Dominic Cummings has fired his latest shots in the sustained war of words with his once longstanding ally, Boris Johnson, in exposing the Prime Minister’s apparent frustration with Matt Hancock.
The former chief aide to the Prime Minister published WhatsApp messages purportedly showing Mr Johnson describing the Health Secretary as “hopeless” early in the coronavirus pandemic.
But the claims in the extraordinary blog post totalling around 7,200 words do not stop there.
Here is an examination of the key allegations:
– Mr Johnson needed an expletive to express his frustration at the Health Secretary
In the most eye-catching exchange, the mastermind of the Brexit campaign who was at the heart of the Covid response until leaving No 10 in November noted the US’s rapid increase in testing capacity.
He criticised Mr Hancock, or “MH” as he referred to him in the message on March 3 last year, for apparently saying he was “sceptical” about meeting a new UK target having earlier said it would “definitely” be met.
The Prime Minister apparently responded: “Totally f****** hopeless.”
Following the post, Mr Hancock was asked by a reporter whether he was indeed hopeless as he was driven by in a ministerial car.
“I don’t think so,” the Health Secretary replied through the window.
– The Prime Minister also thought Mr Hancock was failing on ventilators
The screenshot shared by Mr Cummings offers limited context, but after a “dunno” supposedly from the Prime Minister, the former aide said “they’ve totally f***** up ventilators”.
He said he had heard officials admit they were turning down equipment because of price hikes.
“It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless,” the contact appearing to be Mr Johnson replied on March 27 last year.
– Protective equipment was a disaster and the Prime Minister wanted Michael Gove’s help
In an exchange on April 27 last year, Mr Johnson appeared to call the situation around personal protective equipment (PPE) “a disaster”.
He then alluded to diverting some responsibilities to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
“I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on,” Mr Johnson apparently said.
But Mr Cummings described the Cabinet Office as a “total shitshow” and said the move would “have a severe risk of making it worse not better”.
“OK. Wtf do we do?,” the Prime Minister allegedly responded, before proposing another meeting to address the issue.
– Eyeing money and fun, Mr Johnson has an exit plan
Mr Cummings claimed that the Prime Minister would stand down around two years after the next general election if he was successful.
He said the public inquiry into the handling of the response to Covid-19 would not fix the problems in Government because “it is designed to punt the tricky parts until after this PM has gone”.
And, Mr Cummings alleged, “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’. So we either live with chronic dysfunction for another (roughly) five years or some force intervenes”.
But this was one of the few accusations that Downing Street specifically rejected.
“The PM has actually been asked this before and has said himself it’s utter nonsense, so that still stands,” the Prime Minister’s press secretary said.
“As you know, the PM was elected in 2019 and continues to focus on delivering the manifesto we were elected on and leading the county out of the pandemic.”
– Mr Johnson’s thumbs-up and carry on diversion
One of the politicians still in favour with Mr Cummings is Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who stood in for the Prime Minister as he was battling Covid in hospital.
Mr Cummings described the meetings Mr Raab chaired in the Prime Minister’s absence as “less pleasant for everybody but much more productive”.
Because the Foreign Secretary, he said, “can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes”.
And “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”.
– NHS staff may have died because of a lack of PPE
During the defence of his record at the same select committee where his near-nemesis tried to tar his name, Mr Hancock gave a defence of his record on securing supplies of PPE.
The Health Secretary said he has seen no evidence to suggest any medics died because of a lack of PPE, a claim that stoked anger among his critics.
Mr Cummings also weighed in on this, saying that Mr Hancock sought to blame NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Cabinet Office for a “PPE disaster” in April last year.
“The lack of PPE killed NHS and care home staff in March-May,” Mr Cummings added.
– Are the messages genuine?
Downing Street was asked multiple times during a Westminster briefing with journalists about the veracity of the WhatsApps and whether they were genuine or not.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman chose not to dispute their legitimacy.
“Our focus is not examining those specific images but delivering on the public’s priorities,” he said, avoiding the question.
“I don’t plan to get into the detail of what’s been published.”
With No 10 not disputing the screenshots, it is highly unlikely the messages are some sort of elaborate fabrication.
– Can the Health Secretary survive?
So far Mr Hancock’s only response to the inflammatory publication is the “I don’t think so” he gave when asked if he is hopeless.
But he has already given a more detailed and more definite denial to Mr Cummings’ previous barrage during an appearance at the joint Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.
And a source close to the Health Secretary went further to say: “No evidence has been provided today to back up previous unsubstantiated suggestions.
“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.”
His predecessor as health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the latest revelations do not prove Mr Hancock lied and only demonstrate the Prime Minister’s “total frustration”.
The Tory MP who is co-chairing the joint committee’s inquiry into the handling of the pandemic said it “is not possible to stack up the most sensational revelations without evidence”.
Most importantly for Mr Hancock’s standing in the Government is that the Prime Minister is standing by him for now.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman declined to directly deny the charges of hopelessness, instead saying: “I’m not planning to engage with every allegation put forward, the Prime Minister worked very closely with the Health and (Social) Care Secretary throughout and continues to do so.”
But he was firm when asked if Mr Johnson still has full confidence in Mr Hancock, flatly replying “yes” when asked during a Westminster briefing.
– But there is more to come
Warnings from No 10 not to disclose confidential information as set out in the special advisers’ code which Mr Cummings is still asked to abide by will certainly go unheeded.
Mr Cummings has an axe to grind and he is not going to put it down after spending months honing it.
“There is so much more that could be said but this is long enough for now…” he wrote towards the end of his sprawling blog post.
“I have rejected all media offers of large payments for documents etc and, as with this evidence, all further evidence on Covid will be made freely available to the public.”
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