The explosive remark is said to have come after he reluctantly imposed the second lockdown, sources told the Mail.
Downing Street last night strongly denied the Prime Minister made the comment, insisting it was ‘just another lie’. But those who say they heard it stand by their claim.
It allegedly came after Michael Gove warned Mr Johnson that soldiers would be needed to guard hospitals overrun with Covid victims.
Boris Johnson (pictured)said he would rather see ‘bodies pile high in their thousands’ than order a third lockdown, it was claimed last night
It allegedly came after Michael Gove (pictured) warned Mr Johnson that soldiers would be needed to guard hospitals overrun with Covid victims
Dominic Cummings ‘is STILL in the frame as the chatty rat leaker as the investigation has moved on since he left Downing Street’, sources claim
Dominic Cummings is still considered a suspect in the hunt for the government’s ‘chatty rat’ leaker, sources have claimed.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will be grilled by MPs this afternoon about a string of explosive allegations made by Mr Cummings.
The PM’s former-svengali denied being the ‘chatty rat’ and on Friday accused Henry Newman, a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds, of being the most likely culprit.
Mr Cummings said Mr Case told Boris Johnson that the leak came from ‘neither me nor the then Director of Communications (Lee Cain)’.
But Mr Case is expected to deny claims that he cleared Mr Cummings over involvement in the ‘chatty rat’ leak last year, which led to revelations in the Daily Mail that Mr Johnson was poised to order a second national lockdown in October.
Those plans were leaked to the press than night, forcing Mr Johnson to bring forward an announcement that a four-week closure would happen in November.
A government source last night said the inquiry – conducted with the assistance of MI5 – was ongoing, adding: ‘It has neither found anyone responsible, nor ruled anyone out.’
A separate Whitehall source told The Times that while Cummings’ claims he was cleared ‘could well have been true some week in November last year’ – this was no longer the case.
They added: ‘Things change. No one has been exonerated and the investigation is still active.’
He agreed to fresh restrictions but his frustration is said to have boiled over after the crucial meeting at No 10 in October. ‘No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!’ he is alleged to have raged.
The Prime Minister is also reported to have made similarly blunt observations during the crisis.
The disclosure comes amid a spectacular public war of words between him and his former chief of staff Dominic Cummings.
Mr Cummings is expected to use his appearance before a Commons committee next month to challenge the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic.
He tweeted over the weekend that the failure to introduce travel bans more quickly was ‘a very important issue re: learning from the disaster’.
The Prime Minister’s critics say the third lockdown he introduced in January could have been avoided had he yielded to pressure from Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock to make the second lockdown more stringent. Hopes of avoiding a fourth lockdown have been boosted by the success of the vaccine programme.
But Mr Johnson has still warned some restrictions may have to remain – or be reimposed – to safeguard against the risk of another Covid wave.
In other developments:
- Cabinet Secretary Simon Case prepared for a grilling by MPs today in which he is expected to deny clearing Mr Cummings of involvement in leaking plans for the second lockdown;
- Allies of Mr Cummings claimed he had kept audio recordings of sensitive conversations with senior ministers and officials after he left No 10;
- Environment minister Zac Goldsmith hit out at ‘sexist’ claims that the PM’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, who helped force out Mr Cummings, is acting as the power behind the throne;
- Mr Johnson also faces demands for an inquiry into the row over the lavish makeover for his and Miss Symonds’s Downing Street flat.
Mr Johnson’s comments about lockdowns were said to have been made at the end of October when Britain was hit by a second wave of coronavirus.
The Prime Minister found himself outgunned when Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock led the demand for a new clampdown on the disease.
The disclosure comes amid a spectacular public war of words between him and his former chief of staff Dominic Cummings (pictured)
By October, Mr Sunak had moved closer to the stance of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (both pictured) strongly backed the position of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock
Earlier in the pandemic, he had been supported by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who warned of the dire economic consequences of national lockdowns.
By October, Mr Sunak had moved closer to the stance of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance strongly backed the position of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock.
A well-placed source said: ‘The PM hates the idea of lockdowns. He kept saying “there’s no evidence they even work” and that “it goes against everything I’ve stood for”. But he was outnumbered – and ended up sitting in sullen silence as the others told him he had no choice.’
The Prime Minister found himself outgunned when Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) led the demand for a new clampdown on the disease
The tipping point reportedly came after a passionate speech by Mr Gove at a meeting with Mr Johnson and senior ministers.
‘Michael said that if he didn’t impose a second lockdown there would be a catastrophe,’ a source close to Mr Gove said.
‘Hospitals would be over-run, people would be turned away from A&E and people would be dying in hospital corridors and hospital car parks.
‘He told the PM he would have to send soldiers into hospitals to keep people out.
‘TV film of that would be beamed around the globe. Was that the image of his post-Brexit Britain he wanted the world to see? It was devastating. The PM had no answer.’
Insiders say that from that point Mr Johnson ‘gave in to the inevitable’ – and agreed to a second lockdown. But he also made it clear that it was to be the last, and under no circumstances world he agree to a third lockdown.
Mr Johnson also faces demands for an inquiry into the row over the lavish makeover for his and Miss Symonds’s Downing Street flat
One said: ‘You have understand how difficult this has been for the PM. The free spirit libertarian and journalist mischief maker in him wanted to join the lockdown sceptics revolt. But faced with being told by his Cabinet and experts that he would be held responsible for tens of thousands of deaths he knew he had no choice.’
Mr Case may face questions about Mr Johnson’s reported comments when he appears in front of the public administration committee this afternoon.
Mr Cummings is expected to accuse the Prime Minister of putting lives at risk by blocking Priti Patel’s plan to close the borders at the start of the Covid crisis.
He is expected to tell MPs he backed the Home Secretary’s move to ban flights from coronavirus hotspots.
A No 10 spokesman last night insisted the PM would not be distracted by the row, adding: ‘The Government is totally focused on delivering the people’s priorities as we continue our vaccination programme and recover from coronavirus, creating new jobs and building back better.’
Cummings ‘has key No 10 tapes’
Dominic Cummings kept audio recordings of key conversations in government, an ally claimed last night
Dominic Cummings kept audio recordings of key conversations in government, an ally claimed last night.
The former chief adviser is locked in an explosive war of words with Boris Johnson after Downing Street accused him of a string of damaging leaks.
No 10 attempted to rubbish his claims on Friday night, saying it was not true that the Prime Minister had discussed ending a leak inquiry after a friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds was identified as the likely suspect.
But an ally of Mr Cummings said the PM’s former chief adviser had taken a treasure trove of material with him when he left Downing Street last year, including audio recordings of discussions with senior ministers and officials.
‘Dom has stuff on tape,’ the ally said. ‘They are mad to pick a fight with him because he will be able to back up a lot of his claims.
‘He used to tell advisers to record things all the time – discussions with officials. He has also kept a lot of his correspondence.’
A Whitehall source yesterday said officials did not know the full extent of the material
Mr Cummings has. He has denied leaking and has already told MPs that aspects of the Government’s approach to Covid went ‘catastrophically wrong’.
Johnson ‘took out a loan’ to pay for lavish makeover of his flat
By Jason Groves Political Editor for the Daily Mail
Britain’s top civil servant will be quizzed over the lavish refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat today amid claims that the Prime Minister has had to take out a personal loan to pay for it.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will be grilled by MPs this afternoon about a string of explosive allegations made by Dominic Cummings.
Mr Case is expected to deny claims that he cleared Mr Cummings over involvement in the ‘chatty rat’ leak last year, which led to revelations in the Daily Mail that Mr Johnson was poised to order a second national lockdown.
A government source said last night the inquiry, conducted with the assistance of MI5, was ongoing, adding: ‘It has neither found anyone responsible, nor ruled anyone out.’ But Mr Case is also expected to face detailed questions about the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street used by Mr Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds.
Adding to the controversy, one senior Tory said last night: ‘Boris had to take out a personal loan to cover the cost. You have to be pretty wealthy to have £60,000 lying around. He has just emerged from an expensive divorce.’
Britain’s top civil servant will be quizzed over the lavish refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat today amid claims that the Prime Minister has had to take out a personal loan to pay for it
The Electoral Commission said yesterday it was still seeking answers from Tory chiefs about whether party funds or donations were used.
Labour last night wrote to the commission calling for a full investigation. On Friday, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson wanted ‘donors to secretly pay for the renovation’ – which he said was ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules’.
The Mail had revealed that Mr Johnson asked Tory donors to help with the cost of the makeover which is said to run to six figures. On Friday, the Cabinet Office said the cost of ‘painting, sanding and floorboards’ had been paid from a £30,000 maintenance allowance, but ‘any costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the Prime Minister personally’.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the claims made by Mr Cummings were ‘tittle-tattle’ and the PM had ‘met the cost of the flat’.
Downing Street made no comment last night.
Lonely losing battle of PM who’d resisted the clamour for lockdowns: Yes, his outburst was shocking. But libertarian Boris knew it wasn’t just Covid lives at stake, writes ANDREW PIERCE
As No10 officials and senior ministers joined Boris Johnson in the Cabinet Room the mood was bleak. For weeks the Prime Minister had been rejecting calls to impose a second lockdown, not just from Cabinet colleagues but also from the scientists.
But, with the number of Covid infections and deaths on an obstinately upward curve, the pressure to take decisive action was becoming irresistible.
Gathered in the room alongside Boris on Friday, October 30, last year were Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor: the so-called Quad directing the fight against Covid. Dominic Cummings, then Johnson’s chief adviser, was also present.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, and Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, were given the floor and they proceeded to rehearse their well-worn arguments for total lockdown in England.
But the Prime Minister was still in no mood to acquiesce. ‘I will never be able to sell it to the Tory Party,’ he said.
It was at this point that Gove jumped in to make a short but passionate speech. ‘If we don’t do this now we will have to go into a much harder lockdown in three or four weeks,’ he argued. He then conjured up a dystopian image of what the streets would look like if immediate action wasn’t taken.
‘We will be forced to put the Army on the doors of hospitals to turn the sick away as the NHS will be overwhelmed. We will not be forgiven and the Tories will be driven from power.’
You could have heard a pin drop in the Cabinet Room. Sunak, who had traditionally been very hawkish about lockdowns because of their devastating impact on the economy, sided with Gove. Hancock, who had always been in favour of more draconian restrictions, made it three to one against the PM.
Tired and irritable, his hair even more dishevelled than usual, Boris looked utterly deflated.
Only ten days earlier he had told the Commons that the idea of another lockdown was ‘the height of absurdity’. It would ‘turn the lights out’.
If he ordered a U-turn, he knew his political opponents – especially on the Tory benches – would have a field day.
Cummings, who has always held Tory MPs in total contempt, urged him to ignore the carping and do the right thing. After five weeks of trench warfare in Downing Street, Boris reluctantly agreed.
It was shortly after this meeting that he allegedly uttered the phrases that have turned out to be such hostages to fortune: ‘no more ****ing lockdowns’ regardless of the ‘bodies’.
Boris – who once said the real hero of the film Jaws was the mayor of Amity who kept the beaches open despite the presence of a killer shark – was devastated that he had lost the battle.
‘He said he hadn’t gone into Downing Street to shut down the economy,’ said the source, ‘but he was in a minority of one.’
The harsh reality is that – despite his rhetoric – Boris had been fighting a lonely losing battle for some time.
Only six weeks earlier, in an attempt to placate his Tory critics, he had told the Commons that a second national lockdown would have ‘disastrous’ financial consequences for the country and that the Government would do ‘everything in our power to prevent it’.
Yet just three days after that speech the lockdown moved closer when the Government announced that people who did not live in the same household, or who were not in a support bubble, could not gather in groups of more than six.
Boris agreed the rule of six as a compromise. His scientists had put him under pressure to go even further. And that pressure did not let up. Within 48 hours, the Quad was urged by Sage – the committee of scientists that advised the Government – to urgently introduce a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
It warned the UK faced a ‘very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences’ on its current course. The seven-day average of daily cases stood at 4,964; there were 1,502 Covid patients in hospital; and daily deaths stood at 28.
The Sage group proposed the circuit-breaker – a short period of lockdown to drive new infections down – to head off a second wave of the virus that ‘would fall disproportionately on the frailest in our society, [people on] lower incomes and BAME communities’.
In the Quad meeting the scientists had Cummings safely onside but even Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor who had been an implacable opponent of inflicting any more harm on the economy, was coming round to the idea of more restrictions.
‘Ever the pragmatist, he didn’t want to be lumbered with any political damage if Covid soared and he was seen to have argued for putting jobs before lives,’ said one insider.
But Boris, true to his libertarian instincts, was opposed to once more shutting shopping malls, pubs and restaurants.
The source added: ‘He warned of the huge impact it would have on the economy, on the mental health of people, and reminded everyone enforcing lockdowns comes with huge costs.’ He also knew politically there would be trouble among restive Tory MPs who were increasingly opposed to talk of more restrictions. It is a tribute to Boris’s force of personality and – it has to be said – the power of his office that his view prevailed.
Three days later, in another compromise with the scientists, the tier system was brought in. This divided England into medium, high and very high zones.
Even as he announced the new rules Boris was clear they would go no further.
‘The social and economic trauma of a full lockdown, shuttering our lives and our society… would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services,’ he said.
The very next day the news that Boris had overruled the scientists the previous month on the circuit-breaker was leaked to the media. The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who had ordered his MPs to abstain in a Commons vote on the rule of six, saw his opportunity to score political points. He urged the Government to impose a circuit-breaker of between two and three weeks to prevent a ‘sleepwalk into… a bleak winter’.
While the Tories attacked Starmer’s opportunism, the public backed him, with 54 per cent surveyed by YouGov saying they felt the Government should have introduced a national lockdown in September, while just 28 per cent of the 4,222 adults polled disagreed.
Despite the growing pressure, Boris was sticking to his guns and at a press conference two days later said the Government ‘cannot rule anything out’, but expressed his desire to avoid a national lockdown because of ‘the damaging health, economic and social effects it would have’.
His stance won the backing of senior Tory MPs, including Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs.
A few days later in the Commons, he uttered the phrase that would return to haunt him, when he condemned the idea of a second national lockdown as ‘the height of absurdity’ that would ‘turn the lights out’.
So the scene was set for the PM to announce the biggest U-turn of his premiership. He knew he now faced a greater political challenge than the first lockdown in March when much of the country was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He had been told months earlier by the scientists that a second wave in the winter would be more deadly and that he should manage the public’s expectations. But he had ignored that advice.
‘Typical Boris, he wanted to be bullish and optimistic, which is his nature. He couldn’t face dishing out a negative message all year round,’ says the source.
‘He wanted to be positive. He thought people were already fed-up without him adding to it, so decided to try to be upbeat.’
An admirable sentiment, and just like the mayor in Jaws. But things didn’t end well for the citizens of Amity.