The top aide in charge of the Covid inquiry states that Boris Johnson lacked the necessary skills to lead during the pandemic.
The UK Covid inquiry was told that Boris Johnson’s leadership during the pandemic was hindered by his lack of appropriate skills, causing his senior aides to become fatigued from his frequent changes of mind on important choices.
According to the investigation, Lee Cain, the previous communications director for Downing Street, stated that the seriousness of the crisis demanded strong and consistent leadership, which the ex-prime minister was incapable of providing.
The ex-employee stated that Johnson’s statements during a press briefing in spring 2020 were not beneficial. The prime minister suggested that the UK could manage the Covid virus in 12 weeks, which created an unattainable standard for the country at that time.
When the lawyer involved in the investigation asked if he concurred with the WhatsApp exchanges between Dominic Cummings, a former chief aide at No 10, which implied that Johnson may not be competent for the role, Cain responded by stating, “I believe that statement is quite bold.”
I believe that it is evident that the Covid crisis was not the best match for the abilities of this prime minister. This is not to say that they are incapable of being a prime minister.
He stated: “He is someone who frequently postpones making choices. He often seeks advice from various sources and alters his stance on matters. In politics, this can sometimes be a valuable asset…”
“In situations such as the Covid pandemic, prompt decision-making is crucial and it’s important to have individuals who can stay the course and remain steadfast over an extended period of time without constantly altering plans… I believed it wasn’t the right challenge for him, primarily.”
Cain said that while it was “understandable” that Johnson had “oscillated” between locking down the country and other policy options, those moment of indecision seriously impacted on the pace of the government’s reaction – and that his approach was “more difficult to defend” later in the pandemic.
Despite being questioned by Baroness Hallett, who found his remarks “curious”, Cain stood by the decision to wait 10 days between agreeing to implement a lockdown on March 14, 2020 and actually doing so.
“He mentioned that it may be longer than desired, but it is crucial to highlight the extensive tasks and large number of individuals required to implement a nationwide lockdown. From what I gather, this demonstrates the government’s impressive pace.”
In March 2020, during discussions over WhatsApp that were reviewed by the investigation, Cummings expressed frustration with Johnson, stating that he was acting like the character “Jaws” and predicting that it would not be long before his incoherent statements revealed that he was unprepared for media interactions. Meanwhile, Cain had expressed being drained by the former prime minister.
“Anyone that’s worked with the prime minister for a period of time will become exhausted with him,” Cain told the inquiry. “Sometimes he quite challenging character to work with, just because he will oscillate, he will take a decision from the last person in the room.”