Cummings on Wednesday published a bombshell series of WhatsApp conversations with the prime minister during 2020, which he said was evidence of Hancock’s poor performance during the pandemic.
In the messages, Johnson appears to describe Hancock’s work on boosting Covid testing and ventilator capacity as “hopeless”, and says the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS and care staff was a “disaster”, suggesting responsibility for it is removed from the health secretary and given to Michael Gove.
Downing Street refused to dispute the authenticity of the messages but said the PM has full confidence in Hancock.
But Cummings claimed No.10 was now lying in its defence of Hancock amid criticism of his performance in the pandemic, and warned that a public inquiry “cannot fix this” as it will not fully report back “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’,” Cummings wrote in a blog.
“So we either live with chronic dysfunction for another [around] five years or some force intervenes.”
One of the key WhatsApp exchanges was dated March 27 2020, just after the UK was ordered into its first coronavirus lockdown.
In an initial message, Cummings explained to Johnson that the United States had ramped up Covid testing rapidly while the UK was lagging behind.
“US has gone from 2,200 tests a fortnight ago to 27,000 a week ago to 100,000 yesterday,” Cummings wrote at 12.09am.
“This is what we said we should do.
“Instead we are still stuck on about 5,000-7,000 and Hancock [is] saying today he’s ‘sceptical’ about getting to 10,000 by Monday which he said would ‘definitely’ happen on Tuesday.
“This means tens of thousands of NHS staff aren’t at work over the next critical three weeks - apart from my earlier point re: testing being integral to escape plan...”
Johnson replied six minutes later: “Totally fucking hopeless”.
The screenshot posted by Cummings then showed three missed calls from Johnson at 12.29am, which the aide explained was “the PM calling me to say he’d tested positive [for Covid”.
“I couldn’t find my phone buzzing, we spoke minutes later,” Cummings said.
In another message, earlier that day, Cummings told Johnson: “They’ve totally fucked up ventilators. I just heard officials admit we have been turning down ventilator offers because ‘the price has been marked up’.”
The PM replied: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
In a third message, a month later on April 27 amid reports of PPE shortages across the country, Johnson writes: “On PPE it’s a disaster.
“I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.”
Cummings goes on to explain that Gove’s department, the Cabinet Office, is “such a total shitshow I’m afraid this would have a severe risk of making it worse not better.”
The pair then agree to work on a plan to try and get then-Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to “move duffers and put in good” people at the Cabinet Office to improve PPE procurement.
Cummings concludes his blog by suggesting questions for Johnson.
“Given [Hancock’s] failures on testing, care homes and PPE why did you keep in post a secretary of state you described yourself as ‘totally fucking hopeless’ and how many more people died as a result of your failure to remove him?”
Asked if the messages published by Cummings are genuine, the PM’s official spokesperson said: “Our focus is not examining those specific images but delivering on the public’s priorities.
“I don’t plan to get into the detail of what’s been published.”
They said Johnson has “worked very closely with the health and care secretary throughout and continues to do so”.
Asked if Johnson has full confidence in Hancock, the spokesperson said: “Yes.”