Sturgeon called Boris Johnson a 'f****** clown' in WhatsApps during Covid, inquiry hears

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon branded Boris Johnson a 'f****** clown' in a series of messages during the then-prime minister’s 'f****** excruciating' announcement of a second national lockdown for England, as Louise Scott reports

Nicola Sturgeon called Boris Johnson “a f****** clown” in pandemic WhatsApp messages, the Covid-19 inquiry has heard.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry was shown messages between the former Scottish first minister and her chief adviser Liz Lloyd, in which she strongly criticised the then prime minister when he was announcing a second national lockdown on October 31, 2020.

Ms Sturgeon criticised his address to the nation, describing it as "f****** excruciating", and said the UK Government's communications were "awful".

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry is currently sitting in Edinburgh.

The former first minister said of Mr Johnson: “His utter incompetence in every sense is now offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere.” Ms Lloyd said she was “offended” on behalf of special advisers everywhere.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

The chief adviser also claimed the Scottish Government had to "mitigate the chaos that appeared" around some of the decisions made by the UK Government.

Junior counsel to the inquiry Usman Tariq asked Ms Lloyd if the relationship between the then first minister and then Prime Minister Boris Johnson had “broken down”.

She replied: ”That overstates what was there to break.”

Former adviser Liz Lloyd began giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Thursday morning. Credit: PA

She said of Boris Johnson: “He didn’t want to be on those calls, he wasn’t well briefed, he wasn’t listening, engagement with him became slightly pointless."

She said Ms Sturgeon’s strong language showed her “frustration” towards Mr Johnson.

Ms Lloyd told the inquiry she was one of the former first minister’s closest confidantes. 

The inquiry also heard how Ms Sturgeon may have communicated with Ms Lloyd using a personal phone.

Usman Tariq, junior counsel to the inquiry asked: “As her chief of staff, did you ever advise her that it might be a good idea to use a government-issued phone to conduct government business?”

Ms Lloyd said: “I don’t know that I did. I am aware that on ministers’ personal phones the government installs a sort of secure app, so I would be less concerned with the device and more concerned with the security.”

In response to ongoing scrutiny at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry over messages exchanged by ministers and officials during the pandemic, current First Minister Humza Yousaf announced on Thursday there will be an externally-led review into the use of mobile messaging apps in the Scottish Government.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Mr Yousaf said: “I do believe that there are challenges in relation to our use of WhatsApp, it has not been frankly the Government’s finest hour in relation to handling those requests and I put my hands up to that, unlike of course other governments.

Ms Sturgeon was under pressure last week after the inquiry said the former first minister "appeared to have retained no messages whatsoever" from the pandemic.

But in a statement on Saturday Ms Sturgeon said messages communicated through "informal means" were given to the inquiry last year.

She admitted that the messages hadn't been retained on her own device, but was "able to obtain copies which I submitted to the inquiry last year."

Ms Sturgeon said she was not a member of any WhatsApp groups, and "the number of people I communicated with through informal messaging at all was limited."

Mr Yousaf will give evidence to the inquiry later on Thursday amid ongoing scrutiny over messages exchanged by ministers and officials during the pandemic.

When Mr Johnson gave evidence to the inquiry in December, he apologised for the "loss and suffering" of Covid victims.

The former prime minister said he looks back "in horror", and admitted his government seemed "oblivious" to the severity of the virus in February 2020.

The ex-PM didn't deny asking then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak why they were "damaging [the] economy for people who will die anyway soon", labelling his language "an indication of the cruelty of the choice that we faced" during the pandemic.

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