08 November 2023

Johnson’s ‘brutal and useless’ team were like ‘wild animals’, top officials say

08 November 2023

Working with Boris Johnson’s “brutal and useless” team was like “taming wild animals”, the two most senior civil servants who worked with the former prime minister have said.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said that Mr Johnson and his inner circle were “basically feral”, messages shown to the Covid inquiry on Wednesday revealed.

The exchange was the latest damning assessment of Mr Johnson’s administration that Mr Case made with his predecessor as the head of the Civil Service, Lord Mark Sedwill.

The PM and the people he chooses to surround himself with are basically feral

Lord Sedwill complained that Mr Johnson’s administration was “brutal and useless”, according to an August 2020 extract from the diary of former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

The peer said he does not remember saying those words but added: “I can’t actually recall what might have prompted it but… I don’t doubt Sir Patrick’s memory. It must have been a moment of acute frustration with something.”

Mr Case, days before joining No 10 in May 2020, shared his concerns with the then-cabinet secretary.

“Honestly, Mark, I don’t want to go near these people. If as part of all this there are some guarantees about behaviour, I will give it a go for a very short period.”

Lord Sedwill then gave him some advice about how to handle Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings “so he can’t run interference”.

Later, in June 2020, Mr Case wrote to Lord Sedwill: “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.”

Lord Sedwill replied: “I have the bite marks.”

Messages previously shown to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry show Mr Case describing people working in No 10 as “mad” and “poisonous” as he prepared to take over as Cabinet Secretary in September 2020.

Lord Sedwill told the inquiry how he was pressured to leave that role over a series of leaks and “distortions” spread about him by those around Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson spoke to him on May 14 2020 about standing down, but Lord Sedwill was concerned leaving would “undoubtedly be destabilising”, particularly in such an acute crisis.

He said colleagues urged him to “stick it out”, but he thought it was also “destabilising for the system to have constant hostile attacks on the cabinet secretary and also the office of the cabinet secretary”.

“In some cases things that were just simply untrue,” he said.

“There was a story put out that in his absence, I had conspired with I don’t know who to postpone the implementation of Brexit – completely untrue.”

He concluded that a “fresh start” with a new cabinet secretary chosen by Mr Johnson would be for the best and announced he would step down in June.

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