Simon Case, the most senior civil servant in the government, described Boris Johnson as “nationally distrusted figure” and warned that the public were unlikely to follow rules around isolation if they were set out by him.
The remarks were published as part of the latest tranche of the more than 100,000 private WhatsApp messages involving the former health secretary Matt Hancock sent at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which have been leaked to the Daily Telegraph.
The conversation between Hancock and Case took place on 30 October 2020, as testing capacity was being expanded nationally.
Hancock wrote to Case: “I am going to get stuck in and drive this rollout. The PM is completely right on this. Delegate delegate delegate.”
Case responded shortly afterwards: “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 local figures, not nationally distrusted figures like the PM, sadly).”
Hancock then wrote: “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.”
The conversation took place shortly after Case, a former private secretary to Prince William, was handpicked as cabinet secretary by Boris Johnson. Before this, he was Downing Street’s permanent secretary. His move from Buckingham Palace to No 10 aged 41 made him the youngest cabinet secretary since 1916.
Case was implicated in the Partygate scandal when it emerged that a party had been held in his private office. Junior colleagues were reportedly furious that Case did not have to pay a penalty for lockdown-breaking parties, despite having to recuse himself from investigating them when it emerged that one gathering was held in his office.
The latest leaked messages follow revelations last week that Case said it was hilarious that travellers had to isolate upon return to the UK.
On 16 February 2021, after holidaymakers were forced to quarantine when returning from specific countries, Case asked Hancock: “Any idea how many people we locked up in hotels yesterday?”
The then health secretary said: “None. But 149 chose to enter the country and are now in quarantine hotels due to their own free will!”
Case replied: “Hilarious.”