Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Michael Gove’s explosive texts over No 10’s Covid mistakes revealed

Minister told Dominic Cummings in expletive-laden WhatsApps that they were ‘f****** up’ on pandemic response – and apologises to families who lost loved ones due to government mistakes

Archie Mitchell,Adam Forrest
Wednesday 29 November 2023 05:40 GMT
Michael Gove says government 'f***ing up' in WhatsApp message to Dominic Cummings

Michael Gove warned that the government was “f***ing up” its Covid response at the height of the pandemic and would “regret it for a long time”, bombshell new WhatsApp messages reveal.

The expletive-laden messages shared at the Covid inquiry show the senior cabinet minister told No 10 strategist Dominic Cummings weeks before the first lockdown that the situation was “worse than you think”.

Mr Gove also apologised to the families who lost loved ones for mistakes made by the Conservative government – admitting that the UK was too slow into the first and second lockdowns in 2020.

In a foul-mouthed message, the then-Cabinet Office minister told Mr Cummings in early March 2020: “I don’t often kick-off. But we are f***ing up as a government and missing golden opportunities.”

Mr Cummings, then Boris Johnson’s top adviser, called the Cabinet Office a “f***ing joke” in his response, complaining that officials had lied about the existence of a plan to tackle the pandemic.

On yet another explosive day at the official Covid inquiry, it emerged:

  • Mr Gove wanted the first lockdown sooner – and pushed for quicker action to tackle the second wave
  • He defended Mr Johnson’s “gladiatorial” style – but said it took the then-PM “a little longer” to make decisions than others
  • Mr Cummings said people in government “should be shot” for failings at the height of the pandemic
  • The ex-adviser also joked about wanting a trip to the countryside before his infamous Barnard Castle visit
  • Mr Gove suggested Covid-19 was “man-made” – prompting a rebuke from the inquiry’s KC

Mr Gove began his evidence on Tuesday by apologising to “the families who endured so much loss as a result of the mistakes that were made by government” – admitting ministers were too slow into lockdown and failed to bring in a rigorous testing strategy.

Mr Gove shared his frustration that the government was “f***ing up” its initial response to the crisis in a 4 March message with Mr Cummings. “I will carry on doing what I can but the whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we’ll regret it for a long time.”

In a sweary exchange on 11 March, the former No 10 adviser told Mr Gove that he was considering throwing in the towel and taking his family to the countryside.

Gove leaving the Covid inquiry after an explosive hearing (PA)

Weeks before he did leave London to stay on his parents’ farm in Durham, the trip which saw him visit Barnard Castle, Mr Cummings told Mr Gove: “I’m tempted to take my family to the countryside and hold a press conference saying you’re on your own, the Cabinet Office and parliament have f***ed us all.”

“People should be shot,” the strategist added in the exchange. Mr Gove asked who he envisaged in government being first in the firing line, before Mr Cummings replied: “Not for phones.”

Mr Gove said he wished Mr Johnson had implemented the first national lockdown on 16 March 2020, a week before the PM announced the move on 23 March. He also shared his regret that stricter measures were not brought in during the autumn’s second wave.

Listing what he saw to be failures, he told the Covid inquiry: “I believe that we were too slow to lock down initially, in March. I believe that we should have taken stricter measures before we eventually decided to do so late in October.”

Gove’s session revealed further sweary messages involving Dominic Cummings (PA)

Mr Gove also the government’s approach to testing was “not as rigorously thought through as it might have been”. He said: “I am also concerned that we did not pay enough attention to the impact, particularly on children and vulnerable children, of some of the measures that we took.”

The cabinet minister also listed poor targeting of Covid testing and the way PPE was bought among the government’s other key failings. But he declined to be too critical of cabinet colleagues, offering rare defences of Mr Johnson and former health secretary Matt Hancock.

The levelling-up secretary denied that Mr Johnson “oscillated” over key decisions, telling the inquiry: “He preferred gladiatorial decision-making rather than inquisitorial. He wanted to see the two cases or the three cases rehearsed in front of him, or even rehearsed in his own mind.”

“Any prime minister is entitled to test propositions,” Mr Gove added – but said his style was “difficult to take” for some. He also said it took the then-PM “a little longer” to see the need for the first lockdown in March 2020 than others.

Gove defended Boris Johnson, but suggested he was slow to make key decisions (AFP via Getty)

And he insisted “too much was asked” of Mr Hancock’s department at the beginning of the pandemic. “I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock as a minister. However, I believe that too much was asked of DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] at that point.”

He added: “We should collectively have recognised that this was a health system crisis at an earlier point and taken on to other parts of government the responsibility for delivery that was being asked of DHSC at the time.”

In controversial remarks, Mr Gove suggested China had invented the Covid virus, telling the inquiry: “There is a significant body of judgment that believes that the virus itself was man-made and that presents challenges as well.”

It sparked an immediate reprimand by the inquiry’s lead counsel, Hugo Keith KC, who said it was not the place to discuss the “somewhat divisive issue”, telling Mr Gove: “We are not going to go there.”

No 10 said the government’s position is for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate the origin of the virus. Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “We think there is still work to be done. But it is for the WHO to investigate.”

The WHO’s first origins study in China in early 2021 was inconclusive, with difficulties in collaborating with Beijing cited as part of the reason.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in