Raab speaking during a remote press conference to update the nation on May 5, 2020
Credit: Pippa Fowles/AFP
Mr Cummings wrote: "Under Raab, the meetings were less pleasant for everybody but much more productive because unlike the PM a) Raab can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes, b) he let good officials actually question people so we started to get to the truth, unlike the PM who as soon as things get ‘a bit embarrassing’ does the whole ‘let’s take it offline’ shtick before shouting ‘forward to victory’, doing a thumbs-up and pegging it out of the room before anybody can disagree."
Mr Johnson ‘will quit as PM by end of 2026’
Mr Johnson will not serve a full term as Prime Minister if he wins the next general election, Mr Cummings disclosed in his blog.
Mr Cummings said that Mr Johnson, 57 on Saturday, had a clear plan only to serve two years as Prime Minister if he leads the Conservatives to victory at the next election.
The next election must be held by November 2024 at the latest which means Mr Johnson will have quit as Prime Minister by the end of 2026, when he will be 62.
Mr Cummings wrote: "Unlike other PMs, this one has a clear plan to leave at the latest a couple of years after the next election, he wants to make money and have fun not ‘go on and on’."
Mr Cummings suggested that backbench Conservative MPs should "intervene" and force Mr Johnson from office although this is unlikely with the Tories leading Labour so strongly in the polls.
He wrote: "We either live with chronic dysfunction for another [about] five years or some force intervenes.
"From the perspective of good government and ethics the Cabinet and MPs should intervene but this is unlikely while the polls have the Conservatives [about] 40%+ because our political system incentivises party loyalty over good government and ethics."
On the claim that Mr Johnson will quit Downing Street two years after the next general election, Mr Johnson’s press secretary said the Prime Minister “has described it as utter nonsense”. She added: “The PM was elected in 2019 and continues to focus on delivering on the manifesto we were elected on, and lead the country out of the pandemic."
Covid public inquiry ‘delayed for years’
The long-promised public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic will not begin to hear evidence "for years", Mr Cummings warned.
Mr Johnson last month announced a full public independent inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic, with spring 2022 named as the start date.
The inquiry will be put on a statutory footing, meaning it will be underpinned by the Inquiries Act of 2005 and have legal powers such as compelling people to give evidence.
However, Mr Cummings warned that a "public inquiry cannot fix" the failings he had witnessed first hand in Downing Street.
He added: "It will not start for years and it is designed to punt the tricky parts until after this PM has gone."