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Top civil servant’s foul-mouthed attack on ‘lying’ Matt Hancock at Covid inquiry

The inquiry also saw a message from Lord Sedwill to Simon Case saying Matt Hancock was ‘far up Boris Johnson’s a***’

Archie Mitchell
Friday 10 November 2023 10:18 GMT
Matt Hancock believed he should decide ‘who should live and die’ if NHS overwhelmed

Britain’s top civil servant launched a savage attack on Matt Hancock during the pandemic, telling Boris Johnson to sack the “lying” health secretary to “save lives and protect the NHS”, the Covid inquiry heard on Wednesday.

Former cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill said he made the suggestion as a joke in a WhatsApp message to then-No10 permanent secretary Simon Case, confirming the exchange on Wednesday.

Lord Sedwill said he was using “gallows humour”, but said he had a conversation with Mr Johnson about the need to get rid of Mr Hancock – who was seen by many officials through the pandemic as dishonest.

In another message to Mr Case revealed by the inquiry, Lord Sedwill said: “Hancock so far up BJ’s [Boris Johnson’s] a*** his ankles are brown.”

And Lord Sedwill told the inquiry Mr Hancock’s lack of candour was “clearly damaging” to Britain’s handling of the pandemic.

The ex-cabinet secretary lashed out at the now-independent MP’s “over-promising, over-confident, over-assured” demeanour.

And he said officials had to “double-check” what they were being told by Mr Hancock.

In his witness statement, Mr Johnson denied he received advice from Lord Sedwill to sack Mr Hancock. But Lord Sedwill said Mr Johnson “would have been under no illusions as to my view” on the then health secretary’s position.

On another day of shocking revelations at the inquiry:

The latest revelations are a further blow for Mr Hancock, who has previously come under fire at the Covid probe from top officials accusing him of dishonesty.

Last week, Helen MacNamara, one of Britain’s most senior civil servants in the pandemic, said Mr Hancock was “regularly” telling people things that they later discovered were not true and that No10 had a “lack of confidence” that what he said was happening “was actually happening”.

He was described by Downing Street’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings as a “proven liar”, a “problem leaker” and a “c***”.

Lord Sedwill told the inquiry on Wednesday he had conversations with Mr Johnson about “whether Mr Hancock was the right person to lead the next phase” of the pandemic.

He denied having used the word “sack”, but said he later did so in a WhatsApp exchange with Mr Case. Lord Sedwill then confirmed he said it would be “to save lives and protect the NHS”.

Boris Johnson denies he was told to sack Matt Hancock during the pandemic but messages show otherwise (PA)

He said it was a “private exchange” that he never expected to be made public and he was “echoing” the government’s own slogan: “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.”

The Covid inquiry was then shown WhatsApp exchanges in which Lord Sedwill said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) under Mr Hancock “did not even understand the regulations they authorised”.

Lord Sedwill lashed out at the Department of Health and Social Care for its “laissez-faire” attitude toward Covid programmes it was responsible for and said that stance was arguably the government’s “biggest failure” during the pandemic.

The inquiry also revealed that Lord Sedwill and Mr Case felt working with Mr Johnson’s "brutal and useless" team was like "taming wild animals".

Mr Case said that Mr Johnson and his inner circle were "basically feral", messages shown to the Covid inquiry on Wednesday revealed.

The exchange was the latest damning assessment of Mr Johnson’s administration that Mr Case made with his predecessor.

Lord Sedwill complained that Mr Johnson’s administration was "brutal and useless", according to an August 2020 extract from the diary of former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

The peer said he does not remember saying those words but added: "I can’t actually recall what might have prompted it but ... I don’t doubt Sir Patrick’s memory. It must have been a moment of acute frustration with something."

Government adviser told Boris Johnson sacking Matt Hancock would help save lives (PA Archive)

Mr Case, days before joining No 10 in May 2020, shared his concerns with the then-cabinet secretary.

"Honestly, Mark, I don’t want to go near these people. If as part of all this there are some guarantees about behaviour, I will give it a go for a very short period."

Lord Sedwill then gave him some advice about how to handle Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings "so he can’t run interference".

Later, in June 2020, Mr Case wrote to Lord Sedwill: "It is like taming wild animals. Nothing in my past experience has prepared me for this madness. The PM and the people he chooses to surround himself with are basically feral."

Lord Sedwill replied: "I have the bite marks."

Earlier in the day, Lord Sedwill apologised for suggesting Mr Johnson should encourage people to hold chickenpox-style parties during the pandemic.

The ex-national security adviser admitted making the suggestion but insisted he was only using it as a way of shielding the most vulnerable while others developed immunity.

He apologised to families of victims at the Covid inquiry on Wednesday and accepted his comments could have come across as “both heartless and thoughtless”.

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