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Ex-civil servant Helen MacNamara – who was branded a ‘c***’ by Dominic Cummings as he tried to get her axed – swipes at ‘macho’ behaviour in No10 at the start of pandemic as she gives evidence to Covid inquiry


The ex-civil servant branded a ‘c***’ by Dominic Cummings in furious WhatsApps messages today swiped at ‘macho’ behaviour in No10 at the start of the pandemic.

Giving evidence to the Covid inquiry, former deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara complained that her efforts to ‘inject caution’ about the risks from the virus were pushed aside.

She said by January 2020 there was a ‘low-trust environment’ between officials and Boris Johnson’s team in the wake of Brexit wrangling.

And Ms MacNamara swiped that when it came to Covid the tone of regular morning meetings she attended in No10 was ‘confident and macho’.

She said in Cabinet Mr Johnson ‘was very confident that the UK would sail through and we should all be careful of over-correcting in advance of something that was unlikely to have a huge impact and for which – in any case – we were well prepared’. 

Giving evidence to the Covid inquiry today, former deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara complained that her efforts to 'inject caution' about the risks from the virus were pushed aside

Giving evidence to the Covid inquiry today, former deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara complained that her efforts to ‘inject caution’ about the risks from the virus were pushed aside

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry yesterday revealed that Mr Cummings had labelled Ms MacNamara 'that c***' and said he would 'handcuff her and escort her' from Downing Street

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry yesterday revealed that Mr Cummings had labelled Ms MacNamara ‘that c***’ and said he would ‘handcuff her and escort her’ from Downing Street

In her witness statement to the Covid inquiry, Ms MacNamara said by January 2020 there was a 'low-trust environment' between officials and Boris Johnson's team in the wake of Brexit wrangling

In her witness statement to the Covid inquiry, Ms MacNamara said by January 2020 there was a ‘low-trust environment’ between officials and Boris Johnson’s team in the wake of Brexit wrangling

The ex-civil servant, who departed the civil service in 2021, was namechecked in proceedings on Tuesday as Mr Cummings denied he had behaved in a misogynistic way during his time in Downing Street.

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry revealed that Mr Cummings had labelled Ms MacNamara ‘that c***’ and said he would ‘handcuff her and escort her’ from Downing Street.

‘I don’t care how it’s done but that woman must be out of our hair – we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the British state while dodging stilettos from that c***,’ he wrote.

Ms MacNamara, who took up a senior role at the Premier League following her civil service exit before leaving after less than two years, played a key role in the Covid response as one of the country’s most senior officials.

The inquiry has heard that she authored a report in the early period of the pandemic on the culture at the top of Government, finding that female staff were being ‘talked over and ignored’ and ‘bad behaviours’ were being tolerated from senior leaders.

Ms MacNamara also made headlines for providing a karaoke machine for a lockdown event in Downing Street.

She was subsequently fined by the Metropolitan Police for her part in the leaving do and issued an apology for her ‘error of judgment’.

Ms MacNamara said there had been a ‘jovial tone’ in Downing Street meetings and that ‘sitting there and saying it was great and sort of laughing at the Italians was just … it felt how it sounds’.

‘I would say that undoubtedly the sort of unbelievably bullish, we’re going to be great at everything approach is not a smart mentality to have inside a government meeting,’ she said.

She said the ‘macho’ and ‘confident’ attitude was ‘not a new thing, but it seemed even more so than usual’. 

‘We were going to be world-beating at conquering Covid-19 as well as everything else,’ she added.

Asked to explain the comments by inquiry counsel Andrew O’Connor KC, the former deputy cabinet secretary said: ‘It was striking that something that I felt personally was obviously deeply worrying, that there was a sort of de-facto assumption that we were going to be great without any of the hesitancy or questioning or that sort of behind-closed-doors bit of government, which isn’t about saying ‘everything’s smashing and going brilliantly’, but actually being a bit more reflective and checking that everything’s going to be quite as great as we’d like it to be.

‘That tone in my observation from these discussions was just completely and utterly absent.’

Ms MacNamara recounted the events of Friday March 13 2020, which she described as a ‘very, very scary experience’.

She said she had been in meetings that day including in Downing Street and a briefing with the Opposition, which had ‘entirely valid’ concerns and ‘clear and high’ anxieties.

On the government side, she was ‘more alarmed than reassured’ by what she heard, she said.

Ms MacNamara was referred to her witness statement, where she quoted an account given by Mr Cummings of her going into then prime minister Boris Johnson‘s office, where Mr Cummings, Stuart Glassborow, Imran Shafi and Ben Warner were – to warn that the country is ‘absolutely f*****’ and ‘heading for a disaster’ in which thousands of people would die.

Ms MacNamara apparently related a conversation with a DoH official who had told her ‘there is no plan. We are in huge trouble’.

And she went on: ‘I have come through here to the Prime Minister’s office to tell you all that I think we are absolutely fucked. I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people. As soon as I have been told this, I have come through to see you.’ 

The former civil servant said today: ‘I’d spent most of the day that Friday … really trying to gauge how much of a problem I thought we had.

‘It was a sense of foreboding, like I hope nobody sitting in that office ever has again actually. It was a very, very scary experience.

‘I felt that it wasn’t in any doubt in my mind at that point that we were heading for a total disaster and what we had to do was do everything in our power to make it impact as little as possible in the time we had available in the circumstances we were in.’

Dr David Halpern, the former chief executive of the behavioural insights team, will also give evidence later today.

This week has already seen a number of high-profile figures give evidence, with No 10’s former communications director Lee Cain and key Johnson aide Martin Reynolds appearing alongside Mr Cummings.

The role of the Cabinet Office came in for particular criticism by Mr Cummings, who labelled it a ‘bomb site’ and a ‘dumpster fire’ in his evidence.

After being shown the messages about Ms MacNamara yesterday, Mr Cummings was asked by inquiry counsel Hugo Keith KC: ‘Did you treat individuals in Downing Street with offence and misogyny?’

He replied: ‘Certainly not.’

Responding to Mr Keith’s accusation that he had ‘denigrated’ women, Mr Cummings said: ‘No, that’s not correct. I was not misogynistic.

‘I was much ruder about men than I was about Helen.

‘I agree that my language is deplorable, but as you can see for yourself I deployed the same or worse language (for) the prime minister, secretary of state or other people.

‘If you want to look at how we actually ran things, unlike Whitehall, I had two young women as my deputies, I hired young women into the data science team, in the Vote Leave campaign I actually put a woman in her 30s in charge of it, much to the rage of a lot of MPs.

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry yesterday revealed that Mr Cummings had labelled Ms MacNamara 'that c***' and said he would 'handcuff her and escort her' from Downing Street

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry yesterday revealed that Mr Cummings had labelled Ms MacNamara ‘that c***’ and said he would ‘handcuff her and escort her’ from Downing Street

‘So if you look at the reality of how I actually ran teams, and how they got on with the private secretaries in Number 10, you will see the truth of the matter.’

Although he denied being a misogynist, Mr Cummings did apologise for his language.

He said: ‘I apologise for my language towards Helen but a thousand times worse than my language was the underlying insanity of the situation in Number 10.

‘Now, my language about Helen – the language is absolutely appalling and actually I got on well with Helen at a personal level – but a thousand times worse than my bad language is the underlying issue at stake that we had a Cabinet Office system that had completely melted and the prime minister had half begun the process of changing the senior management and then stopped.’

In a round of interviews this morning, Deputy PM Oliver Dowden said he understands the ‘deep hurt’ of families whose loved ones died during the pandemic, when asked about the expletives being shared and the tone of language from former prime minister Mr Johnson.

The ex-PM is alleged by Mr Cummings to have believed that coronavirus was ‘nature’s way of dealing with old people’.

Mr Dowden warned against taking the former adviser’s account at face value, and told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I understand people’s deep hurt at some of these allegations that are being made. What I would say is this is precisely why we set up this inquiry in the first place.

‘It is right that victims should understand what happened.’

He also said he expects Mr Johnson to give his own ‘full account’ to the inquiry.



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