Johnson described schools facemask policy as ‘totally f***** up’

Former prime minister Boris Johnson was questioned about the masks policies for schools at the Covid-19 inquiry (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson was questioned about the masks policies for schools at the Covid-19 inquiry (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Boris Johnson referred to his own Government’s facemask policy as “f***** up” in the summer of 2020, the Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

It also emerged the former prime minister would “bullshit ‘no surrender’ ideas” from his ministers and then come to regret it later.

Mr Johnson was being questioned on Thursday about his u-turn on policies around facemasks in secondary schools in August 2020.

Simon Parry court case
Sir Gavin Williamson had initially insisted masks were not required in schools (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

At the time, then-education secretary Gavin Williamson had insisted measures being adopted by schools to limit the spread of coronavirus meant masks were not required.

However, the Government revised its recommendations following updated guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which said: “Children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults”.

A statement from the Department for Education on August 25 2020 said that “nationwide, while the government is not recommending face coverings are necessary, schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas if they believe that is right in their particular circumstances”.

The inquiry was shown a WhatsApp message from the former prime minister to his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, in which he wrote: “I am on a train trying to make sense of our totally f***** up facemask policy.”

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
In WhatsApp messages to Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson referred to the policy as being ‘f***** up’ (James Manning/PA)

When pressed by core participant Samuel Jacobs, who is representing Trades Union Congress (TUC), he said: “The adjective I use, which I won’t repeat, was intended to convey my sense that a mask policy which had been in position, one, was going to have to change because of changing scientific advice and changing appreciation of the value of masks.

“That was the reality. It was going to be politically difficult to execute, but we were going to have to do it.”

The probe also heard Mr Johnson would back “bullshit ‘no surrender’ ideas” from the likes of Mr Williamson, then-health secretary Matt Hancock and then-transport secretary Grant Shapps.

WhatsApp messages between Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Mr Cummings and former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain were shown to the inquiry.

Mr Case wrote that the former prime minister had been advised to “create permissive guidance around masks” weeks earlier “because we could foresee it was going to be a drama in Sept”.

The exchange claims Mr Williamson was in “no surrender mode” and “didn’t want to give an inch to the unions, so said we should hold firm. PM gave him full support in this approach.”

The messages go on to say: “At every turn, PM backs bullshit “no surrender” ideas from Hancock/Williamson/Shapps then totally regrets it later.”

Mr Case also referred to scientists as “slow and too purist”, adding that Number 10 was finding it “impossible to hold debatable positions” due to a “massive trust deficit” with the government at the time.