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by Kirsteen Paterson
25 January 2024
Nicola Sturgeon called Boris Johnson a 'f****ing clown' in Covid WhatsApp message

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House | Alamy

Nicola Sturgeon called Boris Johnson a 'f****ing clown' in Covid WhatsApp message

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon branded Boris Johnson a "f***ing clown" as he announced a UK-wide lockdown, it has emerged.

The comment was made in a WhatsApp exchange with her chief of staff Liz Lloyd in October 2020.

Appearing before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which is sitting in Edinburgh, Lloyd was asked if Sturgeon's relationship with the then prime minister had by that point "broken down".

Lloyd, who described herself as Sturgeon's "thought partner", said: "I think 'broken down' to a degree overstates what was there to break.

"They had met on a number of occasions, there was always a politeness, a businesslike approach to it. When Boris Johnson first became prime minister and came to meet Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, they had a discussion that I think has been described in public as more like a debate – two intelligent people engaged in discussion about policy issues. When we got to Covid, I think it was much harder. 

"It was evident in his exchanges with the Scottish Government, with the first minister, and I think with the other first ministers because we would all be on the same call, that he didn't want to be on those calls. He wasn't necessarily well briefed on those calls and he wasn't listening to the points we were making on those calls. And so, I think, engagement with him came to be seen as slightly pointless during this period."

In the exchange, Lloyd said Johnson is using "the 15 minutes between the rugby and Strictly to lock the country up," adding: "Let us never do this like this." 

Sturgeon said the handling of the UK Government's communications is "awful", calling the announcement "f***ing excruciating" and saying the Scottish Government does not "get nearly enough credit for how much better than them we are". She told Lloyd that "his utter incompetence in every sense is now offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere," going on to say: "He's a f***ing clown."

Lloyd told Usman Tariq, the junior counsel to the inquiry, that she "always felt accountable to the public" and was part of a "core team" attending Cabinet, Cobra and other meetings.

She denied that decisions were made "on the hoof" and said WhatsApp exchanges between her and Sturgeon did not show the discussions behind government actions.

She said that while "the science underpinned everything", advice from scientists had to be considered against concerns about application. 

In discussions with Sturgeon over the number of households allowed to meet at Christmas, Lloyd sought a level she said was "more normal". She told the inquiry her suggestion of six people from three households came from official proposals, saying: "Sometimes when you looked at the advice that was given, you have to think through what this will mean for people living their lives in practice."

Cabinet meeting notes from June 2020 state that consideration should be given to restarting work on independence, in light of the pandemic experience and Brexit. Lloyd said the focus was on the relevance of Brexit, which was happening during the public health emergency, and her notes suggested there was no "active discussion" on the matter.

Notes showed Lloyd recording "political tactics" in dealing with the UK Government over furlough and other issues. She said it was not about creating a "spat" but using public pressure to force the UK Government's hand.

However, in messages to Sturgeon she said she wanted "an old fashioned rammy" so she could "think about something other than sick people".

Lloyd told the inquiry she was at that point "looking for a public spat for a purpose". She said she was frustrated that the Scottish Government was "not able to manage the pandemic at this point in time in the way that [it] wanted".

Communcation with the UK Government was more effective when Dominic Raab was covering for Johnson during his hospitalisation for Covid, she said, and it felt like Johnson was "reading a script" in meetings with leaders of devolved administrations.

The inquiry continues.

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