NICOLA Sturgeon branded Boris Johnson a “f***ing clown” and boasted about how much better the Scottish Government was at talking to the public during the pandemic, it emerged today.
Bombshell WhatsApps between the ex First Minister and her chief of staff Liz Lloyd revealed Ms Sturgeon ripping into the then Prime Minister for his announcement of a second lockdown for England at the end of October 2020.
Nicola Sturgeon also branded the PM “incompetent”[/caption]
In another message, it also emerged that Ms Lloyd said she wanted to set up a “good old fashioned rammy” with the UK Government over furlough, so she could “think about something other than sick people”.
And Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yeah I get it.”
Multiple messages with new revelations about the behind-the-scenes messages between Ms Sturgeon and her top aide were shown on screen at the UK Covid inquiry today, including the pair discussing what to do about various social restrictions.
The policy discussions emerged despite Ms Sturgeon saying on Saturday: “To be clear, I conducted the Covid response through formal processes from my office in St Andrews House, not through WhatsApp or any other informal messaging platform.”
There has been anger over Ms Sturgeon wiping her own messages – despite promising in 2021 to hand them over for public inquiries into the pandemic.
But some messages involving the ex First Minister were recovered from individuals including Ms Lloyd, who appeared at the inquiry today.
In one exchange, from Saturday, October 31, 2020, Ms Sturgeon branded the UK Government handling of a second lockdown as “f***ing excruciating”.
It came as Mr Johnson made the announcement – for England only – in a prime time TV statement.
A WhatsApp from Ms Lloyd to Ms Sturgeon at 6.40pm on October 31, 2020, said: “Hitting the 15 mins between the rugby and strictly to lock the country up… let us never do this like this.”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “Their comms are behind awful.
“We’re not perfect but we don’t get nearly enough credit for how much better than them we are.”
Ms Sturgeon then said: “This is f***ing excruciating- their comms are AWFUL. … His utter incompetence in every sense is now offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere.”
Ms Lloyd said she and other special advisers, known as spads, were “offended on behalf of Spads everywhere”.
And Ms Sturgeon then said: “He is a f*****g clown.”
There was a row at the time over furlough being extended to cover a second lockdown in England, and whether the Treasury support could be extended on a different timescale for Scotland if the Scottish Government wanted to act at a different time.
And on WhatsApp the following day, November 1, Ms Lloyd said she’d “set a timeline” for the Uk Government to answer questions about furlough on, and said this was “purely political – especially as we expect the answer to be no, it looks awful for them, and creating that kind of pressure could possibly result in a yes (though agree we shouldn’t bank on it)”.
She added: “Think I just want a good old fashioned rammy so can think about something other than sick people.”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yeah I get it. And it might be worth doing. I’ve sent a rough formulation of what I might say tomorrow – I could for it in there.”
Asked by UK Covid inquiry counsel Usman Tariq about what she meant by a “good old fashioned rammy” with the UK Government, Ms Lloyd said it was an “expression of frustration” that the Scottish Government might not be able to do what it needed to.
She said she was “angry” about the furlough issue as it “blocked the ability” of the Scottish Government to do what it wanted to do.
Mr Tariq asked: “By this stage on November 1, you are looking for a public spat with the UK Government, isn’t that fair to say?”
Ms Lloyd responded: “I am definitely looking, you know, I’m clearly looking to air the issue strongly and publicly, and as I say, in the vague hope that it might get us an answer, might get us a yes.”
Following up, inquiry chair Baroness Hallett asked: “You were looking for a public spat?”
Responding, Ms Lloyd said: “I was looking for a public spat for a purpose.
“A public spat could often deliver results if the public pressure on the UK Government was there, it had been shown in the past that they would sometimes change their mind if they felt that pressure, and what I want them to do is change their mind.”
Ms Lloyd suggested that at the time the sweary messages were sent, direct conversations were not taking place between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson.
Mr Tariq asked: “If the First Minister of Scotland thought that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was a clown or utterly incompetent, that doesn’t really create any sort of functioning relationship between the two leaders of the respective governments does it?”
Ms Lloyd responded: “I can’t think of conversations in this period that were happening directly with the Prime Minister, they were happening with Michael Gove.”
Earlier, extracts were shown on screen of discussions between Ms Sturgeon and Ms Lloyd over policies including numbers allowed at events such as weddings, and the so-called “rule of six” where household gatherings were limited.
Last week, in a statement posted on Twitter/X, Ms Sturgeon had said: “To be clear, I conducted the Covid response through formal processes from my office in St Andrews House, not through WhatsApp or any other informal messaging platform.”
But the WhatsApps between Ms Sturgeon and Ms Lloyd showed restrictions decisions being discussed and whether Scotland should remain tougher than in England.
One chat between the pair came on on September 22, 2020 – eight days after the Scottish Government announced rules permitting 20 people at events like weddings.
Ms Sturgeon was due to announce new restrictions on September 22, 2020, and Mr Tariq said her usual TV briefing had been changed from 12.15pm to 2.20pm.
In a message at 12:09pm that day, Ms Sturgeon said: “We haven’t thought about weddings. They [UK Government] are reducing but not sure what to.”
Ms Lloyd replied: “I think as we only just put them up just leave it … They aren’t reducing churches etc as far as I know and I think -though will check – that they were higher than us.”
Six minutes later, Ms Lloyd said: “They had 30…we have 20 .. They are going to 15 .. And 30 at funerals – I think we stay at 20.”
At the inquiry, Mr Tariq asked Ms Lloyd: “There wasn’t any scientific briefing that you received that appears to have informed your view ‘let’s stick with 20’, was there?”
Ms Lloyd replied: “There would have been on the decision that had very recently.. You know a day or two before.. been taken to set it at 20.”
Mr Tariq said: “Is this not an example of decisions being taken on the hoof and shortly before the First Minister is meant to be announcing restrictions?”
Ms Lloyd replied: “I would think that advising shortly before the statement on restrictions was about to be made, a decision should be taken to change the limit, without seeking scientific advice, would have been the on the hoof aspect.”
Mr Tariq said that Ms Sturgeon’s comment that “we haven’t thought about weddings” suggested not much thought had gone into the process, but Ms Lloyd rejected this.
Another WhatsApp exchange showed Ms Lloyd and Ms Sturgeon discussing limits on household restrictions on March 15, 2021, where the pair suggested various dates for easing restrictions.
Mr Tariq said: “In this exchange, you are pushing for – maybe advising – that there is a change in the rules on the amount of people who can socialise indoors, is that right?
Ms Lloyd said it referred to a “proposal” paper, and she was “pulling figures out of the air”.
There was also controversy at the time that Scotland was lagging behind in rolling out the first Covid vaccines.
And referring to Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, Ms Sturgeon said: “Jeane just sent me an alarmist text about vaccine supply – suggesting mid-April [target] might be in doubt,”
Ms Lloyd replied: “I don’t buy it – england powering ahead with no hint of an issue.”
Earlier, Ms Lloyd agreed she was a “sounding board “ for the First Minister and in the room when key decisions were being made.
Evidence published by the inquiry last week showed Ms Sturgeon would communicate with Ms Lloyd via “Text, WhatsApp and telephone”.
A Scottish Government submission said: “These informal communications were discursive or for feeding views/responses/requests to be conveyed to civil servants.
“Anything substantive would be recorded in emails.”
And referring to all of Ms Sturgeon’s messages, the submission added: “Messages were not retained, they were deleted in routine tidying up of inboxes or changing of phones, all substantive issues were recorded by Private Office emails Auto delete was not active.
“Unable to retrieve messages.
“Nothing to return.”