Boris Johnson described health secretary Matt Hancock's performance on coronavirus testing last year as "totally f***ing hopeless", according to private text messages published by former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings.
In a lengthy blog post, Mr Cummings also claims that the British prime minister plans to leave office soon after the next general election “to make money and have fun”.
Mr Cummings said he was publishing the text messages and documents from government meetings to counteract what he said was a false version of events from Mr Hancock and Downing Street.
“If No 10 is prepared to lie so deeply and widely about such vital issues of life and death last year, it cannot be trusted now either on Covid or any other crucial issue of war and peace,” he wrote.
“Hancock continues to have direct responsibility for things like dealing with variants and care homes. Having such a secretary of state in a key role is guaranteed disaster. It is urgent for public safety that he is removed.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman did not question the authenticity of the leaked messages but said he would not respond to each of Mr Cummings’s claims.
In an exchange of messages with the prime minister in March 2020, Mr Cummings pointed to the United States increasing mass testing from 2,200 a day to 100,000 a day in just two weeks. He complained that Britain was only conducting between 5,000 and 7,000 tests a day and that Mr Hancock was sceptical about being able to increase that rate to 10,000 a day the following week.
“Totally f***ing hopeless,” Mr Johnson replied.
Mr Cummings said he proposed to the prime minister that Mr Hancock’s role as health secretary should be “divvied up” to remove from him the responsibility for procuring PPE and other key challenges. Mr Johnson suggested that Mr Hancock could be replaced by cabinet office minister Michael Gove.
“On PPE it’s a disaster. I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on,” he said in a text message to Mr Cummings.
Mr Johnson has until now declined to engage with the criticism aimed at him from Mr Cummings since they fell out last year, insisting that an official inquiry next year will deal with all questions surrounding his government’s handling of the pandemic. But Mr Cummings said MPs should not wait for an inquiry before seeking out the truth about what happened.
“The public inquiry cannot fix this. It will not start for years and it is designed to punt the tricky parts until after this PM has gone – unlike other PMs, this one has a clear plan to leave at the latest a couple of years after the next election, he wants to make money and have fun not ‘go on and on’. So we either live with chronic dysfunction for another five years or some force intervenes,” he wrote.
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said Mr Cummings’s latest revelations offered more evidence that the government was too slow to lock down, too slow to deliver PPE and too slow to protect care homes.
“With this evidence that even the prime minister thinks Hancock is useless, why in the worst pandemic in our history has he left him in charge? Hancock and Johnson need to respond to these latest revelations and immediately start the public inquiry into their handling of the pandemic,” Mr Madders said.