Boris Johnson had clearly come to the Covid Inquiry intending to be magnanimous about everyone, even advisers like Dominic Cummings who had ended up causing him so much grief – and who had not been at all complimentary about him in their evidence to the inquiry. He largely stuck to that persona in the first of his two lengthy evidence sessions today, with another to come tomorrow. He repeatedly praised Matt Hancock as doing a good job in difficult circumstances and who ‘was a good public communicator’. He even tried to politely explain away the more vicious behaviour of aides within government as variously being just the sort of thing bright people do in the heat of a crisis – though he also said he had rung Helen MacNamara to apologise for the language used about her by Cummings in one of his WhatsApp groups (of which Johnson was a member).
As pre-trailed, Johnson tried to play down the significance of a lot of the WhatsApps that the Inquiry has spent so much time examining. It was notable that Hugo Keith KC made a comment early on that he wasn’t interested in the salacious aspects of the WhatsApp conversations, as though he may have noticed frustration outside the inquiry room with the amount of focus devoted to who swore at who. Johnson described the messages as ‘the kind of stuff that would never have previously come out from any administration because it’s now on instant social messages of a kind that previous governments didn’t have: this is instant chit chat between people who would normally have said this to each other’s faces’. He even went off into a character study of the kind of person who ends up in government, saying: ‘You’ve got a lot of very talented, sometimes super-confident, sometimes egotistical people who are crushed with anxiety about what is happening to their country, who are wracked secretly with self-doubt and self-criticism and externalise that by criticising others and it’s human nature’.