'Possible corruption': Damaging testimony from blockbuster Covid inquiry hearing

Extraordinary evidence came out at the Covid inquiry today as Boris Johnson's 'bonkers' thoughts were heard in court, as ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston reports

By Lewis Denison, Westminster Producer

Boris Johnson's character has taken a battering in an explosive day at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, with evidence from some of his closest advisers revealing how frustrating it was to work for a man they referred to as the "trolley".

His former director of communications Lee Cain said the coronavirus pandemic was the "wrong crisis" for Mr Johnson's skillset and ex-chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed vulnerable groups were “appallingly neglected” by the ex-PM.

Notes shown to the pair during their testimony at the inquiry also revealed how former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance thought his attitude to older people was "bonkers".

But Mr Johnson was far from the only person criticised during the inquiry, with Mr Cummings describing Cabinet ministers as "useless f*******".

Here are some of the key bombshell revelations to emerge from the Covid inquiry so far.

Boris Johnson wanted older people to 'accept their fate'

The former PM's apparently flippant attitude towards victims of Covid has been exposed before. He has previously denied saying "let the bodies pile high" when discussing whether to introduce a lockdown - but there has been a wealth of evidence attesting to this apparent flippancy this week.

Mr Cummings, asked whether the impact on vulnerable people such as ethnic minority groups and domestic abuse victims was considered ahead of lockdowns, said: “I would say that that entire question was almost entirely appallingly neglected by the entire planning system.”

"One of the most appalling things,” he added, was the lack of a shielding plan in March 2020 “and the Cabinet Office was trying to block us creating a shielding plan”.

The impact of the absence of a shielding plan was laid bare during the pandemic when thousands of care home residents died after being exposed to the virus.

It was also heard by the inquiry that Mr Johnson was attempting to prioritise the economy over some people's lives.

He had become "obsessed" with the idea that only people older than the UK's average life expectancy were getting ill, the inquiry heard, leading him to message an adviser saying "catch Covid, live longer".

This attitude was "bonkers", former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance wrote in his notebook in August 2020.

"He is obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going," the scientist wrote.

Sir Patrick also noted in a separate entry that Mr Johnson's party "thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just nature’s way of dealing with old people" - a position Mr Johnson said he was "not entirely sure I disagree with".

And notes taken by an aide at a March 2020 meeting between Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, suggested the ex-PM asked why the economy was being destroyed “for people who will die anyway soon”.

Boris Johnson wanted to prioritise right wing press and relationship with one newspaper was 'possible corruption'

It was revealed at the inquiry that Mr Cain thought Mr Johnson was seeking to please the right wing press by holding off on announcing a lockdown.

“The prime minister was becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of lockdowns on the economy and the political impact it was having on the right wing of the Conservative Party and the coverage of the right-leaning media,” Mr Cain wrote in his written submission to the inquiry.

Mr Cummings was asked about the relationship between Mr Johnson and the media at the inquiry.

“There was a general feeling in Number 10 that the way in which the prime minister responded constantly to the media was extremely bad and extremely damaging to the Covid response," replied Mr Cummings.

“There were specific concerns about his relationship with the Barclays in the Telegraph.

“And there were specific concerns and also suspicions of possible corruption in terms of his relationship with [George] Osborne, and funnelling money to the Evening Standard.”

ITV News' Paul Brand has the latest on the backlash the Covid government are facing following revelations made during the inquiry

Former Chancellor Mr Osborne was editor-in-chief of the London Evening Standard newspaper at the time of the pandemic, until he stepped down in March 2021.

The claim of money being funnelled refers to government ads taken out in the newspaper warning people about coronavirus.

Boris Johnson 'wanted to be viewed like the mayor from Jaws'

Mr Johnson's two most senior advisers confided in each other about how exhausted they were working with him, and one press conference performance did not fill them with confidence.

Criticising the PM's display in a Number 10 news briefing described by a journalist as "slightly confusing", Mr Cummings wrote: "It’s only a matter of time before his babbling exposes fact, he doesn’t know what to say.”

Earlier messages sent to Mr Cain on March 19, while Mr Cummings was in a meeting with Mr Johnson, read: “Get in here he’s melting down. Rishi saying bond markets may fund our debt etc. He’s back to Jaws mode w***"

This was reference to Mr Johnson's belief the real hero of the Jaws movie was the mayor who kept the beaches open despite the shark risk.

The exchange went on: “I’ve literally said same thing 10 f****** times and he still won’t absorb it.

“I’m exhausted just talking to him and stopping the trolley. I’ve had to sit here for two hours just to stop him saying stupid s***.”

Boris Johnson was a 'challenging' boss known by everyone as the 'trolley'

Mr Cain told the inquiry there was a “lack of leadership” and “chaos” in government under Mr Johnson.

Describing the attitude in government before the first lockdown was announced, Mr Cain told the inquiry: “I don’t think there was any clarity of purpose, any really serious outline, plan to deal with Covid at that particular point.”

WhatsApps between Mr Cain and Mr Cummings revealed their main frustration was at their boss's lack of direction.

Asked if the messages between him and Mr Cummings criticising Mr Johnson were “just banter”, Mr Cain said: “I think anyone that’s worked with the prime minister for a period of time will become exhausted with him sometimes.

“He can be quite a challenging character to work with – just because he will oscillate, he will take a decision from the last person in the room.

“I think that’s pretty well documented in terms of his style of operating – it is rather exhausting from time to time.”

Later, Mr Cummings was asked whether others in government had a nickname for Mr Johnson to refer to his propensity to change direction.

“Pretty much everyone called him a trolley, yeah,” Mr Cummings said.

Watch: The most damning evidence from former director of communications Lee Cain

Covid pandemic was 'wrong crisis' for Boris Johnson, top adviser says

Mr Cain told the inquiry it had become clear coronavirus was the "wrong crisis for this prime minister's skillset".

He noted the ex-PM's delay in taking decisions and tendency to "occasionally oscillate” had a negative impact.

“Indecision can sometimes be worse than the wrong decision in certain circumstances. And I think indecision probably was a theme of Covid that people did struggle with inside Number 10,” said Mr Cain.

On Monday, a WhatsApp group containing Mr Cain, Mr Cummings, and Cabinet Secretary Mr Case showed their frustration at his frequent U-turns.

"He cannot lead and we cannot support him in leading with this approach," Mr Case said. "The team captain cannot change the call on the big plays every day."

Mr Cummings said he "totally agreed", adding that Mr Johnson was "careering around" and "creating chaos".

Mr Case added: “This gov't doesn’t have the credibility needed to be imposing stuff within only days of deciding not too (sic). We look like a terrible, tragic joke… I cannot cope with this.”

Boris Johnson's Cabinet was made up of “useless f*******, morons, c****"

Mr Cummings did not hold back when describing others in government aside from Mr Johnson.

Some of the terms used by Mr Cummings in WhatsApp and email messages to describe the Cabinet included “useless f*******, morons, c****.”

Then-health secretary Matt Hancock was a particular target of Mr Cummings' attacks, labelling him a “proven liar”.

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Urging the ex-PM to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle in August 2020, Mr Cummings said: “At the moment the bubble thinks you've taken your eye off ball, you’re happy to have useless f******* in charge.

"They think that a vast amount of the chaotic news on the front pages is coming from No10 when in fact it’s coming from the Cabinet who are feral.

"If you maintain your approach of last few months, your authority will be severely weakened and you will lose good people cos (sic) they dont want to be part of something that looks like mayhem.”

Mr Cummings added: “I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or shd (sic) believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the c*** in charge of NHS still.”

He conceded his language was “appalling”, but said his “judgment of a lot of senior people was widespread”.

Pressed on whether he expressed his views too trenchantly and his opinion of the Cabinet overstated the position, the former key aide said: “No, I would say, if anything, it understated the position as events showed in 2020.”

He also said there were “a lot of the wrong people in the wrong job” in the Cabinet Office, describing a culture there of “constantly classifying everything to hide mistakes”.

Boris Johnson took a two-week holiday at start of pandemic

Mr Cain revealed how Mr Johnson was prioritising other things when coronavirus first hit the UK and even took a two-week holiday.

No notes on coronavirus were sent to the ex-PM between February 14 and 24, 2020 – a period which coincided with half-term, the inquiry heard on Monday.

Mr Cummings said coronavirus was not seen by senior people as an “imminent crisis” at the time but as “quite a distant problem”.

Asked why it was not regarded as a crisis when the virus had exploded in Italy and there were cases in the UK, Mr Cummings said: “Your fundamental point is obviously correct that there was indeed a massive crisis. It was indeed pretty insane that so many of the senior people were away on holiday at that time.”

On why Mr Cummings did not urge Mr Johnson to return early, he said: “I thought he would have said to everybody what he thought at the time, which was ‘this is another swine flu, it’s all another rubbish media hoax’.”