Top aide called Johnson's government 'brutal useless and feral' and wanted Hancock sacked

Giving evidence, the then head of the civil service, Lord Sedwill, said he wanted Matt Hancock sacked over issues of truthfulness. ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

A former top government aide wanted Matt Hancock sacked as health secretary to "save lives and protect the NHS," the Covid inquiry heard on Wednesday.

WhatsApp messages, read out at the hearing, between Simon Case and his predecessor Lord Mark Sedwill paint a picture of a 'feral' Downing Street during the pandemic.

Mr Case, then-permanent secretary at No 10, wrote on June 5 2020: "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."

Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service. Credit: PA

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

Further evidence from a diary entry from August 2020, showed then-thief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance wrote that Lord Sedwill had complained "this administration is brutal and useless".

Downing Street and Mr Hancock have received repeated criticism at the Covid-19 inquiry, with Lord Sedwill, who faced questioning today, being the latest to express serious concerns.

The inquiry heard how in one WhatsApp exchange with current Cabinet Secretary Mr Case, Lord Sedwill joked it was necessary to remove Mr Hancock to "save lives and protect the NHS".

Dame Priti said Covid regulations were 'solely the domain of the Department of Health and Social Care.' Credit: PA

He told Lady Hallett's inquiry that the remark was a play on the pandemic-era slogan and was an example of "gallows humour".

"I had raised my concerns with the prime minister. That was not intended for him to remove Mr Hancock but to take a grip on the issue," Lord Sedwill said.

In an extract from Boris Johnson's witness statement, the former prime minister said: "I did not have any concerns regarding the performance of any Cabinet minister including Matt Hancock.

"I do not think that I received any advice from Sir Mark Sedwill that Matt should be removed."

Lord Sedwill said he did not provide any formal advice to sack Mr Hancock, but told the hearing Mr Johnson "would have been under no illusions as to my view about what was best".

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: "Mr Hancock has supported the inquiry throughout and will respond to all questions when he gives his evidence."

Earlier today Lord Sedwill apologised for suggesting in March 2020 that people should hold chicken pox-style parties to build herd immunity against coronavirus.

The ex-national security adviser admitted making the remark, but insisted he was only giving an analogy to shielding the most vulnerable as others developed immunity.

Lord Mark Sedwill, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak observe a minute's silence in a tribute to the NHS staff. Credit: PA

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

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson's former top adviser, criticised Lord Sedwill for the suggestion in a WhatsApp message shown to the inquiry, which said: "Sedwill babbling about chickenpox god f****** help us."

According to Mr Cummings, early in the pandemic Lord Sedwill suggested to the then-prime minister that he should go on television and "explain that this is like the old days with chickenpox and people are going to have chickenpox parties".

On Wednesday, addressing families, Lord Sedwill told the inquiry: "These were private exchanges and I certainly had not expected for this to become public.

"I understand how, in particular the interpretation that has been put on it, it must have come across as someone in my role was both heartless and thoughtless about this and I genuinely am neither.

"But I do understand the distress that must have caused and I apologise for that."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...