Cabinet Secretary Simon Case described Boris Johnson as a “distrusted figure” during the COVID pandemic and warned the public were unlikely to follow isolation rules set out by him, leaked messages have revealed.
Mr Case said to then health secretary Matt Hancock the public needed to be told to isolate by “trusted local figures, not nationally distrusted figures like the PM“.
The revelation is the latest from more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages leaked to The Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she helped Mr Hancock write his book, Pandemic Diaries.
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Mr Case was appointed to his position as cabinet secretary, the PM’s most senior policy adviser, and head of the civil service by Mr Johnson in September 2020, a month before the WhatsApp conversation with Mr Hancock on 30 October 2020.
The revelations have prompted calls from some senior Tories for Mr Case to step down and on Saturday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was forced to say he retained confidence in him. The PM’s spokesman reiterated that again on Monday.
In the conversation, Mr Hancock told Mr Case he was going to “get stuck in and drive this roll out” and said: “PM is completely right on this. Delegate delegate delegate.”
Mr Case replied: “Agree. My concern is that we can figure out how to test, what we don’t know how to do is get people to isolate.
“We are losing this war because of behaviour – this is the thing we have to turn around (which probably also relies on people hearing about isolation from trusted figures, not nationally distrusted figures like the PM, sadly.”
Mr Hancock then said: “Sure – but even with a massive rocket up them the lorries won’t roll until late next week – so we can fix the new isolation rules between now and then.”
In later messages between Mr Case and Mr Hancock, the pair joked about travellers having to isolate on return to the UK.
On 16 February 2021, just after the UK introduced hotel quarantine for those returning from specific countries, Mr Case said: “Any idea how many people we locked up in hotels yesterday?”
Mr Hancock said: “None. But 149 chose to enter the country and are now in Quarantine Hotels due to their own free will!”
“Hilarious,” Mr Case responded.
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After it was revealed Mr Case dismissed concerns about COVID rules as “pure Conservative ideology” he was accused of Left-wing bias by senior Tories.
In another WhatsApp conversation, Mr Case described Mr Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, of “going bonkers” in a row over contact tracing.
He also said Sir Alok Sharma, the then business secretary, would be “mad” to oppose it.
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The cabinet secretary is already facing pressure over his role over the appointment of Nadhim Zahawi, partygate, Mr Johnson’s No 10 decoration and bullying allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.
Mr Case has faced questions over what he knew about Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs before Mr Sunak appointed him as Conservative Party chairman. Mr Zahawi was forced to step down after an investigation by HMRC.
And The Times reported Mr Case was personally informed of a written complaint against Mr Raab months before Mr Sunak appointed him.