Former senior civil servants have expressed surprise and concern over the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case’s “unprofessional” and witty WhatsApp chats with Matt Hancock during the Covid crisis, saying they appear to be highly unusual departures from normal standards.
Case’s correspondence with Hancock has surfaced in a leak of the Telegraph known as the Lockdown Files, which shows the head of the civil service saying it was “hilarious” that some travelers were allowed into the country Hotels were being “locked” after entering.
Case also described Boris Johnson as a “nationally unreliable figure” in a message, while slamming opposition to Covid restrictions on businesses by the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as “bonkers”.
In another exchange, Hancock said Johnson called to discuss the number of coronavirus cases. Case responded: “I think it suits us well that he’s still focused on these numbers. I think that helps keep him honest.”
The files give details of how ministers, special advisers and senior officials in the case, the head of the civil service, were preparing their response to the pandemic in an emergent forum.
Two former permanent secretaries told the Guardian that the tone of Case’s messages with Hancock was unusual and they did not believe previous cabinet secretaries would have been so informal with ministers.
Jill Rutter, a former senior civil servant who is now a fellow at Changing Europe in the UK, said: “He is obviously very good at gaining the trust of senior politicians and one of the things about WhatsApp is that it really Replicates the conversations you have in. Is between people in corridors and around coffee machines. It provides insight into case style.
“But to me the whole point is that it seems a bit casual. I’m not sure you would expect this kind of informality and chatter, even in a private office. I can see that these were extraordinary times, but the thing that What impressed me more than the casualness, the thing that was really shocking was her saying that it was ‘hilarious’ that people are being thrashed in quarantine hotels. This is the kind of thing you can really hear from civil servants. Don’t expect them to say because they are supposed to serve the public.
A former permanent secretary said they were “not completely surprised” but found it “extremely unprofessional” and could not imagine such correspondence under Mark Sedwill or Jeremy Heywood. He added that there is usually some degree of distance between a cabinet secretary and cabinet ministers, with any communication being kept “friendly but formal”.
Another former official, who held a senior public position, said the discussion on WhatsApp was unusually casual and “reminiscent of the American expression ‘locker-room chat’.”
The case is already under pressure on several fronts due to its involvement in several controversies under Johnson, who appointed him in September 2020. Running the investigation. Questions were also raised over his oversight when Johnson was given the signoff to receive an £800,000 loan facility from a distant relative, and Nadim Zahavi was given a senior cabinet role despite concerns over his tax affairs.
Number 10 said on Monday that Sunak has full confidence in the case.
A friend of Case said: “I’m sure he would be embarrassed by these comments, but they were made in the heat of the moment in the midst of a national crisis answering to a cabinet minister. They do not represent the full policy making process.” . We’re talking about informal language used in a casual setting here.” The Cabinet Office declined to comment.
The Telegraph published more messages from the Lockdown Files on Monday. Hancock’s correspondence was leaked to the paper by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who co-wrote the MP’s memoir, Epidemic Diaries.
This follows a discussion between James Slack, the Prime Minister’s former official spokesman, the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Chris Whitty, and the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, on guidance on Covid restrictions for people living in separated relationships appeared to show. ,
A message on Slack said: “Sorry about that, but the biggest question today for our finest political reporters is: Can I see my boyfriend or girlfriend if we don’t live in the same household?”
Vallance replied that “the aim is to break contact between families, so the strict answer is they should not meet or be locked in the same household. But Chris can offer loving advice to the official CMO.”
Whitty said the rules should be relaxed to encourage public compliance, and added: “I think some realism will be needed. If it’s a regular participant, I don’t think people will see them for three weeks or more.” Will listen to the advice not to watch for a long time.
“We may say: if they can avoid seeing each other they should, and if any of them has an old or infirm person in their house they must.”
At a press conference later that day, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries took a hard line, saying that non-cohabiting couples had to choose between following the guidelines for separate households and living together. needed.