Boris Johnson was ‘Trump-Bolsonaro level mad and dangerous’ on Covid, civil service chief says

Then-PM wanted to end social distancing just as second wave of pandemic was feared while cases were rising

Jane Dalton
Friday 27 October 2023 20:57 BST
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Mr Johnson ruled out another lockdown subject to two caveats

The head of the civil service accused Boris Johnson at the height of the Covid pandemic of “Trump-Bolsonaro levels of mad and dangerous” behaviour because the then prime minister wanted to end social distancing, it’s been reported.

Simon Case, who at the time was Permanent Secretary at No10, referred to two world leaders infamous for dismissing the threat of the coronavirus - then US president Donald Trump and Brazil#s Jair Bolsonaro.

At the time, in July 2020, infections were spreading and medical experts feared a second wave of Covid was set to sweep the UK.

Donald Trump with Boris Johnson when tthey were both still world leaders

Mr Johnson was pushing to ease lockdown restrictions and arguing in favour of the end of social distancing and the reopening of society.

Mr Case’s judgment, contained in a WhatsApp message and reported by The Times, is expected to be published next week alongside a cache of others at the Covid-19 inquiry.

In one message, Mr Case said the prime minister wanted to declare “we’re over Covid”. He said that the approach would be “Trump-Bolsonaro level mad and dangerous”.

Plans for the widespread reopening of society were delayed by a fortnight in mid-August that year. But then in the November, a second national lockdown began as infections rose.

Mr Case, who was promoted to Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service that September, described the Johnson government as a “tragic joke” in private messages shown to the inquiry.

Simon Case’s messages are expected to be released as part of the Covid inquiry

Next week evidence is due to come from Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, and other Downing Street figures, as the inquiry investigates how the government handled the pandemic.

Mr Cummings had accused Mr Johnson of saying that he would rather see the “bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown in the autumn. Mr Johnson denies saying this.

Former chancellor George Osborne claims Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings sent “disgusting and misogynistic” WhatsApp messages.

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser during the pandemic, wrote in his diary: “The ridiculous flip-flopping is getting worse. The chief medical officer [Chris Whitty] and I are both worried about the extreme inconsistencies in the prime minister lurching from open everything to panic.”

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