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Boris Johnson called Matt Hancock "f*****g hopeless" and mulled replacing him at a critical moment of the Covid-19 pandemic, texts published by Dominic Cummings show.
The messages, which have not been denied by the government, were released in the first entry on the former top aide's email newsletter.
Mr Cummings says he wants to use the newsletter to expose the actions and behaviour of senior Downing Street figures at crucial points in the early pandemic response – because, he says, their failures resulted in unnecessary deaths.
In the newsletter he accuses Mr Hancock, Mr Johnson and others in No10 of "rewriting history" to shield themselves from blame for the deaths.
And he says next year's public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic will come too late – claiming Mr Johnson plans to quit as PM within a couple of years of the next election to "have fun and make money."
The fresh claims came in a 7,000 word post on Mr Cummings' Substack newsletter – but here's the 5 things you need to know – and the one important thing he didn't include.
1. Boris Johnson said Matt Hancock was "totally f*****g hopeless"
An exchange between Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings about Matt Hancock
Mr Cummings has claimed the Health Secretary repeatedly lied about his progress on key aspects of the Pandemic response – including testing and PPE supply – something Mr Hancock has denied.
And he accused the Prime Minister of now publicly supporting the "fiction" that he has been in agreement with the Health Secretary throughout the pandemic.
Mr Cummings published – carefully selected – text messages between him and the PM, which he say proves his rift with the Health Secretary.
In one exchange on March 3 last year, Mr Cummings highlighted the US's rapid increase of testing capacity and criticised Mr Hancock for 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."
Mr Hancock today said he didn't think he was "hopeless" in response to a question from reporters.
The Health Secretary, wearing a mask and sat in the back of his ministerial car, said "I don't think so" in response to the question "are you hopeless?".
Asked if the Prime Minister called Mr Hancock hopeless, the spokesman said: "I'm not planning to engage with every allegation put forward, the Prime Minister worked very closely with the health and care secretary throughout and continues to do so."
2. The PM branded the PPE project a 'disaster' and mulled replacing Mr Hancock with Michael Gove
"It's a disaster"
Mr Cummings also published another exchange about the struggles to procure ventilators for Covid-19 patients, saying officials 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.
In a separate message, the Prime Minister appeared to call the situation around personal protective equipment (PPE) "a disaster" and 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 added in the conversation on April 27 last year.
But Mr Cummings warned him off this approach, describing the Cabinet Office as a "total s***show" – and saying the move would "have a severe risk of making it worse not better".
"OK. Wtf do we do?," the Prime Minister allegedly responded.
3. 'The PM plans to quit within two years of the next election'
Cummings claims Johnson has an exit plan
(Image: Getty Images)
Mr Cummings didn't provide evidence to back it up, but claimed Boris Johnson plans to quit after next election to "make money and have fun".
He wrote: "The public inquiry cannot fix this. It will not start for years and it is designed to punt the tricky parts until after this PM has gone — 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 ~5 years or some force intervenes."
Number 10 dismissed this suggestion as "nonsense".
Mr Cummings also took aim at Mr Johnson's leadership style, saying he would duck out of meetings "as soon as they got a bit embarrassing.
He said: "(The PM) 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."
4. Matt Hancock 'neglected care homes' while he focused on hitting 100,000 test target
Mr Cummings discussing Mr Hancock
Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of "neglecting care homes and testing" throughout April, because he was "trying to focus effort on his press conference at the end of April claiming success" for his 100,000 tests a day target.
Interestingly, the texts presented by Mr Cummings appeared at odds with some of his committee evidence – in which he branded the test target "stupid".
In his newsletter, Mr Cummings says the target had already been set in No10 meetings before the Health Secretary announced it – and that Cummings himself had supported the idea.
He wrote: "In this chaos Hancock blurted out the already-in-place 100k target to the media on 2 April.
"His fundamental nature is to grab the media spotlight and with the PM and me in bed he had a great chance.”
In one message on March 24 says Mr Cummings asked "how do we get as close to 100k [tests] per day as fast as this country can possibly manage it, almost regardless of cost".
Cummings claims Hancock is "creating a new version of reality"
Mr Cummings wrote: "Hancock is creating a new version of reality in which he came up with the idea to ramp up testing before 14 March, in an inspired and heroic move he announced his 100k target on 2 April to provide leadership, and this was responsible for the change in testing capacity."
He said that in reality No10 "forced" the testing plan on Mr Hancock as part of the transition from a herd immunity strategy to "plan B".
He wrote: "A public announcement was in principle definitely right but he did what he always did — he focused on the media and himself then lied.
"Testing, like vaccines, was removed from his control in May because of his incompetence and dishonesty March-April."
Mr Cummings claims he questioned "a very slippery" Mr Hancock on the progress on testing during a morning meeting on March 24 – and says the Health Secretary told the group the target would be "10k by Monday 30/3, 100k ‘within a month’ of 24/3."
But a short time afterward – the afternoon after the meeting – Mr Cummings told the Health Secretary: "[Matt] – you said at [the meeting] that antibody testing is with [the Treasury] but [the Treasury] say DHSC haven't submitted anything yet – can you check with Rishi [Sunak]/whoever and get this clarified super-urgent, thx"
In his newsletter, Mr Cummings wrote: "You can see the trace of a classic Hancock-ism in my second message.
"Under pressure at the morning meeting, Hancock had done what he did so often: blame others, often HMT.
"As usual, it turned out that the delay was not with [the Treasury] but Hancock had misled the morning meeting and wrongly sought to blame others for delays.
"This was a recurrent pattern and in April got so bad some ministers threatened to stop attending meetings until Hancock was fired."
Mr Cummings went on: "Having assured us ‘I’m totally on it I’m driving the team’ blah, on 24th we’ll ‘definitely’ be on 10k by Monday, then he’s ‘sceptical’, discussions with officials reveal Hancock had told us nonsense again about actual testing trajectory…
"This pattern repeated: big talk in front of the PM, brief nonsense to the media, fail to deliver, and the rest of the system’s planning disrupted because nobody could rely on what he said in the Cabinet room because he would say anything he thought would get him through the meeting."
5. There was no serious plan for lockdown until after March 18
A document which included no prediction for a lockdown scenario – because none had been developed
Mr Cummings has repeatedly characterised the switch from 'Plan A' – pursuing herd immunity – to 'Plan B', a suppression strategy including lockdowns – as "chaotic".
And in his newsletter he claims that as late as March 18, SAGE did not even have a lockdown plan to discuss at a crucial meeting.
He included in his email a series of screenshots of documents predicting the likely scenarios at the time – which do not include a prediction for lockdown, as he claims no plan had been developed.
And he included photographs of whiteboards he says he and aides drew up in mid-March to convince the Prime Minister to switch to a 'Plan B'.
A whiteboard drawn up by Cummings and aides outlining why the government should switch to Plan B
He said that "literally as I was sketching the whiteboard above in the PM’s study on 13 March in preparation for the meeting I planned the next day with the PM, the deputy Cabinet Secretary walked in and told us that DHSC clearly had no serious plan and was imploding."
He added: "On 13 March, as I was sketching the whiteboard above, the PM texted me, Hancock, Vallance and Whitty asking: how do we win the herd immunity argument? On 14th in his study, using those whiteboards, I told him: forget winning that argument, we have to switch to Plan B."
Another whiteboard drawn up to convince the PM to change course
What's missing from Cummings' newsletter and WhatsApps?
Absent from Mr Cummings' newsletter is any evidence to back up his claim at the select committee that Matt Hancock had lied about testing patients before admitting them to care homes.
Mr Cummings told MPs: "We were told categorically in March that people would be tested before they went back to care homes. We only subsequently found out that that hadn't happened.
"The government rhetoric was we put a shield around care homes – it was complete nonsense.
"Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes."
Mr Hancock denied this, saying: "My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it."
Mr Cummings claimed he could back up his claim with evidence – but none of the texts or documents shared in the newsletter prove Mr Hancock made the pledge.