Transcript of Module 2 Public Hearing on 23 May 2024

(10.00 am)

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: My Lady, today’s witness is Dr Simon Case.

Dr Simon Case

DR SIMON CASE (sworn).

Questions From Lead Counsel to the Inquiry

Lady Hallett: Dr Case, thank you very much for coming to help the Inquiry at what I know must be an extremely busy time for you.

Mr Keith: Could you commence, please, by giving us your full name.

Dr Simon Case: Simon Case.

Lead Inquiry: I’m going to call you Dr Case, if I may, because you have a doctorate of philosophy from the University of London. You’re not a doctor of medicine, to make that plain.

Dr Case, please don’t hesitate to ask me to repeat any questions if they’re not clear.

As is well known, you weren’t able to give evidence in the autumn on account of your ill health. Happily your medical condition has somewhat improved, hence your appearance today, but we will nevertheless be taking regular breaks in the course of your evidence. If you need an additional break, please do not hesitate to tell us.

Dr Simon Case: Thank you.

Lead Inquiry: Before you give your opening statement, which I know you want to do, could you just confirm that you have provided the Inquiry with two statements: a corporate statement dated 25 January 2023, I think it’s a 43-page statement, but it’s signed in any event at the end, with the usual declaration, 24 January; and then you provided a second, more personal, witness statement, dated 9 June, again signed on the last page, page 71, by you and containing the usual declaration.

Dr Simon Case: I can confirm these are mine.

Lead Inquiry: Thank you very much.

Dr Simon Case: Well, first, I’d like to say thank you, my Lady, and to your Inquiry team for your understanding in rearranging my oral evidence. I recognise that this delay must have been particularly frustrating for the bereaved families who have been waiting so long for answers.

I’d like to pay tribute to those who died and to those who lost loved ones during the pandemic. It’s so important that through this Inquiry we learn the lessons from this period so that we are as prepared as possible for next time. I’d also just finish by – I’d like to recognise the contribution of the thousands of civil servants and healthcare staff who worked on the response to Covid-19.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr Keith: Dr Case, may we commence, please, just by establishing some of the building blocks in terms of your career. You are, of course, currently the Cabinet Secretary, and head of the Civil Service. You replaced Mark Sedwill, now Lord Sedwill, as Cabinet Secretary on 9 September 2020; is that correct?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: Prior to that point, between 6 April 2020 and 21 May 2020, had you been a director general in the Cabinet Office?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: In fact you were on loan to the government from the Royal Household and, as director general in the Cabinet Office, you were primarily responsible for co-ordinating the government’s efforts to support non-shielded vulnerable people; is that correct?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: Do we take it from that that you were not involved in the primary Covid response of February and March 2020?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: On 22 May, did you then become formally the number two, the second permanent secretary in Number 10?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: There wasn’t, in fact, a first permanent secretary, that is just a curiosity of nomenclature, you were the only permanent secretary at Number 10?

Dr Simon Case: That’s exactly right, Mr Keith, it’s an oddity of Civil Service grading structures which I’m sure my Lady doesn’t want to hear about.

Lead Inquiry: You’re quite right.

You had responsibility for co-ordinating, in a very general sense, the government’s Covid-19 response from central government?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: In the performance of that role, did you come to establish and then lead, because it reported to you, the Covid-19 Taskforce?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: Then, as I’ve said, in September, from 9 September onwards, you became Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, and did you formally at that point rejoin the Civil Service, having earlier been on loan?

Dr Simon Case: That’s exactly right, yes.

Lead Inquiry: When you say in your statement that you had rejoined the Civil Service, is that because you had formerly carried out a number of roles in the Civil Service under the – or in the administrations of, I think, Theresa May and David Cameron?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. Correct, I had been in the Civil Service, exactly – specifically in Number 10 under David Cameron and Theresa May, then went on – left the Civil Service to go to the Royal Household and then returned as a civil servant.

Lead Inquiry: May we turn, please, to WhatsApps. It is, I think, understood that you were a prolific user of WhatsApp. You have provided properly to this Inquiry a very significant number of WhatsApps which reflect your role in the response to Covid and reflect your views on the performance of the administration which you served.

In response to those who might suggest that the WhatsApps are merely tittle-tattle or gossip, would you agree that your WhatsApps talk in blunt terms about the performance of the government and its personalities and its broad strategic direction?

Dr Simon Case: Absolutely, yes. They are … they are very raw, in-the-moment, human expressions. They’re not the whole story, but I recognise they’re part of the story. Many of them now require apology for, you know, things that I said and the way I expressed myself, but I recognise that they’re – for this Inquiry, they are an important part of giving you – I think your expert witness, Mr Thomas, sort of described them as giving you the context, and I would agree with that.

Lead Inquiry: They are, of course, not the whole record, they must be put into context, but may we approach them on the basis that they do form an important part of the historical record?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. I mean, in the context of this Inquiry, yes.

Lead Inquiry: Thank you.

Was there a policy in Number 10 during your time as permanent secretary, or when you first became Cabinet Secretary, relating to the retention or disclosure of WhatsApps?

Dr Simon Case: Not that I remember specifically. The first specific policy relating to WhatsApps that I am aware of was one that came in in March 2021. WhatsApps, of course, would have been covered by a more general approach to, you know, the duties for record-keeping and what have you, but I think it was March 2021 as far as I know that the first specific Number 10 policy came in on the retention of WhatsApps.

Lead Inquiry: In your witness statement, you suggest that responsibility for dealing with WhatsApps generally rested with the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, then Martin Reynolds. Did you, as permanent secretary, or, later, Cabinet Secretary, have any role in the development of the policy?

Dr Simon Case: No. If I may just explain a slight curiosity, actually, during my time as permanent secretary, I was permanent secretary in Number 10 rather than of Number 10. The report – the general administration of Number 10 was under Martin Reynolds, reporting directly to Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary. My responsibility was, as you’ve said, the overall Covid response, hence not being involved in the development of that policy as permanent secretary, and not as Cabinet Secretary either. I understand that policy, the Number 10 policy, was developed inside Number 10.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Could we have, please, INQ000218356, page 1, which is, in fact, the WhatsApp user policy of March 2021.

You will see halfway down the page, Dr Case, that the policy suggests that WhatsApps can be used for confirming who is in the office, confirming a time for a meeting or confirming receipt of a document. So very much technical or mechanistic information.

“WhatsApp chat should NOT:

“Include any discussion about detailed policy or policy development.”

And:

“If you find a chat is unexpectedly developing into a more sensitive conversation, you should move the chat onto the No10 IT system and continue it there.”

So even in March 2021, and we’ll come on to the most recent policy in a moment, there was an expectation that WhatsApps should only be used for relatively anodyne communications, and that if communications were sensitive they ought to be moved to official IT systems?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: It’s obvious why that was so, isn’t it, Dr Case? Firstly, it promoted good government and record-keeping. And, secondly, it provided for necessary accountability. If something sensitive was being debated or views were being expressed, they had to be recorded in the interests of transparency?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. And obviously the other reason on the Number 10 – sorry, the Prime Minister’s location point, that’s to do with the security around the Prime Minister.

Lead Inquiry: It’s fair to say, isn’t it, that to a very large extent that policy was not followed, because of course there are a very significant number of WhatsApps from you and many others in which frank and, perhaps, indiscreet views are expressed on government policy, administrators, politicians, really all the main moving parts of government, during the course of this terrible crisis?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. Yeah, as you say, that’s certainly true.

I think, I mean, that I would say it’s there, I – the core, sort of, real decisions and discussions I think were taking place, you know, in meetings, face-to-face meetings or virtual meetings, and being recorded. You know, the Inquiry itself has many records of the many meetings and what have you. But it’s certainly true that by the time – by the time this policy had come in, that was an ingrained way of working.

Lead Inquiry: You yourself expressed concern about the Prime Minister’s own use of WhatsApps, because in a WhatsApp exchange, ironically, with Jack Doyle –

Dr Simon Case: Yep.

Lead Inquiry: – in November 2020, you discussed whether or not it was true to say that the Prime Minister wasn’t making government decisions in fact via WhatsApp?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, there were a number of times, I think particularly as Cabinet Secretary, where I intervened to try to get serious discussions off WhatsApps. The Inquiry has access to those moments where, you know, I’m saying “Can we get things off WhatsApp and can we make sure we’re having proper discussions with the right people in the room”. So yeah, that’s true.

Lady Hallett: The then Prime Minister?

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, the then Prime Minister. Yes. Sorry, you’re quite right, my Lady.

Mr Keith: Could we have INQ000303252, page 26.

In April of 2021 – thank you very much – at 21.13.48, right at the top of the page, Dr Case:

“Who the hell has briefed the Times and Telegraph that I advised [the Prime Minister] to change his phone number? I don’t think this is true, by the way – I certainly don’t remember ever having told him this! We’ve all told him to get off WhatsApp …”

Why was it necessary to tell him to get off WhatsApp? What was the danger of him, the Prime Minister, using WhatsApp?

Dr Simon Case: I think – I think – in this particular context, there were two issues that had come up. One, that he, the Prime Minister, was sort of frustrated that lots of people had been sort of contacting him from outside government on WhatsApp and was expressing frustration, to which the answer was, “Well, get off the” – you know, “Don’t give people your telephone number and get off WhatsApp.”

The other one is to do with making sure that – you know, I don’t want to sound like I’m a Luddite, that – because obviously, as you’ve said, I use – prolific user of WhatsApp myself, but was – we have to make sure that serious issues are addressed in a – I don’t want to say formulaic or bureaucratic way, because that sort of makes me sound like the thing that many people think I am, sort of too Sir Humphrey-ish, it’s just, on the important issues, trying to resolve them on WhatsApp, not being clear that you’ve got all the right expertise on that group or what have you, there’s dangers to decision-making.

Lead Inquiry: Well, it’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? Important decisions need to be debated in the correct structure, with a proper, appropriate, degree of transparency?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: And if you make major decisions by WhatsApp, people will never know that you have done. That’s the bottom line?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. The record-keeping, you know, is an important part of it. It’s not the only part of it, but it is an important part of it.

Lead Inquiry: Coming forward to the current policy, Dr Case, INQ000421804, there is now a policy on using non-corporate communication –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – channels for government business, and this applies both to corporate phones and to personal phones. It is concerned with non-corporate channels.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: So using WhatsApp at work or at home.

Can we please look at paragraph 14 on page 2, because this identifies the sort of information which is required not to be put on to WhatsApp or at least, if it is, to be moved thereafter onto an official channel, a government system.

It’s called “significant government information”, which “materially impacts the direction of a piece of work or that gives evidence of a material change to a situation”.

If I may observe, that’s a wonderful piece of prose. Could you help us with it? In particular, can her Ladyship be assured that the application of that policy does mean that the types of WhatsApps that you sent, and which you received, which commented bluntly and frankly on the performance of ministers and officials and on the merits of government decision-making, would fall within this policy, would be regarded as significant government information? Because defining it –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – as something merely that impacts the direction of a piece of work or which gives evidence of material change to a situation might not, in fact, encompass the sort of WhatsApps which you’ve agreed need to be recorded?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, so, I mean, it’s a very fair challenge. I’m not – I don’t think that the plain reading of that and the sort of – the normal government practice would cover this material that I think is important to this Inquiry that gives you the context. I think this sort of significant government information is a formulation of language that’s been around for quite a long time, that flows from, sort of, the responsibilities we have to retain information.

I think generally the sorts of things that we’re talking about would not be material to – that sort of more personal colour is not the sort of material that would be kept, because it hasn’t been kept in the past, whether it was on WhatsApp or – you know, it’s not the sort of material that appears in the Public Records Office, for example, from previous administrations. And I’m sure that that’s something that you’ll want to consider, my Lady.

Lead Inquiry: So there is an issue, therefore, as to whether or not this policy is tight enough in terms of obligating the recording or transfer to government systems of important expressions of interest and of observations and commentary on WhatsApp?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I mean, and certainly, you know, the sort of material that the Inquiry’s got and has used, and I’m sure we’ll discuss it, is – you know, when you go – when you go through history and previous crises, it’s the sort of material that you would have only got through diaries and that sort of thing from individuals who would have taken part.

You know, as I say, it wouldn’t have occurred – I’m somebody who spent three very happy years as a PhD student down at the Kew public records office, and I can tell you the sort of – the colour of the sort that you’ve got, and I’m sure we’ll discuss, isn’t there. The best you get is sort of a handwritten note from Churchill or Clement Attlee in the margins. You don’t get this – you don’t get the sort of material that this Inquiry has got through WhatsApps.

Lead Inquiry: Turning to your own personal position, you’ve provided to the Inquiry obviously a great deal of material. You’ve also provided through your team a number of threads of one-to-one messages between yourself and others. But you say in your statement that you were unable to provide some group messages to which you were part –

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: – because you accidentally deleted them?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, that’s correct. We, at the start, identified 39, I think, WhatsApp strings that I’d got that were relevant. I’ve submitted 30 to the Inquiry, I think it’s over 600 pages, but 9 were lost in the process of transferring them to hand over to the Inquiry.

I can only apologise for that, my Lady. It’s entirely my error. As I said, we offered to recover this material for the other participants, I offered to do that, but I actually understand the Inquiry has got this material from other participants itself, so I haven’t needed to – as I say, I can only apologise, it’s my own idiocy and nothing else.

Lead Inquiry: We’re bound to ask, Dr Case, why was the Cabinet Secretary himself, or herself, attempting to export and preserve group messages from their own phone? I mean, presumably you have people who can help you with that, or technical support, and why did you end up deleting only some groups?

Dr Simon Case: As I say, honestly, I was trying to just get this done as part of preparing my witness material. We have an IT department. Lesson learnt, I should not ever try this myself again.

Lead Inquiry: During the course of the Covid pandemic, did you become aware that WhatsApp messages would be likely to be needed to be retained and then provided to an Inquiry?

Dr Simon Case: I mean, yes, I mean, I think we were all – we were all – we were all clear that all sorts of records would be kept. You know, I remember advising the Prime Minister early on, in, I think it was, the autumn or even the late summer of 2020, that there should be a public inquiry. So yes, absolutely.

Lead Inquiry: On INQ000265619, you WhatsApped Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds – it’s page 68 – on 20 December 2021, 18.13.19.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: The last entry:

“Simon Case: [The Prime Minister] is mad if he doesn’t think his WhatsApps will become public via Covid Inquiry – but he was clearly not in the mood for that discussion tonight! We’ll have that battle in the new year.”

So was it – had it been the former Prime Minister’s position that he didn’t believe that his WhatsApps would reach the public domain?

Dr Simon Case: I can’t – I cannot honestly tell you I remember the exact context of this. I can’t quite work out why we were discussing that – you know, why we were discussing this issue at this particular point, I’m afraid. But clearly the Prime Minister said something that I’m reacting to.

Lead Inquiry: Imran Shafi, who was another of the former Prime Minister’s private secretaries, told this Inquiry that you had asked him to remove – in accordance with the policy, we presume – his work-related messages or WhatsApp messages from his phone.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: He says, however, that he wasn’t told to keep them or to provide the Cabinet Office with a record of any substantive or significant work-related messages. Do you recall him not being told to keep records?

Dr Simon Case: No, I mean, I can’t – I don’t think I can specifically remember the conversation with Mr Shafi. I had the discussion with a number of colleagues, you know, during this period, in which my line was a standard one, which was: if you’ve got stuff on your personal phone and you’re leaving, then obviously you shouldn’t be taking that material with you. But that you should record this all in a notebook or ask for confirmation that it had all been recorded in a notebook.

Lead Inquiry: On a related point, one of the core participants has raised the issue, based upon something said by Priti Patel MP in her Rule 9 statement, of whether there was proper record-keeping of the discussions of the ministerial quad in particular. Do you recall the record-keeping system for that particular body?

Dr Simon Case: So the quad was largely active in the first wave, so, sort of, before I was there. During – when – when the quad – so the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Health Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – met, I don’t think it was particularly frequently, they would be recorded, I believe, via private secretary record.

Lead Inquiry: Is that a private secretary keeping notes?

Dr Simon Case: Keeping notes, should be in a notebook, and then should be in an email, which would be distributed to those as a record. But usually, actually, mainly to get people to take action. And standard practice in Number 10 is that those – or certainly in my time as a private secretary there, was that you would copy those read-outs to the people that we call the duty clerks, or PM posts, so that that could go onto the file, the record that they keep of all the correspondence and material relating to the Prime Minister.

Lead Inquiry: In relation to your approach to the inevitable Inquiry –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah –

Lead Inquiry: – Sir Patrick Vallance, in his diary – and you’ve referred to the importance of diaries, and perhaps Sir Patrick Vallance is the modern day Johnson or Crossman – he says in his diaries that in November 2020 you said to him that any Inquiry should go on for a decade or more, that you wanted someone like Lord Saville to chair it so as to keep it going forever.

I must ask you: did you say that to Sir Patrick Vallance?

Dr Simon Case: I don’t remember saying that. At this time I remember real concern – because Chris, Patrick, a number of colleagues knew that I was advising the Prime Minister – that I thought there would have to be a full public inquiry, that they were really concerned about when we would start it and how it would operate.

You know, they were, I think, particularly worried that we’d start it during the pandemic and, you know, it would make life very difficult for them to keep doing – that’s what I remember, the context. I do not remember saying such things, but obviously they’re Sir Patrick’s words, not mine.

Lead Inquiry: Turning to your role as the director general in the Cabinet Office and the steps you took to ensure that the interests of non-shielded vulnerable groups were properly protected, when you arrived in office in April of 2020, you expressed considerable concern to Helen MacNamara, from whom the Inquiry has heard, concerning the atmosphere in the Cabinet Office, concerning unnecessary debates about whom you should be reporting to, and about the behaviour.

Could we have, please, INQ000303253 at page 1.

This is a WhatsApp thread dated 3 April 2020, and, without spending too much time on it, we can see, for example, in the third entry, 21.43:

“Simon Case: … [the slides] don’t really seem to say anything about how we are actually fixing the various problems.”

21.51.29, Helen MacNamara talks about the “bitching” and the “egos”, and “sheep and goats” and “people are scared”.

At 21.54:

“Crisis [and] pygmies [equals] toxic behaviours.”

The “crisis” is obviously a reference to Covid-19. Your reference to “pygmies”, was that an observation on the ability of individuals in the Cabinet Office and Number 10?

Dr Simon Case: I can’t remember precisely what it is, but I think that would be a fair conclusion to draw. I can’t tell you for sure but that’s the plain reading.

Lead Inquiry: You were concerned about the effect of that combination, that the behaviour of individuals in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office was toxic?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Please explain to us why that mattered. Were you just concerned because it’s an unpleasant thing to occur on your watch, or was it that the behaviour and the performance of people at the centre of government was materially impacting upon the government’s response to this crisis, it was affecting governance?

Dr Simon Case: Could I just expand a little bit on what you say when I arrived to –

Lead Inquiry: Please.

Dr Simon Case: – help?

I worked in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office for, you know, big chunks of my career before I went off to work for the Royal Household, and as is always true at, sort of, the centre of power, I think probably everywhere – you know, it doesn’t all – you know, there are always pretty big egos and there are always things to manage. But I’d worked there through – in either Number 10 or the Cabinet Office through a whole range of crises. I should say, nothing the size and scale of Covid. I don’t think any of us – I don’t think any peacetime government had ever dealt with anything like it. But through thick and thin, through egos, which are always there, there was a real sense of team spirit, trying to, sort of, work efficiently and effectively. I found – actually, I found reading Helen MacNamara’s both written evidence and oral evidence quite difficult, just as I found preparation for this, re-reading this material, quite emotionally difficult, because it reminded me of quite how difficult it was, that good people were working incredibly hard in impossible circumstances, with choices where it seems there was never right – never a right answer.

But that lack of, sort of, team spirit, the difficult atmosphere, we were trying to run everything from the centre of government, despite trying to run the response to a global pandemic. Duplication of effort, overlapping meetings, kind of – good people were just being smashed to pieces. That’s what I saw.

Lead Inquiry: We will look at some of those references in your WhatsApps later, Dr Case, but – you refer to people being smashed about and systems being smashed, but your reference there in this particular WhatsApp to pygmies, was not a physical or an anthropological reference, you were referring there to the performance or the ability of individuals, because, plainly, you’re making a different point to the one you’ve just made now, which is that the crisis was so great it would have overwhelmed anybody. You’re referring to the ability of individuals. That was the problem, wasn’t it?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah – I mean, sorry, I failed to answer the second part of your point, which was about: how did it actually affect people outside? I can’t answer this question in the – with the clarity that I’m sure you’d like. What I know is that it felt that decision-taking was inefficient and, sort of, more difficult than it had to be, and it was, sort of, more unhappy. Did it actually lead to decisions being delayed as a result of those behaviours? I’m not sure it – I’m not sure it did. I think it made it inefficient and sometimes ineffective in … things. But did it – you know, did we lock down later or unlock later because of behaviours? I’m not – I’m not sure. I’m not sure that we did.

Lead Inquiry: Did the nature of the individuals and personalities in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office lead to a more dysfunctional and sclerotic administration? Putting aside the big ticket issues, lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical interventions, on which, obviously, decisions had to be made eventually in one shape or form, but the day-to-day administration, did it become anarchic, dysfunctional and extremely difficult?

Dr Simon Case: So it was definitely dysfunctional and it was difficult, but, oddly enough, it wasn’t – sclerotic isn’t quite the right word. If anything, the problem is it was almost too dynamic. You know, it was difficult to settle on a course of action and be sure that the course of action would be consistent. I think that’s, it’s, sort of, almost the opposite of sclerosis.

Lead Inquiry: You referred to flip-flopping, trolleying and the well known, and it’s been said repeatedly in the evidence, inability of the former Prime Minister to make a decision and stick to it.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. I mean, that material’s there. Those are, you know, examples, that I obviously now deeply regret, of expressing my in-the-moment frustrations with the former Prime Minister. Actually I think particularly during – I didn’t know the Prime Minister very well at all, in fact barely, when I started working in Downing Street, so I didn’t really understand how he took decisions. I mean, after – you know, I would say sort of into 2021 I sort of thought I’d started to get the rhythm of it.

In, you know, his style is very much wanting the debate to play out in front of him. Competition for ideas and views I think is really how he made decisions. He’d really want to test and see, you know, perhaps sometimes in a way that actually lawyers would recognise in a way that lots of others don’t, that, you know, hearing the debate playing out before taking a view, I think, sort of – I also think I didn’t really understand at that time how personally and politically difficult – I’m not – that’s not a big P politics, I’m talking about how, particularly – and I’m sure we’ll come on to the details of the second lockdown and the unlocking – I don’t think I really understood how, at quite a deep, ideological level, the Prime Minister found the mass locking up of the population, the harms – he was always really thinking – particularly focusing about children and education, the sort of – the damage, as he saw it, that was being done to society through those big decisions on the lockdowns.

I don’t think I understood at the time, in a way that I do now, quite how personally difficult that was for him. As well as the style. Because his clarity of thought and – I mean, Boris Johnson’s sort of strengths – well, he’s one of – you know, a great communicator, he’s one of those people who can stand at a podium and make people that he’s never met, doesn’t have a lot of common – doesn’t have a huge amount in common with, make them think he’s articulating their hopes and their dreams and their fears. You know, he’s a great communicator. That clarity – that ideology and that communication, you know, when it came – I know this is off topic, sorry, my Lady, but on things like the vaccine roll-out, which I know you’ll come on to, his ability to, sort of, see with absolute clarity what needed to be done, how we communicated it, was in stark contrast to, I think, the difficulty that he found during the summer and the autumn. And to – totally off topic, but on subjects like Ukraine, the way that he could see with absolute clarity on a values base what was the right thing to do to support Ukrainians against Putin and galvanise, sort of, global action is a good example of – you know, that he could do things with absolute clarity.

So there was something about that period in particular which I think he found particularly difficult.

Lead Inquiry: In essence, would you agree that the incredibly difficult decisions which he had to make, and he personally had to make –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – affected him so viscerally and gave rise to such internal agonising debate that it had an impact upon the proper management of the system of which he was –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – of course, the head?

Dr Simon Case: You know, on the – sort of the – I was the, sort of, technocrat employed to connect political will to administrative action across the system. So, you know, it was real frustration that was being – effectively(?) by the person – you know, I was the one who had to take what he and his ministerial team were deciding and go and tell other members of the Covid Taskforce, tell the rest of Whitehall, talk to Simon Stevens at the NHS and say “This is what – this is the direction we’re going and this is what we’ve got to do”. So I found it incredibly frustrating that on one day I thought, “Right, okay, we’ve got this, I can safely now talk to my colleagues and say this is the direction we’re going in and we’ve taken this decision, let’s now plan on this basis”, and then – well, you can see it, you’ve got the material, the Inquiry’s talked about it a lot already, you know, the following day it was like, well, we’re now somewhere else. That was really difficult, as a sort of technocrat, to – as the gearbox trying to connect the Prime Minister to the system.

Of course I was frustrated. I wish we’d had the decision on day one and we’d stuck to it. As I said, I think that’s how people like me want the world to work, but isn’t how the world works. All prime ministers have their own ways of taking decisions. Some prime ministers, you know, go through endless detail and, if anything, their problem is they scrutinise everything and then they delay the decision because they just want, you know, endless amounts of information. That – read your diaries again, they’re in there. Each Prime Minister has their own approach to doing it and, as I say, in my job I found it very frustrating. But I – you know, I just don’t think I really understood how difficult he was finding it personally.

Lead Inquiry: But the impact wasn’t confined, of course, to you, Dr Case –

Dr Simon Case: No, no, sorry –

Lead Inquiry: – there was an impact upon the proper performance of the machinery of government?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: Is that the nub of it?

Dr Simon Case: Of course.

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, I was – I agree with you, but, sorry, I was rambling. Sorry.

Lead Inquiry: No, it wasn’t at all, Dr Case, it really wasn’t.

Can we now look at non-shielded vulnerable groups.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: In a paper dated 3 April – INQ000083379 – “Mapping of non-shielded vulnerable groups”, we can see there that you set out, I think this was – it may not have been your paper. I think it was a paper presented to the general public services MIG.

Dr Simon Case: I’ve spotted this as well. I think we need to go away and check whether – actually whether that date’s correct, because I’m not – this looks too early for this articulation of the problem to me. I’m wondering if it should actually be 3 May. But I’m sure we can go on to the point, it’s just I think between us we should actually do what we can to check whether it’s in fact the correct date on that paper.

Lead Inquiry: By all means, thank you.

Do you recollect this paper? I mean, is the reason why you believe it might have been May was because you recall contributing to it or –

Dr Simon Case: I think it’s late April or May.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Dr Simon Case: Now, the trouble is this is four years ago, it could be a memory of being shown this on arrival, but I’m sure we can get to the key point without worrying about the date.

Lead Inquiry: The point about this document is that it attempted to identify/target vulnerable groups. So if you look over the page at page 2, you can see that specific concerns are expressed regarding socially vulnerable people, isolating at home, vulnerable children and free school meals households, individuals with no access to public funds, rough sleepers, and so on.

This is dated possibly April, possibly May. There is no doubt whatsoever that the government turned to identify who vulnerable groups consisted of –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and what had to be done to protect them in the teeth of this crisis. A lockdown, however, had already been imposed. It was imposed on 23 March. Why was this consideration, necessary consideration to vulnerable groups, not being addressed or raised earlier? Why was this work not done at the time that the decision-making was going on as to whether or not a lockdown should be applied at all?

Dr Simon Case: Obviously, you know, as I say, I can’t answer that one because I wasn’t around. What I remember is, you know, in around this time the then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill getting in touch with me and saying – you know, there had been this huge focus on the vulnerable group, what became known as shielding, and I think it was then a combination of the Cabinet Secretary and Michael Gove, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who had really, sort of, said “Hold on a minute, there’s – we haven’t done enough thinking about this.”

So my belief is, by being asked to come in and do this, it looks like an admission that not enough had been done early on, but I – honestly, it’s outside my personal experience as to what discussions took place in the first lockdown.

Lead Inquiry: But certainly when you took over the position that you did in the Cabinet Office, there was no pre-existing consideration of these vulnerable groups in existence that you could have had recourse to or did have recourse to, and that is why the general public services MIG and why you were obliged to be addressing vulnerabilities in April and May. Bluntly, it had not been thought of before then.

Dr Simon Case: I think it probable – there was more thinking than I realised. The Inquiry has it, I certainly put it in my witness statements as an exhibit, an email that I wrote to Michael Gove and Mark Sedwill after my first few days in post saying: actually, you know, I’d started off thinking there wasn’t a lot going here, actually when you talk to departments there probably is a bit more work doing on.

So, for example, DEFRA were doing the work on how to get food to vulnerable – and they were thinking about how to work with supermarkets to spread not just to shielding groups but to other vulnerable groups, how we could work with supermarkets to get more food delivery slots for them. DfE – sorry, I mustn’t do that – the Department of Education, you know, obviously was thinking about vulnerable children and, you know, in particular about trying to make sure that they were in school as they could have been.

What I think was going on, though, is that was sort of happening in departments and probably maybe wasn’t being given all the effort it needed to. So when I arrived, there was a standard Cabinet Office co-ordination job, but then a challenge of how to articulate what we were already doing and then identify what the gaps were. The gap between needs and provision – sorry to talk in, sort of, technocratic sort of ways – but citizens’ needs, “Here’s the provision, is there a gap in the middle?”, that was really the task as I came in.

Lead Inquiry: There are ample references in the material, Dr Case, to you observing that there was too much siloed government, so different departments were working in tandem and there was insufficient communication, but also that a great deal of the practical steps, the necessary practical steps to assist vulnerable people, were being taken outwith central government, by charities –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – local authorities, supermarkets, volunteers, and so, on the one hand, central government wasn’t performing its function adequately, and on the other hand there was a distinct limit as to what it could do; is that the nub of it?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, that’s right. And, I mean, this is an example almost, to me, the point I made earlier about the centre trying to do too much, and almost – there is this – there is this long-standing challenge, a cultural challenge, at the centre. This goes back, it’s not recent, it’s always through the decades, read the history books, it’s all there, that, sort of, if the Prime Minister can’t see it, it must not be happening. And actually, that’s not really how government works. A vast amount of stuff happens that prime ministers don’t see day in and day out. Of course they couldn’t.

And in particular – you know, one of the particular issues around vulnerability, as you say, is a vast amount of the provision is being – was being done at local authority level and through the charity sector. So actually through my time on the non-shielded vulnerable programme I spent a lot of time talking to the then head of the British Red Cross, who was the chair of the voluntary sector emergency response group, again just trying to understand what charities working at a very local level were hearing about what was working, what wasn’t working, getting that information back to us, so we could then work with charities and local authorities to get that provision in place.

Lead Inquiry: Can you recall to what extent the ethnicity of non-shielded vulnerable people came up for debate and also to what degree, as you were beginning to look at the needs of vulnerable people, it was understood that the pandemic had hit ethnic minorities far harder than other sectorial groups?

Dr Simon Case: Honestly I think this is one of the things that not enough attention was paid to early on. I think my memory is that the questions about ethnic minority groups really well and truly came onto the – onto the sort of top tier radar possibly in sort of May – probably actually June, I think, 2020. I think there was a PHE – sorry, Public Health England – study done, and that galvanised quite a lot of action from that point on.

We didn’t get the – in particular the communications and provision of testing right during the autumn in, sort of, certain – certain communities, and we did actually learn the hard lessons for when it came on to vaccine roll-out about how to understand the needs, how to communicate, who were the voices that need to be encouraging certain communities to come forwards. But I think it was a slow learning process.

Lead Inquiry: Then, turning to another considerable difficulty that you encountered, that there was then the issue of data and analysis.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: At the bottom of this page, on page 2, we can see that in your recommended actions or in the recommended actions, what was identified as being needed included cross-government analysts with the “relevant experience in understanding this cohort”, that is to say the cohort of non-shielded vulnerable people, “to ensure data and analysis to quantify and refine focus on target groups and identify … essential services”.

Stripping out, if you’ll forgive me, the perhaps somewhat bureaucratic language, there was a shortage of data in central government to inform you as to what, in practice, the needs of these people were and how they could be met; you just didn’t really know what was going on on the ground, that’s the bottom line?

Dr Simon Case: Spot on.

Lead Inquiry: Yes. It’s obvious from the material, Dr Case, that it understandably took some time to get the data available, and it’s obvious from your witness statement that a great deal of work was done to get the datastreams up and running. You had the dashboard.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: You had the setting up of the Downing Street data service –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – 10DS.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: A great deal of work was done by the Office for National Statistics and Sir Ian Diamond, there were Covid surveys – in fact a mass of data eventually.

When were you able to report to the Prime Minister that you had adequate data in order to be able to start understanding the needs of socially vulnerable people?

Dr Simon Case: Oh, I would say that’s really into the autumn, I would say.

Lead Inquiry: That, if I may say so, accords with other evidence that my Lady has heard concerning the paucity of data at the beginning of the pandemic, and the inadequacy of the datastreams.

Do you happen to know whether or not, today, the structures and the building blocks remain for the speedy provision of data in the event of a comparable crisis?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, very much so. You know, alongside the lessons that I am sure my Lady will identify, we’ve obviously been identifying lessons inside government as we go and data – sorry, I’m a bit of a data obsession – obsessionist – we’ve created a sort of National Situation Centre – sorry, again, all these long slightly odd titles – the Joint Data and Analysis Centre, crucially, the Office for National Statistics and what we now call our levelling up department, are working to get us – sorry again for the language – a much more granular level – you know, a much more detailed level – to try and not use that word – about what’s happening at local levels, sort of, day in, day out, so that we can understand – it’s not perfect, it’s like, you know, painting the Forth Bridge, you have to keep going back over it, but we’ve invested an awful lot in getting much more micro-level data about what’s going on in the economy, in society, all of sort of thing, much broader data sets or ranges of data than previously we were collecting.

Lead Inquiry: In an email in May – I won’t take you to it – you were in fact, as you say, still reporting on the lack of data. You said:

“Meaningful reporting about what is happening on the ground is rare and the upward communication of meaningful data at a regional or national level is even rarer, so central government does not have the information it requires.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: So that’s a very good summary of –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the position in the summer.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Another issue, structural issue, concerned the – again, language that perhaps you’ll explain to us – the interdependencies across departments within central government.

If we look at INQ000083541 which is the dashboard for 6 May 2020, and page 4.

Dr Simon Case: Slightly foreboding. I don’t know why we made it look like that.

Lead Inquiry: Yes, the –

Dr Simon Case: Sorry.

Lead Inquiry: – black background looks rather forbidding.

If you look at page 4, we can see there figures on how many are vulnerable, how the government’s performing, and obviously there were very sensible questions being posed and answered on the face of this document. You were concerned with the hospitalisation rate, who was clinically vulnerable, you were concerned with the delivery of food packages, the delivery of care to the clinically extremely vulnerable and so on.

So obviously all self-evidently highly worthy and sensible.

Dr Simon Case: I would just, the thing to point out, this was one of the areas where the data was most advanced on the clinically extremely vulnerable group because obviously they’d been sort of working with GPs and whatnot to identify – I know the cohort was refined for later periods, but, I mean, even though there are gaps in this data, this is one of the areas where it was better than most.

Lead Inquiry: Yes, because this, in fact – this deals with shielded –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – people, and shielded people or the position of the clinically extremely vulnerable and those who required shielding had, of course, been directly addressed at the time that the lockdown decision had been taken?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: And in summary, is this right: during the week between 16 and 23 March, when the final decision was taken to impose the lockdown, part of the time lapse was taken up with considering the needs of those who would require shielding and putting into place the practical measures for their protection?

Dr Simon Case: Look, I wasn’t there at the time. As it were, I’ve read the same evidence you have and that accords with my understanding.

Lead Inquiry: So, yes, shielding was – shielded people were ahead of the game in terms of the delivery of services and protection. But right at the bottom of the page you will see, in answer to the question “What are the barriers to progress?”:

“Decisions are not aligned where there are interdependencies across Departments.”

Is that a way of saying that central government departments were just not speaking sufficiently to each other, and there was no body in place to bring together the administrators and officials to talk about the reality of what needed to be done?

Dr Simon Case: Yep, that’s – your ability to translate Whitehall speak is very good.

Lead Inquiry: And was it in part because of that that you drove the institution of the Covid Taskforce, so that there would be a unitary body, a single body, where everybody could speak to each other face-to-face and make the necessary decisions?

Dr Simon Case: My experience of this programme was, absolutely, one of the key inspirations behind Covid Taskforce.

Lead Inquiry: The Covid Taskforce was, however, not instituted until the late summer?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: Why did it take so long?

Dr Simon Case: I’m not sure I can answer that one, as – you know, as soon as I got asked to do the permanent secretary job co-ordinating all of this, it was pretty much my first recommendation.

Why was it not done before that? I mean, perhaps it’s just one of those things where everybody had been working flat out, the structures had been set up, and, as it were, a fresh pair of eyes, it’s easier for a new person to see: why don’t we just do that rather than that? But I can’t – I can’t, I’m afraid, give you a clear answer.

Lead Inquiry: As the months rolled by in the Cabinet Office, from the beginning of April, when you joined, through April, May and June, was there any significant reduction in the degree of chaos and lack of understanding as to what needed to be done? I ask you that because, of course, I’m about to show you some of your emails and WhatsApps with Helen MacNamara.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

It took a long time. It took us many months to get to, you know, a better – a better place. I think Simon Ridley in his evidence said to you: no, the Covid Taskforce was better than what had gone before, but it wasn’t perfect and it took us a long time to, sort of – announcing a taskforce has some effect but it actually takes quite a long time for the patterns of human behaviour and ways of working – it was a new institution in government, working across government. It takes time to establish those relationships and, you know, get it to where it got to. You know, it took –

Lady Hallett: Can I raise – sorry, finish your answer.

Dr Simon Case: No, no.

Lady Hallett: Can I raise with you one of my hobby horses, which, as you may know, is the use of plain English.

Dr Simon Case: Sorry.

Lady Hallett: No, no, no, it’s just that I’ve always argued that the use of what you call, was it, Whitehallese or Civil Service –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah –

Lady Hallett: – that it obscures communication, and one of the things, as I read this document that we have up on screen, “Shielded (clinically extremely vulnerable)”, because I don’t understand it, because of the use of Whitehallese, I wonder if the use of that language obscures your message, and therefore people who would have to take the decision to put in place a taskforce are not getting the impact of the message because it’s got these silly expressions. Sorry to use the word silly.

Dr Simon Case: Well, I mean, I think it’s a very … each profession ends up, as part of its own anthropology, developing its own language and ways of working and to – sometimes they do exactly what you say. I mean, I think lots of us who were civilians who spent a lot of our careers working with colleagues in the military look at the military language and say, “What – what on earth? You know, why don’t you just say that’s, you know, dropping a bomb or something? Why are we talking about effect? What does that mean?”

I think you’re absolutely right and it’s probably something that we should reflect more on, is whether the institutional language takes away the humanity. And I think it’s sort of something that Helen MacNamara I thought rather powerfully brought out is – all the way through: how do you connect decision-makers in a very human way to the outcomes of the decisions that they’re taking.

Lady Hallett: I don’t think it’s just the lack of humanity, I think it obscures the message.

Dr Simon Case: Mm.

Lady Hallett: And if you’re trying to get a message across to decision-makers, who are the politicians, don’t you have to have a clarity of message?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. Well, certainly many politicians are in the same place as you, my Lady, of complaining about: could you just tell me what you mean.

Lady Hallett: Odd, that.

Sorry, Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: I was only going to observe that I think Dr Case is itching to say something about the anthropological disadvantages of the legal profession but he couldn’t quite bring himself to say anything.

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, one of the things my counsel advised me not to go – and I’m already making him uncomfortable, I know.

Mr Keith: My Lady, is that a convenient moment?

Lady Hallett: Yes, of course. I think we’re going to have more than one break, so we’re going to have ten-minute breaks; is that right?

Mr Keith: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Ten minutes, please.

(11.00 am)

(A short break)

(11.10 am)

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: Dr Case, in late April you had a series of very frank exchanges with Helen MacNamara concerning the workings of government.

Could we have INQ000303253 at page 5, please. Thank you very much.

I just want to identify some of the broad strands or themes from these multiple exchanges, Dr Case.

At 11.36.39, there’s a reference by you to Lord Sedwill believing that a minister was required to be put in charge.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Obviously for the purposes of political accountability and also because in Whitehall that tends to promote speedier and more direct action.

At 13.06.01, she refers to the different responsibilities of departments and ministers, the maddening nature of the proportion of time spent on process and organograms as opposed to actual work.

At 13.13.42 you talk about the chaos, too many programmes, the tension, that the system is being run as a communications forum rather than as a system for taking decisions.

At 13.14.86, at the bottom of the page:

“Decisions in Whitehall [don’t] equal facts on the ground. Not enough people at the centre know this …”

The lack of vision and patience.

Over the page, 13.20.15, as you were saying earlier, you recognised that what is actually required to be done is in fact being done by people in the voluntary and charitable sector, local authority or individual police officer/GP/supermarket worker, and it’s all very distant from, of course, Number 10.

13.25.28, the endless talking.

13.28.48, shocking how strategy advice is being developed, the appalling sight of the realisation, in essence, of a lack of evidence-based government.

And Helen MacNamara talks of, in response, the arrogance, the waste, the contempt for Parliament.

13.38.18, right at the bottom of the page, the lack of transparency.

In your concurrent WhatsApp messages with Mr Hancock – I won’t take you to them – you referred to the fact that you found the Cabinet Office to be, to use your words, a “totally dysfunctional mess”.

So just dividing out, please, some of those themes, firstly the reference to too many departments. In hindsight, was the government machinery simply inadequately efficient? It just wasn’t lean enough, and it took time, as you’ve said, in order to change the structures, to change the supertanker of government in a more appropriate direction?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. I mean, look, it’s not – because people were working very hard, they were doing – they were very talented people. Clearly Helen and I were having a particularly sort of down day when we were having this exchange. But, yes, this is what the Covid Taskforce was supposed to help fix.

Lead Inquiry: The arrogance and the waste? The arrogance appears to be a reflection on the individual personalities. It’s a reference to the people.

And bearing in mind what you’ve already said, and you’ve said it in your statement and you’ve said it publicly, by and large individually people in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office gave their very best, they gave their all in the service of their country and in the opposition of the pandemic and to fight the pandemic, but their work was, to a considerable extent, undone by the behaviour or the lack of ability of some individuals who were in a position to make a difference, and who failed them. Is that a fair summary?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, yeah, but, I mean, these are collective problems. I mean, these are Helen and I whingeing about things that we also had a responsibility to fix. It’s not, you know, there’s an easy version of this, that this was all down to just a few people. But we were all in this together.

Lead Inquiry: SpAds.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Did the system for special political advisers help or ultimately hinder the promotion of good government in the face of the crisis?

Dr Simon Case: Actually I – I don’t think it hindered. I don’t think it’s a sort of structural issue around special advisers. I mean, there’s – I don’t think you’ve heard – and I know you’ve received written evidence, I think, from Henry Cook, who was the – during my time in Number 10 and then as Cabinet Secretary, Henry Cook was the lead special adviser for Covid. Absolutely outstanding, long experience of government, really good at working with officials and helping us translate the politics and the political will and the direction into the – well, actually the action that’s required. So I don’t – I don’t think there’s a structural issue around special advisers in Covid, is my view.

Lead Inquiry: It was an individual issue?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I mean, you know, there were rubbing points and I’m sure we’ll come on to those.

Lead Inquiry: Well, we can probably address them shortly. There is ample material to indicate that Mr Cummings – well, he’s described as a genius by many, many people in government.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: His ability to be able to strategise and to see the problems before they arose is notable, but you and Helen MacNamara speak repeatedly of the culture of fear that he generated and also the chaos and the unwillingness of other people to work with him as a result; is that a fair summary?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. I mean, if I may add, you know, as some people have said, he’s sort of – you’ve described that he had qualities that – obviously really important to the senior politicians in a number of guises that he worked with. As other people have said, he could be very challenging. He was particularly challenging to senior officials who he didn’t think were, sort of, up to the mark. He was very challenging to senior people.

Actually, my view is – actually, my, probably, experience was his reputation was worse than the reality, I think, in the end. It was my experience – I think there were – I mean, I think there are two important things to note. One is, actually, when I arrived in Downing Street as the permanent secretary to do the Covid – actually from that point Mr Cummings wasn’t particularly involved in the Covid response for the first couple of months. He – as incidence started to sort of certainly flatten off in mid to late July, he started to become much more involved. He took a particular sort of responsibility and interest in the mass testing and Moonshot programme, but actually a lot of the descriptions that you’ve had and, you know, some of them are really difficult, from Helen and her report, actually didn’t particularly – the worst of it didn’t actually match my experience of coming into Number 10 working on Covid.

Lead Inquiry: But that’s your personal take.

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: As the head of the Civil Service, ultimately, and as Cabinet Secretary, you noted in –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – WhatsApp messages with her and others that there was an actual culture of fear –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, there was.

Lead Inquiry: – that people wouldn’t speak up in meetings because they were concerned about his potential response. You yourself described individuals, and you were obviously referring to him, as “these people round the Prime Minister”, “these animals in Number 10”?

Dr Simon Case: Feral, I think.

Lead Inquiry: Feral.

Dr Simon Case: I actually think –

Lead Inquiry: You referred directly to the practical consequences, which is that people wouldn’t speak when they were obliged to speak, and people wouldn’t come and work in Downing Street despite being approached?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, so that’s all true. I think the really difficult thing was that in particular there were very bad relationships between Mr Cummings, Lord Lister, who you’ve heard from, Martin Reynolds, and Stuart Glassborow. Those were all the people who actually sat, by and large, outside the Prime Minister’s office, directly. You know, sort of the desks outside the Prime Minister’s door. In Number 10, that group would have been seen as, sort of, the top of the shop. And the relationships between Mr Cummings and the other three were poor, and that, you know, that did not help at all.

Lead Inquiry: May we please be absolutely clear about this. In this very same WhatsApp string – in fact we needn’t look at it, but page 10 – you yourself referred to somebody who had been asked to join Number 10, a particular aspect of –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: I won’t say which aspect because that would give the game away.

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: And that particular person said “the set-up [in Number 10] is too mad to touch”?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: And he wouldn’t or she wouldn’t come and join.

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: And you yourself say:

“Good people [were] being put off … because it is such a rat’s nest.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, that’s all correct.

Lead Inquiry: This is the permanent secretary in Number 10 describing his own organisation as a “rat’s nest”?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: And one which is putting off able people joining you who were required to join on account of the pandemic?

Dr Simon Case: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: Right.

Dr Simon Case: It took – I mean, we did get very good people to come into the Covid Taskforce, but it sort of – that ended up being quite a separate entity, with its own sort of culture and ways of working, from the rest of Number 10.

Lead Inquiry: Another thread is cabinet governance.

On INQ000303253, page 9, on 10 May at 9.43.29, so in the middle of the page, Helen MacNamara says:

“[The Prime Minister] doesn’t believe in cabinet [government] and departments, neither does [Dominic Cummings].”

That may have been putting it too high, and obviously everyone will bear in mind what you’ve said about the frank but, perhaps, unfortunate phraseology of WhatsApps, but were you concerned that, as Helen MacNamara told her Ladyship, cabinet governance was being circumvented and that the cabinet itself was not being given – and I’m quoting from her statement – the full scientific picture or able to properly be part of accountable decision-making?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. This issue around the way cabinet is treated is not unique to this problem. Look at the Chilcot report around Iraq and many others around cabinet government not being the way it’s described by the ideals of Hennessy and Jennings and people like this, and that sort of thing. It’s not been like that for quite a long time. I think – but we did take steps to fix this.

So there was a particular issue, I think, around cabinet not being talked through the decisions, not being given access to the data, that we fixed by making sure there were regular weekly sessions with Chris and Patrick and the data team, to try to fix this. So, yes, I was concerned and we took steps.

Lead Inquiry: Meetings between whom? Cabinet and Sir Chris Whitty –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – and Sir Patrick Vallance?

Dr Simon Case: We would do – I think it was weekly we did data sessions with them, so that they and our data people could talk cabinet through what was happening. Basically talk – a dashboard session for the cabinet so – and they could ask all the questions they wanted about what was going on, the science, the latest position.

Lead Inquiry: But in terms of accountable decision-making, is it not the position that, even by the time of the second lockdown, and the third lockdown in January, that the core decision – core decision-making was taking place in Number 10 still by the Prime Minister and particularly by Covid-O –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and cabinet was, to a certain extent, brought into the decision-making loop generally only after Covid-S – sorry, Covid-O had made the ultimate decision?

Dr Simon Case: Yep, I mean, that’s correct. The decisions were taken in Covid-S or Covid-O. Which they were entitled to do. They have the status of – they had the status of full cabinet committees, so that is cabinet responsibility for decision-making delegated to those cabinet – so there’s nothing, there might be something in terms of the diversity of views, et cetera.

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: But it is procedurally perfectly normal for cabinet committees to take decisions. What was unusual was that those cabinet committee decisions were then actually taken to cabinet. It was more, I would say, cabinet discussed the decision that had been taken, people raised points, sometimes changed things at the margins, but that’s how it worked.

Lead Inquiry: So, and you’ve just referred to it, the absence of diversity. You and Helen MacNamara and others were concerned that, on the one hand, cabinet, with such diversity as it had, was sidelined to some degree and, at the same time, within the Cabinet Office and Number 10 there was a lack of diversity. There are references to –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – obviously a lack of – well, remarkable absence of women –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office, the invisibility of children, the invisibility of the position of ethnic minorities, and vulnerable groups, and those in poverty stricken areas. So there was no real means by which diversity of view was being channelled into the ultimate decision-making body, the Prime Minister, and the two or three people around him?

Dr Simon Case: There was – there was diversity of view in some regards. I don’t think there was the sort of full diversity that you’re describing, I can tell you that not everybody in the room agreed all the time, that certainly would be an incorrect description of what was going on –

Lead Inquiry: I’m sure there was no unanimity of opinion on every topic.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I can – I’m sure we’ll come on to those as well. The – but we did – we made, certainly in relation to the Civil Service, made very deliberate steps to try to address this. So in the senior leadership of the Covid Taskforce, you know, we were – tried to make sure we had sort of 50/50 on gender balance.

But actually that’s important – there was also the issue of the breadth of experience. So one of the things when we set up the Covid Taskforce that I wanted to do was make sure we brought in people from government departments or other places where they’d actually been working in the real world on things – so, for example, Kate Josephs, who came in came from the education system, Kathy Hall, who came in and worked in NHS trusts – to make sure that sitting around the table with the Prime Minister we had people who were much closer – who’d had real, much closer exposure and experience of real world decision-making and the effects on public services.

Lead Inquiry: INQ000303253, page 16, 19 May, at the bottom of the page.

So, page 16 of this document, Helen MacNamara said to you –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – “This has been the most actively sexist environment i have ever worked in.”

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: It is plain, and we needn’t go into the detail of it, that your predecessor, Mark Sedwill, was – well, essentially came to be forced to agree to leave the post of Cabinet Secretary, although he didn’t actually leave until September, and it’s plain that Mr Johnson, at the behest of Mr Cummings, drove through those – that change.

But other than in relation to the prospective departure of the Cabinet Secretary, what other major personnel changes were made in Downing Street to address these issues of lack of diversity, sexism, the toxicity of the atmosphere that Helen MacNamara referred to?

Dr Simon Case: In –

Lead Inquiry: So what actually was done?

Dr Simon Case: So inside Downing Street I’m not sure I can give you the sort of the full run – I can give you the run on Covid, which goes on to sort of what I’ve said, is that we, on a number of different fronts, tried to diversify the – sorry, that’s a terrible way to describe recruiting people from a range of different backgrounds, but we actually, as I’ve just said, tried to bring in people with different perspectives into the senior leadership of the Civil Service team working on Covid.

Lead Inquiry: Who were the major, who were the –

Dr Simon Case: Kathy Hall, Kate Josephs, that I just mentioned –

Lead Inquiry: Right.

Dr Simon Case: – who came in as leaders of the Covid Taskforce alongside Simon Ridley, who you’ve heard from.

Lead Inquiry: Putting aside the Covid Taskforce, which was a new body which was instituted in order to –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – address some of the structural problems which you’ve identified, what major personnel changes were there within Number 10?

Dr Simon Case: I don’t think the major changes in personnel in Number 10 changed until November/December 2020, and January 2021, when the Prime Minister changed the top of his political team. Lord Lister left and he brought in a different set of special advisers and made sure that there were more women at the top of, I think, his senior political team.

Lead Inquiry: And Mr Cummings had, of course, himself left in –

Dr Simon Case: Oh, he’d left in November, mid-November.

Lead Inquiry: Other than that, and those changes were brought about, of course, almost a year later or a year after the dawning of the crisis, there were no real political changes, were there, in Downing Street during that summer and autumn, and notwithstanding the very serious issues that Helen MacNamara –

Dr Simon Case: I think that’s right.

Lead Inquiry: – and you had endlessly debated?

Dr Simon Case: I think that’s right and I think that, you know, the former Prime Minister acknowledged that himself in his own evidence. I don’t think it was until November and Mr Cummings’ departure that the set of changes to the political team happened, if I remember correctly.

Lead Inquiry: Turning to a different topic, and reverting back to the issue of the MIGs. So the ministerial implementation groups met – well, at least the general public services ministerial implementation group, of which you were a part, met for the last time in May, on 21 May, and on 22 May you were appointed as the permanent secretary, and therefore you left your role as the senior responsible officer –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – the SRO, to use other terminology, on the GPS, the general public services, MIG, ministerial implementation group. And the MIGs were then disbanded and replaced by Covid-S and Covid-O.

You yourself had raised the issue of domestic abuse –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – to women and girls and how they were an important group who needed to be protected and to have their interests safeguarded. When the GPSMIG was disbanded, do you happen to know who took over your role as the SRO –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – for that particular group?

Dr Simon Case: I don’t, I cannot remember the name …

Lead Inquiry: Was it somebody on Covid-O or S? Because there were no MIGs thereafter.

Dr Simon Case: No, it was somebody who went – who – I think there may be a period where it was effectively my deputy from the non-shielded vulnerable programme, an excellent official called Kay Withers took it. I think there was a month or so when it was sort of operating directly to Michael Gove as the lead minister, but then after that point, if I remember correctly, they then – that became a sub-unit under Simon Ridley in the Covid Taskforce.

Lead Inquiry: With other vulnerable groups or –

Dr Simon Case: Yes, with other – all of that, the set of groupings that we – that were in that presentation we had was covered by, I think, that team in the Covid Taskforce.

Lead Inquiry: The minutes of Covid-O and Covid-S show that domestic abuse was never – was very rarely, if at all, discussed in the format of those committees. Are we therefore to take it that it was confined to the Covid Taskforce, which of course didn’t really get up and going in the autumn?

Dr Simon Case: Sorry if I’m disagreeing with your point. My recollection is actually they were – they did come up in Covid-S meetings, because the Home Secretary in particular, then Priti Patel, I remember raising it, I may be thinking of cabinet perhaps, but I know that it was something she raised regularly in ministerial fora.

Lead Inquiry: All right. In the summer of 2020 the Covid Taskforce which had just started or just commenced established a project on disproportionately impacted groups and there was a small team – and I’m using the words in fact from Simon Ridley’s statement – created in the taskforce to lead on disproportionately impacted groups.

You may not be able to remember, but if the needs of vulnerable groups were being addressed by Covid-S and Covid-O and by the centre of government, why was it necessary to have to institute another or a new small team in the taskforce to deal with such matters?

Dr Simon Case: I think this is to do with the way – I mean, this is about how you divide up labour and organise things, so they would – that’s probably a good example – they sat in the Covid Taskforce making sure – working with the rest of government, government departments – Covid Taskforce wasn’t responsible for the delivery of all of these things, they would co-ordinate with departments and they’d make sure that – across all the work of the Covid Taskforce, they would make sure those issues were properly represented.

So I think, if I remember correctly, there were two, maybe three Covid-O meetings specifically on those groups. In Covid-S papers and maybe Covid-O papers, they – and sort of – and advice to the Prime Minister, it was making sure that those issues were raised there. So I think that’s what that team was doing, if I remember correctly.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Now may we turn to the question of the devolved administrations?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: Just before you do, could I ask a question, Dr Case: the O and S systems – sorry, I’m going to call them –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: – had operated during Operation Yellowhammer, during the Brexit arrangements. I would have expected that if you had a national civil emergency there would be structures in place so they swept into action. So COBR comes into action when there’s an emergency.

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: But having used Covid-O and Covid-S or the equivalent during Brexit, it takes a while for Covid-O and Covid-S to start. We had the MIGs –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: Why is there no structure that, as it were, immediately steps into action when you have a national civil emergency?

Dr Simon Case: Well, I think, a rather good recommendation, potentially.

I think – I think it is because, sort of, the COBR system, in relation to certainly, sort of, domestic crises, sort of developed from the 1970s onwards, and the sense was: we manage crises through COBR. The problem had always been with COBR is that it’s very effective in certain circumstances, on the day of a terrorist attack, you know, serious flooding, those sorts of things – we’ve actually for a long time had this problem about how you deal, as the – sort of, the specialists call it, once you’ve gone from the acute to the chronic. And there hasn’t been such a strong tradition. And actually that is where I think, as you, sort of, said, the S and the O model, originally XS and XO, Covid as Covid-O, is now – I believe that’s, sort of, now in the DNA of Whitehall about how you deal with these major issues.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Dr Simon Case: But, you know, a firm recommendation wouldn’t be amiss.

Mr Keith: I think my Lady will have had in mind that the evidence from at least a couple of witnesses who observed that COBR is particularly good for dealing with immediate single-event crises –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – rather than the sort of crisis which might envelop a whole country?

Dr Simon Case: Exactly right. I think – maybe it’s not in this module, might be in the first module, very experienced Bruce Mann, who was one of the original, sort of – I mean one of the brains behind CCS, I think was always pretty clear about this failure to – you know, our inability to think beyond the initial crisis.

And I think, you know, certainly for as long as I’d have this job, I will be certainly recommending to whoever the Prime Minister may be that that XS/XO model is a good way of managing that breadth of business, alongside a taskforce.

However, the thing that we need to tackle through that is exactly this question about the diversity of thought. The problem with XS – sorry, Covid-S in particular is they’re small meetings, they don’t usually have that many ministers there, usually because you are talking about really sensitive, difficult issues, so you actually – most prime ministers in the end prefer smaller meetings on the really difficult decisions.

The thing we have to crack is how we get the diversity of thought into a – you know, into that space. So I think, as I say, I would continue to recommend Covid-S Covid-O style models, but I don’t yet personally have the answer, and perhaps my Lady does, about how we balance that need for the small meeting, to do the really difficult stuff that prime ministers need to do, with the funnelling mechanism to make sure around that table you’ve got all of the views that you need.

Some of that you can do through the paperwork and through a taskforce and make sure you’ve got right teams making sure the issues are fed through, and maybe that is – maybe that’s the answer that we have to stick to, but in my view it needs more thought, and I’m sorry I can’t offer a more concrete answer.

Lead Inquiry: Document INQ000183934 is your – well, it’s a document responding to your report with Helen MacNamara of 26 May 2020 concerning cabinet committees.

Dr Simon Case: Oh, yes. I remember this handwriting.

Lead Inquiry: Yes. That is – well, perhaps you would confirm whose handwriting it is?

Dr Simon Case: Oh, that is definitely Boris Johnson’s handwriting. It took me a while to learn how to decipher it.

Lead Inquiry: And we can see –

Dr Simon Case: Don’t know whether I’ve lost the knack.

Lead Inquiry: We can see, right at the bottom of the page, it says:

“Simon C [that’s you, Simon Case] to hold pen [and] draw up …”

Because the then Prime Minister was asking for proposals in response to a document which had –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – proposed standing down the MIGs, as you’ve said, and establishing Covid-O and Covid-S.

But I want to ask you, please, page 3 –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – about what was to be done with the devolved nations –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – or the devolved administrations.

At paragraph 6 you said this:

“… the [devolved administrations] have been involved in decision making through the MIGs and in COBR.”

Pausing there, Dr Case, the MIGs were being stood down, COBR convened less and less?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: And indeed from May onwards it convened very few times indeed?

Dr Simon Case: Absolutely right.

Lead Inquiry: Because power drained towards or was dragged towards Covid-S and Covid-O.

“There needs to be a mechanism [you recognise] to discuss on a four nation approach … you could convene a Joint Ministerial Committee meeting when needed instead. COBR would stop meeting on Covid, unless we re-entered a crisis situation. It will be important for Ministers to continue to engage with the city Mayors … Do you agree to use the JMC to manage conversations with the [devolved administrations]? And only use COBR if we re-enter a crisis situation?”

Now, he didn’t in fact annotate the document to say yes or no, as he had done at the top of the page, and in his comments on the box return, on the front page, he said nothing about the relationship with the DAs or the structure.

The reality proved to be, did it not, that COBR stopped, effectively, sitting, the MIGs ended, the JMC was never, if ever –

Dr Simon Case: I don’t think –

Lead Inquiry: – convened –

Dr Simon Case: I don’t know it was ever convened on Covid.

Lead Inquiry: – and the structural relationship or the mechanism for dealing with the DAs in the face of a pan-United Kingdom crisis, which affected them of course no less –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – than London, was not put into place or if it was it just didn’t happen?

Dr Simon Case: That’s absolutely right.

Lead Inquiry: How was that ball dropped?

Dr Simon Case: I think, as I say … as you say, because the Prime Minister didn’t annotate this and I just don’t have a clear memory, I’m sort of trying to piece it back together. I think as the Prime Minister said, in either his own written evidence or oral evidence – former Prime Minister, sorry, Mr Johnson – said he actually had a real aversion to sitting around a table, sort of, with First Ministers, I think he said like some – “Like we’re some form of the EU” or something like that.

Lead Inquiry: He said:

“… as though the United Kingdom were a kind of mini EU of four nations and we were meeting as a ‘council’ in a federal structure.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, so, you know, he had a real aversion to it. He delegated it very much to Michael Gove, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, so I remember asking that – I think it was in June – well, it’s in the documents, I think it was June – that Michael Gove would chair regular meetings. I think, in fact, they didn’t – they didn’t start happening until September or October time, I think –

Lead Inquiry: That’s correct.

Dr Simon Case: – you already heard that in evidence.

Matt Hancock, as the Health Secretary, I think did still keep having regular contact with the health ministers. Chris Whitty did the four CMOs, the four nation CMOs, which I think was a real engine room for us. And there were others, such as Sue Gray, who was then our permanent secretary – I’m thinking about union matters – ran weekly meetings. It’s absolutely correct that at the First Minister level the Prime Minister and First Ministers only got together in those COBRs that were called before the big new crisis moment, so the second lockdown, for example.

So I think it’s a combination – I think it’s politics and personality.

Lead Inquiry: Let me ask you: it’s obvious that no structure was put in place to replace the regular meetings of COBR, which had allowed the DAs full participation. The JMC never convened and the Gove calls didn’t start, as you say, until September/October. At the highest political level, there was no mechanism by which the United Kingdom and its four constituent nations could confer. Was that because you appreciated that the Prime Minister just did not want it to take place because he believed, as you’ve said, it was optically wrong?

Dr Simon Case: I – that’s my memory of the sense of the time, and I think that’s also what he said. I mean, one of – sorry, there’s another thing I should have said. I remember writing to Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak as Chancellor, and Michael Gove on the formation of Covid-S and Covid-O, and I think I wrote in that letter the expectation was that the devolved administrations – I don’t think I used the language “by default”, it should be more often than not that they were invited to Covid-Os. I haven’t done the maths to see how often they were invited but I don’t think it was as often as was intended either.

Lead Inquiry: Yes, you did indeed say that, and the reality was, in fact, they didn’t attend all the Covid-Os, and they didn’t attend the Covid-Ss at all.

Dr Simon Case: No, they didn’t, definitely didn’t attend the Covid-Ss, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Could we look, please, at page 4.

There is a rather remarkable paragraph, paragraph 8, where you and Helen MacNamara suggest to your own Prime Minister that he might want to discuss with the Chancellor whether he wanted to establish an Economic Recovery Council to coordinate the response to the crisis, along the same lines as the National Economic Council responded to the financial crisis.

“Do you want to see further advice and discuss this with the Chancellor?”

Did somebody else intervene in this process of seeking the Prime Minister’s views and express their own views, rather peremptorily?

Dr Simon Case: That’s how I read that. So I think the front page of this document, if I remember correctly, of this box return, there’s a handwritten scribble from Dom –

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – that says “I’ve handwritten some thoughts on this”.

Lead Inquiry: Hm.

Dr Simon Case: You know, so I’m assuming the actual – this is the actual version that the Prime Minister saw.

Lead Inquiry: Yes?

Dr Simon Case: And I assume “NO! Dom” is – is that – that’s him saying no, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: If we go back to page 1, please, we see the top –

Dr Simon Case: Oh, sorry, that might be page 1 of the note rather than the –

Lead Inquiry: Page 2, top right-hand corner, yes:

“I’ve scribbled in annexes… Dom.”

So then going back to that page, page 4, was it usual for a special political adviser, however eminent and powerful, to reject a serious policy proposal being advanced to the Prime Minister in this way?

Dr Simon Case: Oh, I mean – I mean, yes. I mean, if you go – I mean, look at the papers being released at the moment from the Tony Blair era, you’ve got, you know, Jonathan Powell, who was a political adviser, chief of staff, writing things on notes. The thing that I think matters, importantly, and constitutionally, is that, you know, this is the advice from senior officials. What hasn’t happened here is he hasn’t taken it out and said “I don’t want the Prime Minister to see Civil Service advice”; it’s just that, you know, as is quite normal, the special adviser has given their own perspective on the advice. You know, that’s actually normal.

Lead Inquiry: Could we have, please, INQ000265763.

It’s a message chain between yourself and Michael Gove.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: On page 2, which is 7 September 2020 –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – at 15.21.55 –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. It was –

Lead Inquiry: I think –

Dr Simon Case: – the bottom one, the “daft” – “daft … question” –

Lead Inquiry: Oh, yes, thank you very much. Yes, very good, Dr Case.

Mr Gove in fact told my Lady about this exchange and was asked about the “daft laddie question”, but to remind ourselves, he says:

“… is the [Prime Minister’s] day structured in the way you would want to enable all the decisions that need to be taken are taken in a timely way? Are the right people in the room in every meeting to drive progress? Are the right people excluded? And are the right [cross-Whitehall] arrangements in place to ensure early, rapid, rigorous implementation of those decisions without falling over each other?”

I’m sure you will say immediately, Dr Case, that this wasn’t the complete answer, but you said:

“The answer to all of these questions is no!”

On one view, it is a very worrying feature that even by September of 2020 you were unable to answer the question “Are the right cross-Whitehall arrangements in place?” with a yes.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. I think this is the day or the day before I become Cabinet Secretary, which I think is why Mr Gove was posing the question at this point. My remit had obviously gone – was now significantly beyond Covid, so I don’t think this is actually just about Covid, this is on the eve of becoming Cabinet Secretary. And the answer was no.

And, I mean, I’d worked in, you know, Downing Street – I mean, you know, for David Cameron and Theresa May. They took their decisions in a different way, they set up their structures in a different way. I’ve obviously since been Cabinet Secretary to Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak. No two prime ministers do it in the same way – that fits their character and style of working.

The, I don’t think we really ever got to this place with Mr Johnson. I think we made, sort of, progress, I think – I mean, particularly in relation to Covid through, sort of, 2021 – late 2020/2021, we were getting into sort of a regular pattern. But it was – you know, it was a tussle to get, in my view, the right people in the room when I first started. I think, you know, there’s material where I’m saying “We’ve got to get Matt Hancock into the room, he’s the Health Secretary, he needs to be there at these discussions”, and others are saying, “Well, we don’t want him there”, for X or Y reason, which I imagine we’ll come on to. But, you know, it was a challenge to get the order – as I say, other prime ministers, even though they do things differently and there had been debate in those things, they – there was more structure than there was under Mr Johnson.

Lead Inquiry: Dr Case, you had had – you corporately, the government – nine months –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – to get cross-Whitehall arrangements in place. And this isn’t a reference, is it, just to the particular form, format or characteristics of a Johnsonian sofa government. This is a reference to the structural arrangements across Whitehall.

But you were unable to say that the right arrangements were in place, even then?

Dr Simon Case: Well, as I’m sure you’ll go on to, I mean, that’s right, and I don’t – you know, I – your – the way you put it, it’s correct. It was very difficult to get structured ways of working during this time. Incredibly difficult.

Lead Inquiry: During as long as the first nine months of this crisis?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. There were – things were better, I can tell you that. I think, you know, during the summer, Covid-S Covid-O – I mean, I’m limiting to Covid, as I know it’s your main interest – Covid-S, Covid-O, Covid Taskforce I think brought much more structure to Covid decision-taking, and I think other witnesses have, sort of, backed that up from outside, not to – not me, sort of, singing to my own tune. It – you know, I think our critical partners across Treasury, the health system, what have you, thought our dashboard structure, Covid-S, Covid-O, taskforce, made things better.

But I think this is much more broad, about all of government, as I say, because I think this is the eve of becoming Cabinet Secretary, and it took us a long time to get the right rhythm and structures across other areas of government too.

Lead Inquiry: Getting it right and getting the structures in place were what government was meant to do.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: That is your job, it was your primary function?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I was Cabinet Secretary and, as you can see, and I think you will see elsewhere, I’d set about trying to fix it. I’d tried to fix it in relation to Covid when I got the job of co-ordinating the Covid response as permanent secretary in Number 10. I think as you can see on the non-shielded vulnerable work, I tried to sort of bring it all together. This was what I was trying to do, was – you know, this is at the heart of the job of the Civil Service, is we – you know, we’ve got to create reliable structures. We have to work with the personalities we’ve got. Our job is to keep the government going as best we can and, you know, adapt to the personalities around us and try to make it work. That’s our job. But it, you know, sadly it doesn’t always turn up on day one, it takes time to build.

Lead Inquiry: The absence of those structures represented a serious failure of governance for those long months between February 2020 and the autumn?

Dr Simon Case: I’d say, as I said, things improved but even now – you know, even at the end, not perfect.

Lead Inquiry: Can we now look at another feature of the system at the highest level of government, namely the bilaterals between the Prime Minister –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and the Chancellor.

Could you just explain very briefly what Prime Ministerial and Chancellor bilats are, Dr Case.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. Usually weekly meetings between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Generally they would be – the attendance varies depending on the particular personalities. I think in – during the Blair/Brown era, very few other people attended those meetings. During the Johnson/Sunak era, generally they would have been attended by private secretaries, principal private secretaries to both Prime Minister and Chancellor, and probably, you know, a senior special adviser each. And sometimes Cabinet Secretary or other senior officials would attend.

Lead Inquiry: The obvious purpose of a bilateral is to provide an important forum at which the Chancellor can express his or her views to the Prime Minister?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I mean, the relationship between the first Lord of the Treasury and the second, ie the Prime Minister and the Treasury – and the Chancellor, is –

Lead Inquiry: Yes.?

Dr Simon Case: – one of the most important relationships in government and can make or break a government.

Lead Inquiry: The secret’s in the wording, on the face of the tin, isn’t it? The Prime Minister is the First Lord of the Treasury, and the Chancellor the –

Dr Simon Case: Literally that is the wording on the Prime Minister’s letterbox on the door of Downing Street, Number 10.

Lead Inquiry: Did that system of bilaterals, at which the Prime Minister was expected to listen to his Chancellor and thereafter to form his own view, work well in your opinion?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, I think they did. I think Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, certainly through the sort of Covid period, I think had a good relationship. I didn’t see all those meetings, I thought it was a pretty candid relationship, which is vital.

I don’t think … I don’t think it sort of afforded the Chancellor an unfair advantage over other elements of Covid decision-making because – sorry, I – sort of – I may be anticipating incorrectly the – sort of the thrust, but, I mean, the Prime Minister had a lot of time with, for example, you know, Chris and Patrick, you know, as it were, without the Chancellor there as well. Those – in my recollection, Chris, Patrick and Rishi Sunak as Chancellor were the most important voices, you know, in – for Boris Johnson in – during Covid period that I saw.

Lead Inquiry: Credit to you, Dr Case, you correctly anticipated what I was about to ask you.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Because at the time, and we have obviously WhatsApps between yourself and Tom Shinner and Simon Ridley, and also WhatsApps between you and Boris Johnson –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – in June and October 2020. You express your concern that the bilateral process, and it may be thought to reflect quite well on the current Prime Minister, had become a forum at which the former Prime Minister was bounced or forced into a U-turn, or indeed, as you described it – these are your own words:

“It can’t always be you agreeing with Rishi …”

Dr Simon Case: I mean, one’s the Prime Minister and one’s the Chancellor. You know, in the end the Prime Minister is the – you know, is the boss, and certainly in my experience Rishi Sunak was always very clear that that was the nature of the relationship.

I mean, it’s no secret they were very different personalities, they took decisions in different ways, but they were – they were good meetings, and it was good – you know, it was a good relationship. It was a really important relationship.

I think, I mean, obviously it had been an important relationship for a while, but I’m struck, by going back, as far as preparation for this, reading the May 2020 roadmap where the discussion – the discussion of the economic consequences of lockdown start to appear in that May roadmap. And that discussion is the key thread. Balancing Covid health and outcomes against the economic consequences of lockdown is for me the sort of the key theme of the May unlocking and then ramp back up to the second lockdown.

Lead Inquiry: So important a relationship, Dr Case, that you were driven to WhatsApp your own Prime Minister to tell him that the relationship between him and his Chancellor was being operated in such a way that you had to advise him to stop agreeing all the time with his own Chancellor.

Dr Simon Case: Yes, well, that – yeah. That would be – that would be reasonable, because the Chancellor is – the Chancellor’s job, quite properly, is to put forward the economic case, the economic argument.

Usually Chancellors are very senior political figures who’ve got a broader view than that, but that is at the core of the Chancellor’s job. The Prime Minister’s job is to balance that with a lot of other considerations. So I think that’s me saying to the Prime Minister: you do the job of Prime Minister and he’ll do the job of Chancellor.

Lead Inquiry: But it was what he was not doing that you felt emboldened to write to him to say “You can’t always bend to the will of the Chancellor, you are the Prime Minister”?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, I mean, just as you – well, I mean, that statement of the blindingly obvious relationship between the two of them.

Lead Inquiry: Well, yes.

Just then dealing, finally, with, in this area, the Helen MacNamara report.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: We needn’t go to it in detail. Helen MacNamara gave evidence before my Lady. Her review, to which you assisted –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – to a very large extent, revealed the toxic and misogynistic atmosphere in Number 10. And you’ll recall, because you’ve said you’ve refreshed your memory on the evidence, her report referred to the “superhero bunfight” culture and the bad behaviour, showboating, belittling others, the macho culture and so on. And she said that the female perspective was being missed in advice and decision-making and so on.

What did you do? How was that culture addressed, and did it dissipate?

Dr Simon Case: Er –

Lead Inquiry: I should say, before you answer, my Lady heard evidence from Martin Reynolds who said that, even by the autumn, it remained an ongoing cultural issue –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and your own statement has said, with the benefit of hindsight, it took too long to address this culture.

Dr Simon Case: Yep. Absolutely right. It did on – sort of agree with the premise. I mean, in terms of what I did in relation to my direct responsibility, ie the Covid Taskforce, we actually had alongside that report, and I’ve submitted it as – I’ve exhibited it as part of my statement, we actually had an external group give us recommendations about things that needed to change and how we should – how I should go about setting up the taskforce. So we’ve already covered – they recommended: a change in leadership around Covid, which I did through the Covid Taskforce leadership; clarifying roles and responsibilities, basic stuff, we made sure across the Covid Taskforce – you know, didn’t do it on day one, it took us a few weeks but, you know, actually who was responsible for what and to whom were they responsible for; organisational resilience, which is one of the things that – I mean, people – I said it, you know, people were absolutely shattered, they’d been working seven days a week, all hours, they know they’d made mistakes, so we just did the simple things like make sure that proper rotas were in place so people weren’t working all of the hours, we made sure that secondments were time limited, so people could roll in and roll out. There was – one of the other things that I think was a real challenge, certainly, and I remember talking to this with Helen, and it came out of this review, or recommendations that I should do, is that in that first phase, before I joined – strategy and, sort of, delivery or implementation are sort of awful words – again, I’m sorry, my Lady – but, you know, thinking and doing were being all muddled up, and so, often, the urgent decisions were actually crowding out the long-term thinking. So we very deliberately set up in the Covid Taskforce a split between, these are the people who are doing the long-term thinking and these are the people doing the delivery.

And we talked already about getting the right balance of people, the right sort of experience in. So we did that. So that’s what we did in the Covid Taskforce.

I agree completely with Martin, in terms of Number 10, it was – you know, it was autumn, you know – well, winter, sort of early 2021, before it got there.

But, you know, the … Mr Johnson is somebody who – he admitted, I think, in his own evidence that he just didn’t get the – certainly didn’t get the gender balance right for this. He’s also somebody who sort of thrives on, as I said, the sort of competition, the debate playing out in front of them, and – because that’s how he took decisions. So that element of competition didn’t – that was how he ran his premiership.

Lead Inquiry: Forgive me.

Dr Simon Case: Sorry.

Lead Inquiry: My question was –

Dr Simon Case: Sorry.

Lead Inquiry: – directed at what was done in Number 10 about the toxic, sexist, misogynistic culture, and you’ve answered by way of references to the changes in the working practices, the rotas, the hours, the institution of the Covid Taskforce, also what Mr Johnson himself referred to as the disputatious culture.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: What was done about the individuals who were directly contributing to that toxic –

Dr Simon Case: Oh, sorry, yeah –

Lead Inquiry: – macho, misogynistic and sexist atmosphere?

Dr Simon Case: I’m sorry, I mean, as you can –

Lead Inquiry: Were they moved on or not?

Dr Simon Case: Not – I think not until later.

Lead Inquiry: Not ever, Dr Case.

Dr Simon Case: No, I think some of them were – I mean, by 2021 there had been a pretty wholesale change around the Number 10 political team, I think.

Mr Keith: All right.

My Lady, is that a convenient moment?

Lady Hallett: Certainly. We’ll break now for – I shall be extremely generous and give you 12 minutes – until 12.20, and then we’ll have a shorter stint before lunch.

(12.08 pm)

(A short break)

(12.20 pm)

Mr Keith: Your statement, Dr Case, makes plain that one of the aims of the putting in place of a central organisational design, as you called it, for the Covid response, that is to say a unitary body that could ultimately determine the broad direction of the government’s response, was to ensure that there was a proper forum for the weighing up of the intensely difficult considerations that had to be considered. So, bluntly, a body in which the factors such as the – the primary factors such as the public health need to impose, for example, a lockdown in order to get the R rate back down below 1, and the countervailing need to ensure that the country and its citizens were – are not destroyed in the process.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: And it’s obvious that the Covid Taskforce was enabled to start addressing those issues, as was, we can see, Covid-S.

To what extent had there been a forum before the Covid Taskforce was instituted for the weighing up the trade-offs in that balance?

Dr Simon Case: I don’t – I’m not aware that there was one. I think it was one of the challenges in particular of the – and I think it was four separate MIG structures. They almost siloed the things. And then I think supported by individual teams, so officials, people like me, helping run the meetings, prepare the papers. I think it was divided. And so it was only – the balancing act, as you’re sort of talking about, was only done, really at the – the structures before I joined Number 10 were a 9.15 meeting and that sort of thing. So I – that’s why I thought the Covid Taskforce/Covid-S particular thing was important was – having a single team of officials who could synthesise the issues in papers that then went to Covid-S, Covid-O I thought was important.

Lead Inquiry: May her Ladyship infer from the fact that there was no real body for the debate, for the discussion of how these difficult competing interests, interests and issues, should be weighed up and balanced – should she infer that, at the time of the lockdown in March 2020, there had been, in fact, no real debate about the economic and social consequences of a lockdown, there had been no real weighing up of these countervailing interests, because the reality of the crisis that faced the government was that in March 2020 it was the public health agenda, the absolute need just to prevent the NHS from collapsing and the need to bring the R rate down, that won the day?

Dr Simon Case: I need to be careful here because I wasn’t in those meetings, obviously, but I – that’s my reading as well.

Lead Inquiry: In the press, and in the public arena, due in part to the calls from those who might be described as anti-lockdown advocates, the calls from Professor Heneghan and others, there was a very lively, a very real, a very obvious, a highly polarised debate taking place about whether or not the public health demands of the crisis and the need for a lockdown should accede to and be outweighed by the need to avoid economic and societal damage.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: How could the government possibly have got itself in the position whereby that vital and necessary debate was not being properly addressed within its own organs, other than – and obviously it was being discussed on a daily basis – between you, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, Sir Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick Vallance, and a small handful of officials in Number 10?

Dr Simon Case: So I wasn’t part of those discussions. I’d started to –

Lead Inquiry: I say “you” –

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, okay, understood, the collective.

I think – look, I mean, I certainly need to be very careful of this – I mean, this is my assessment – because I don’t have … is that in relation to the first lockdown, the clear – the danger presented by Covid and the – probably the lack of understanding about the virus meant the imperative in the first lockdown felt incredibly clear to those that were there. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, I suspect there was a lot more debate than my characterisation suggests. But I think that would be my assessment, is that the thing, the problem that we’re fixing is clear and we must act.

I think that debate that you’re describing, led by – you characterised it as sort of anti-lockdown – that was absolutely at play during, I would say, July, August, September, October 2020.

I think, oddly enough, because of the arrivals of the vaccine, the decision around the third lockdown, in early 2021, felt less difficult. We’d had the Alpha variant, but by that stage we had vaccines that worked – again, the clarity of the decision-making was of course the government didn’t really want to have to lock down again and, sort of – the harms that we were talking about. But the vaccines meant there was a route out.

All the way through the autumn, late summer/autumn, the Prime Minister and, I think, the Chancellor at the time were looking for: what’s the route out? And until vaccines came along, that gave us the route out. There was an end. But that middle period, that debate was really active and really difficult.

Lead Inquiry: Is there not, therefore, a very – a powerful argument that there should have been, and perhaps consideration should have been given to, the setting up of an advisory structure like SAGE, but SAGE of course is a scientific advisory group dealing primarily with a particular epidemiological and –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Well, perhaps the quasi-medical side of things.

But a body that could have helped the Prime Minister and senior politicians and Number 10 weigh up those competing considerations, to assess, for example, what any quality-adjusted life years assessment might come up with; and I’ll ask you a few questions about that in a moment.

Why wasn’t such a body thought about that could have provided a proper, transparent, accountable structure within the heart of government to do what was plainly not being done in any sort of systemic and carefully formulated way?

Dr Simon Case: I think the establishment of the Covid Taskforce, as you said in your opening earlier on, was an attempt to bring together those imperatives, impacts, inputs and make sure that in the material going then, by that stage, to ministers in Covid-S or Covid-O, that that – those balances, those impacts were set out.

So I think if you look at the papers from – I think we had the first meeting of Covid-S on, I think it was, June, June – early June, all the way through in those papers we are talking about the balance of Covid health, non-Covid health, societal impact and economic impact. And that’s really what the taskforce was trying to do, was bring all of those inputs together.

I think on, sort of, a super advisory body that almost sits above SAGE – I mean, in the end, the question is: how many layers do you need before you actually get to ministers who would take – you know, how many experts sitting on experts do you need before you get to ministers? In the end they’re the ones who have to take the decisions.

I think there is an interesting question, that I know you’ve addressed and I’ll be quick on it, you know, around this idea of the economic sort of SAGE question –

Lead Inquiry: Can we come on to –

Dr Simon Case: Sorry –

Lead Inquiry: – that later.

Dr Simon Case: Okay.

Lead Inquiry: That is a side issue.

Dr Simon Case: All right.

Lead Inquiry: On the societal and economic impacts –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – of a lockdown.

Dr Simon Case: So that was coming in. I mean, that material was coming in from the Treasury, I mean, really through the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, who do all the forecasting, the bank – the Bank of England.

I think the weakness early on, certainly in my time, was that the economic data and the forecasting was quite static. It was sort of done quarter by quarter. By the autumn, and certainly early 2021, the system of getting data about what was happening on the transmission of the virus, hospitalisation, intensive care, you know, whatever, all to do with … that system was built up to give us quite a rich picture, a regional – what was happening. I don’t think then we really had that quite such rich picture from the economic side.

We’ve addressed this largely through changes that we’ve made to how ONS collect data, the way the Bank of England does, et cetera, now. But I think at that point, what I remember on the economic – on the daily dashboard meetings is each day you’d come in the dashboard meeting, the team would talk about the highlights, and each day there would be something new to say about Covid, because there would be daily data, the ONS would give us their weekly survey. On the economic data we didn’t really have the same thing. We had long-term quarter-by-quarter forecasts from the bank or the OBR. We had some economic data, which had actually come from the private sector, where – they helped us understand what footfall was at shopping centres once they were re-opened, Transport for London were giving us the data about the number of people using the transport system. But it didn’t feel as rich and as dynamic as the Covid data did.

Lead Inquiry: Is that why you’ll recall Ben Warner said in his evidence that there was a paucity of economic data? It wasn’t that there was a shortage of data per se, it was just that the data, economic data being received by Number 10 was of a particular type and frequency?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think that’s right.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Dr Simon Case: And apologies to Treasury colleagues if I’ve mischaracterised it, but that is my memory.

Lead Inquiry: In the autumn the Prime Minister asked you whether or not any sort of quality-adjusted life years –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – estimate had been done on the costs of lockdown.

And just pausing there –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – the quality-adjusted life years measure or assessment is a system by which, bluntly, a view can be reached as to whether or not a lockdown is worth the candle in terms of the damage that is undoubtedly done –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and also whether or not, in the absence of a lockdown, what the consequences will be in terms of death and injury –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – and whether or not, in the general scale of things, and there’s no easy way of putting it, that is a price worth paying.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: It’s a vital issue.

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: Because only by understanding the terrible consequences of either route can you weigh them up.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: But there was no body, there was no system, there was no committee, there was no structure in the summer and the early autumn that was actually looking specifically at whether or not any kind of scientific measure of quality-adjusted life years would drive the conclusion that either a lockdown was –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – necessary and a price worth paying or that it wasn’t?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. No. You’re absolutely right. We actually had, I think, two different goes at trying a sort of QALY – as it’s called – approach. So actually I think the first was in the summer, not long after I’d started in the Covid Taskforce, because actually one of my predecessors – in fact you’ve heard from him –

Lead Inquiry: If I can interrupt you.

Dr Simon Case: – Lord O’Donnell –

Lead Inquiry: You said –

Dr Simon Case: – proposed –

Lead Inquiry: – in fact, to the Prime Minister that you’d attempted it in the summer but there’d been insufficient data or evidence to do the assessment.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. So if I –

Lead Inquiry: May I ask: who did it?

Dr Simon Case: We did it –

Lead Inquiry: Who did that assessment?

Dr Simon Case: In the Covid Taskforce.

Lead Inquiry: But the Covid Taskforce wasn’t operating, effectively, until late May/June.

Dr Simon Case: It was – May, yeah. So it was – when I set up the Covid Taskforce in May, that’s – certainly the first time I know we had a go was in that summer, and we’d tried to do it inside the Covid Taskforce.

Lead Inquiry: Are we talking about one paper or a meeting, or what was it?

Dr Simon Case: Well, I think … I think the team of analysts that we had had a go. I think we had … we had a couple of meetings on it, but I don’t think we ever took it to ministers because it just simply wasn’t advanced enough.

Lead Inquiry: In hindsight –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – would you accept that that lack of analysis –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – was critical?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, absolutely, and the thing about the QALY process, as I understand it, in the health system today, it’s underpinned by a very sort of serious analytical underpinning that’s been built up over years. I think it’s done by NICE, if I remember correctly. And, I’m sorry, I can’t remember the – to spell out the – that ac – that group. But there’s a really – it’s taken sort of years to develop it and it’s a really sophisticated system.

So a system like that in government actually that works across would be a very interesting thing to sort of set up. Because I – it’s very difficult to do it in the moment. I think it would have to be a sort of a system that was established and run through peacetime so that it was valuable in wartime. Forgive the analogy, but …

Lead Inquiry: Can we just focus on the importance of the submission, Dr Case. In October, on 28 October, the Prime Minister himself –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – in his box return comments –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. That’s right, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – on the front sheet of a report prepared for him by the Covid Taskforce, listed I think at least 22 agonising points –

Dr Simon Case: Yes, he did, it was extraordinary, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – in the face of having to make the decision as to whether or not there should be a second lockdown, two days before the lockdown was decided. And he exclaimed in the course of those – in that cri de coeur –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – “If we carry on with this endless lockdown strategy, there must logically come a moment when the attempt to protect the population is MORE HARMFUL than the disease.”

This was two days before the second –

Dr Simon Case: Second lockdown, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – national lockdown. There had been ample time for the government – as the press had been calling, as scientists in the public domain had been calling – for this analysis to be carried out to help the Prime Minister decide which side of the awful lockdown debate he would ultimately fall –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and it just wasn’t done, was it?

Dr Simon Case: No, as I said, we had attempts at it but we could not – we could not make a system, generate a system that did it.

Actually, by the way, I think, going back to an earlier point about the value of the Chancellor/Prime Minister bilateral, I think the Chancellor was really – the then Chancellor, Mr Sunak, was very hot on this QALY approach, and I think that’s an example of him raising questions with the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister’s then articulating.

Lead Inquiry: And obviously the Chancellor, wearing as he does a Treasury hat, was concerned to avoid the terrible economic consequences of a lockdown, and therefore promoted at every available opportunity the argument –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – don’t lock down because any QALY assessment will show that the price you pay for a lockdown is just too great?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Right.

Dr Simon Case: It is not correct to say there were no attempts to articulate the economic, societal and non-Covid health consequences of lockdowns when you go through the papers all the way through July, August –

Lead Inquiry: There was a general – forgive me.

Dr Simon Case: – September, October. There are general attempts to describe them but there was not a numerical model that was being done.

I agree that would be a very sensible thing, a very good thing to have running. As I say, I think it actually is – as I understand the system that supports it in the health world, it’s a really sophisticated thing that would be – I think it would be a very sensible thing to build and get going so that in future you’re not having to do it then.

Lead Inquiry: Dr Case, the generalists in the Civil Service and the politicians were only too aware of the price that would be paid by virtue of a lockdown or a second lockdown. It was obvious. Everybody in the entire country knew what the price would be for another lockdown in terms of economic and societal damage. But that wasn’t the point. The point is there was no developed, scientific, advisory structure that could at least help to resolve that conundrum?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: And months passed, months and months, and then it wasn’t until after the second lockdown was actually in place, on 2 November, in an email chat, a WhatsApp chat between Simon Ridley and a number of Number 10 officials, did he ask for SAGE to produce estimates and modelling on the non-Covid health and societal impacts of a lockdown.

So it wasn’t until after the second lockdown had even started that that call went out for assistance.

Dr Simon Case: Correct. Look, I agree with your whole thrust here. It’s a thing that we must get – we must fix in advance of any … it won’t just be pandemic, it would be valuable across other –

Lead Inquiry: Indeed.

Dr Simon Case: – other decisions that government has to take, and possibly not even just in crisis times.

Lead Inquiry: Now I just want to ask you some specific questions about a handful of disparate and particular areas.

Shortly before you became permanent secretary on 20 May, the May 2020 roadmap was published, I think it was published on 13 –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – May. And it announced step 1. I apologise, it wasn’t published on 13 May, I think step 1 was going to take place on 13 May.

Shortly thereafter, there were some WhatsApp messages between you and Mark Sedwill, in fact on 22 May, in which you refer to Mark Sedwill having suggested that Sir Patrick Vallance and Sir Chris Whitty be excluded from a meeting with the Prime Minister at which the easing, the roadmap, was to be discussed. And you said:

“Your call about not including Patrick and Chris was genius – it removed that dynamic.”

In what way, Dr Case, was it sensible or advisable to describe the government’s own scientific and medical advisers as being a “dynamic” who were required to be removed from a meeting to discuss the lifting of interventions?

Dr Simon Case: Because the Prime Minister had already had many, many discussions with Chris and Patrick about it, and sometimes, to go back to trying to get decisions that sort of worked and stuck with the Prime Minister, if – if there were too many people in the room putting forward competing views, it would be difficult to get to a decision that would stick.

Actually what happened in that instance was the Prime Minister had already agreed, I believe, an approach with Chris and Patrick to the next steps, and quite straightforwardly then agreed that with the Chancellor.

Lead Inquiry: Dr Case, how can you possibly describe the government’s own Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer as being simply a competing view? They were an absolutely essential part –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – of the dynamic and debate –

Dr Simon Case: Absolutely.

Lead Inquiry: – because they were generally proponents for a public health intervention?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: So to take them out of the equation, to take them out of the audience with the Prime Minister, you’re skewing the advice being given to him and therefore the outcome?

Dr Simon Case: I’m sorry, Mr Keith, I’m going to disagree with you here, because, as I said, the Prime Minister had already discussed these matters a great deal with Chris and Patrick, and if anything, if I remember this meeting correctly, it was about getting the Chancellor on board with the proposals that Chris and Patrick had supported. I think that’s the dynamic.

Lead Inquiry: But then why was it necessary for you to praise Mark Sedwill for suggesting that they be removed from the meeting? That meeting was the meeting at which the Chancellor and the Prime Minister discussed that package:

“… primary schools as planned, [Year 10 to 12] limited; open up the outdoor economy … all non-essential retail … from 15 June …”

They were removed from the meeting to make it easier to open up –

Dr Simon Case: No.

Lead Inquiry: – the roadmap, were they not?

Dr Simon Case: No, that’s the exact opposite of what I’ve just said, Mr Keith. The Prime Minister had already agreed, I believe, the proposed package with Chris and Patrick in line, I think, if I remember – I think, again, I think I’m remembering this right, we’d pre-agreed the right answer with the Prime Minister and Chris and Patrick, and this was an exercise in making sure the Chancellor was comfortable with it. I think – I think the dynamic that Mark and I are talking about was that we thought this ought – I think Mark – Mark’s view was it’s easier to get these things agreed with the Chancellor, ie getting the Chancellor to agree with something he may not – might not like, if the Prime Minister’s proposing it rather than Chris and Patrick are proposing it. I think that’s the dynamic.

Lead Inquiry: On 5 June – on 2 June and 5 June, in WhatsApp messages, you referred respectively to you having a fairly big bust-up with the Prime Minister:

“… I lost my rag with him over his flip-flopping.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Then on 5 June:

“The Prime Minister has had a complete U-turn after a meeting with the Chancellor.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Was this not the position, that when the Prime Minister spoke to the Chancellor, he ended up –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – believing that –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the country had to be opened up as quickly as possible in order to preserve its economy, and then when he saw his Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer, he backed and veered the other way? So the Civil Service decided that the best way to resolve the conundrum to prevent the flip-flopping was to remove Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance from the equation and thereby allow the easing?

Dr Simon Case: No, that is an incorrect characterisation of that. It’s certainly true that later that dynamic that you described, you know, was much more of an issue, that – you know, with Chris and Patrick, it was “Let’s agree this”, and with the Chancellor, when it came up, you’d agree that. But in that particular instance you’re talking about, the dynamic is the reverse, which is the best way to get the Chancellor to agree something is the Prime Minister’s pre-agreed it with Chris and Patrick.

Lead Inquiry: The best way to get the Chancellor to agree is to give him what he wanted, which was the easing and the release from the economy?

Dr Simon Case: Well, yes, had that been the circumstance, yes, in that instance.

Lead Inquiry: You then led, fairly soon thereafter, the review of the 2-metre social distancing guidance.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: This was a semiformal review –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – of what was known as the 2-metre rule. What the government had announced was that there would be a 1 metre plus –

Dr Simon Case: Yep, correct.

Lead Inquiry: – rule, but at around the same time it was understandably thought, well, that there may be a good basis for reducing the 2-metre rule to just 1 metre, and you prepared a report from Her Majesty’s Government titled “Review of the two metre social distancing guidance” –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – on 24 June, and the review panel was led by you –

Dr Simon Case: Yep.

Lead Inquiry: – but it included the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Economic Adviser.

Did you approach that review with an open mind, Dr Case?

Dr Simon Case: I did, yes. Ministers I knew wanted to go down to 1 metre because I think, if I remember correctly, there had already been some work done in the economic departments about how that would, you know, support the economy, but obviously we didn’t give them 1 metre, we gave them 1 metre plus.

Lead Inquiry: On 11 June, so two weeks before the report was published, you WhatsApped the Prime Minister and before the report had been drafted, at least in its final iteration, you told the Prime Minister that you would announce your intention, that is to say the intention of the review committee, to drop to 1 metre from 1 July. So you prejudged your own review and you had told the Prime Minister what you would be likely to do?

Dr Simon Case: No, I think this is a sort of slightly dangerous example of taking a single line in a WhatsApp and –

Lead Inquiry: Right.

Dr Simon Case: – turning it into a slightly, you know … so –

Lead Inquiry: Well, perhaps we can look at it.

Let’s have INQ000283296, page 2.

At 7.10.20, if we could scroll in, please. It’s quite difficult to see –

Dr Simon Case: It’s the “On [the] 2m rule, I was” –

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

“On [the] 2m rule …”

So this is 11 June, so before –

Dr Simon Case: Yep.

Lead Inquiry: – the report is … before, I think, you’d had the final meetings with the CMO and the Government Chief Scientific Adviser to decide what you were going to recommend.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: “On the 2-metre rule, I was planning to bring the ‘review’ to a conclusion a week tomorrow.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Well, why is the “review” in parenthesis?

Dr Simon Case: I’d first used “review” in parentheses on 8 June in a discussion with Chris and Patrick. It was – I hated it being called a review, and had tried very hard to persuade our ministers not to announce it as a “review”. This was a piece of policy work, advisory work being done, overseen by myself, Chris, Patrick and Clare Lombardelli.

This word “review” is sort of bandied about in government to somehow give a piece of work additional independent status. It’s no such thing. We were four advisers to government, to ministers, producing our advice, that’s what it was. Unfortunately I lost this battle about not calling it a review, so I rather petulantly kept referring to it as “review”, I think, in the submission. As I said, I first – the first example I found is with – actually with Chris and Patrick on 8 June, so before I’d used it with the Prime Minister. And I think this discussion is actually about the timing rather than the –

Lead Inquiry: When the review was announced it was called a review. When it was debated in government circles it was called a review. When it was published it was called a review. Did you put the word “review” in inverted commas on 11 June because it was, in truth, a put-up job? You had no real intention of seeing where the committee would go and what conclusion it would reach; you intended, perhaps understandably, to do your master’s bidding and to bring in what he was desperate for you to recommend, which was that the 2-metre rule could be reduced to 1 metre?

Dr Simon Case: Well, self-evidently that can’t be correct, Mr Keith.

Lady Hallett: Forgive me, Dr Case.

I’m not entirely sure that was a fair question, Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: Well …

Lady Hallett: Is it based on the fact that the word “review” is in inverted commas? Because if so, Dr Case has explained it.

Mr Keith: Well, then, let’s look, please, at 07.31 –

Lady Hallett: Sorry, did you want to carry on with this point?

Dr Simon Case: Well, I was just going to say, I think – I mean, my answer is: no, it wasn’t a put-up job.

Mr Keith: Right.

Dr Simon Case: I knew, as I went into leading this review, with three eminent colleagues, that economic ministers wanted us to go down to 1 metre. I knew that. As you’ll see in the conclusions of the review, we went through this extremely carefully, we went through international comparators, scientific evidence, the economic impact – this is an example going back to QALYs where we actually tried to weigh things up, and we recommended 1 metre plus.

If I may quote, we concluded:

“We recommend 2 metres and, where that is not economically or practically viable, 1 metre with risk mitigation is acceptable.”

And we recommended a clear communications campaign to ensure people didn’t adopt 1 metre without mitigation.

So even though there’s no doubt I was under political pressure to deliver 1 metre, that is not what I delivered. I delivered what we as a panel, because all of the recommendations were signed off by all four of us very explicitly, we delivered what we thought was the right balance.

Lead Inquiry: At 07.31.10 – if we could scroll back out, and I believe it’s on the same page – you said to Mr Johnson:

“Okay – then we are simpatico. I conclude the ‘review’ next Friday. You … consider the conclusions … and then we announce our intention, assuming incidence continues to fall, to drop to 1m from 4 July.”

As at 07.31 on 11 June, had Sir Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick Vallance, yourself, and the fourth member of the committee, I think was the Chief Economic –

Dr Simon Case: Clare Lombardelli, yes.

Lead Inquiry: Yes, the Chief Economic Adviser – actually met to decide whether or not you would recommend that the 2-metre rule be reduced to 1 metre?

Dr Simon Case: I think we’d been meeting on an almost – we’d been meeting on a daily basis, I think, by that point.

But, I mean, just specifically this is about the timetable. The timetable of 4 July, which is what this message is really about, as you see, I’m responding to his – him saying:

“I think I need [this] in time for July 4.”

This is me basically responding saying we’ll have it ready for 4 July. I’d already agreed that timetable with Chris, Patrick and Clare before I described it to the Prime Minister.

Lead Inquiry: Why then did you refer to the intention of the committee “our intention”, to drop to 1 metre in advance of that committee even forming a view as to whether you would recommend that it be dropped to 1 metre?

Dr Simon Case: As I said, Mr Keith, I can’t quite remember what I was thinking at 07.31 and 10 seconds on 11 June 2020. I honestly cannot tell you quite why I used the phrasing I did. As I read this, this is about the timetable, not about the conclusions, and, as I’ve now said several times, we didn’t recommend 1 metre; we recommended 2 metres and, where that is not economically and practically viable, 1 metre with risk mitigation.

Lead Inquiry: You do know, don’t you, that Sir Patrick Vallance in his evening notes on 11 June –

Dr Simon Case: Yes, I –

Lead Inquiry: – recorded that the paper from Number 10, the Cabinet Office and then in brackets, you, Dr Case, concerning the 1-metre/2-metre review, he says:

“Some person has completely rewritten the same advice as though it is the definitive version. They have just cherry picked.”

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: So what was that about?

Dr Simon Case: I mean, he addressed this in his own advice, which is – there’s one bit he didn’t mention. So, first of all, it was an internal first go by somebody in the Cabinet Office. I don’t think the thing that Sir Patrick realises: the person who rewrote it was one of his own staff members on loan to us to do the review. So it was one of the government scientists who’d been loaned to me to support the review had rewritten it, so it was one of his own staff.

Lead Inquiry: Why was another member of the committee completely put out that a version of the advice had been rewritten and was purporting to be the definitive version?

Dr Simon Case: You’re asking me to describe how Patrick Vallance felt that evening when writing his diary. I’m not sure I can do that. As I’ve said, he’s already addressed in his evidence that it was a Cabinet Office internal paper that never went anywhere, so it wasn’t part of the review. And, as I’ve said, secondly, it was actually written by one of his own scientific staff.

Lead Inquiry: All right, well, we have your evidence.

The local lockdown in Leicester –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – briefly, please, before lunch.

A local lockdown was announced on 29 June, you’ll recall, and your witness statement makes plain that the data concerning cases in Leicester had been highly inadequate?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: And what happened was the inadequacy of the data meant that only at the eleventh hour, indeed the 59th minute, was central government, in the form of yourself and the Prime Minister and others, told that cases were out of control in Leicester. Number 10 had received reassurance for some time that public health measures in Leicester had the situation under control – I’m reading in fact from your statement – and the alarm was only raised when the decision was very pressing indeed?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: In the WhatsApps between yourself and Jack Doyle, who was in the communications department, I think, of Number 10 –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, that’s right.

Lead Inquiry: – and also in your Number Ten Action group WhatsApp communications, and also with Sir Chris Wormald at the DHSC, you expressed your alarm and concern that Number 10 had not been aware of the incipient problem and how it had suddenly burst into the open at a very late stage, and –

Dr Simon Case: I think it was – actually there was more concern than that. I think I’d seen flickers in the data about Leicester in the fortnight before, and I’d specifically asked: is everything under control?

Lead Inquiry: I think you were reassured –

Dr Simon Case: And I’d been assured. And then I think what happened is over a day, it was maybe within the day, we suddenly got told that we needed to do this Leicester and Leicestershire – bits of Leicestershire lockdown, which included, if I remember correctly, getting statutory instruments passed through Parliament. Which was not straightforward when it came to the local MPs. You know, there was a disagreement with the local mayor, who had refused to accept the Public Health England data, so Chris Whitty had to spend time with him.

It was – you know, and we’ll come on to tiering, which was pretty unsatisfactory – it was – we’d talked – in the May roadmap talked about smarter NPIs. We’d had things going through Covid-S about a contain framework and local lockdowns and this was the first time we got there, and it just – it – we went – it felt from my end, I’m sure this isn’t how it felt locally to local health officials, but it felt we went from nought to a million miles an hour and needing to pass statutory instruments through Parliament without any discussion or build-up.

I think some of that probably was because actually the data – again, this is back to what – I just don’t know whether the data was there. The organisation that we were relying on to pull these data together was the JBC, Joint Biosecurity Centre, that had been – I think it was probably in only its first or second week of operation.

So I think my frustration is actually that the system wasn’t there to support the decision-making.

Sorry, it’s a very long answer, sorry.

Lead Inquiry: Can I attempt to draw the threads together.

Firstly, in relation to the first time that this local restriction process was applied, there was a pretty serious failure of government in terms of –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the very late emergence of the problem, firstly.

Secondly, when you enquired into what had gone wrong, it became apparent to you that there were a number of causes. Firstly, local mayors, who of course had to deal with the consequences of the imposition of a local lockdown, simply didn’t trust the government’s own data?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: Secondly, there was a general lack of trust in the government because this all came after the Barnard Castle scandal?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, that’s true, yes.

Lead Inquiry: Thirdly, you became aware that there were significant problems within the Department of Health and Social Care because although Mr Hancock was, as ever, very … I’m genuinely stumped for the right word. Mr Hancock was, as ever, very proactive in his approach to –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – getting things done.

Dr Simon Case: He was enthusiastic.

Lead Inquiry: Enthusiastic, thank you.

There was a complete absence of strategic and policy support in the DHSC to make that enthusiasm –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – work?

Dr Simon Case: I think that’s the bit of the thing I think actually is, was unfair. Actually after this, I had been surprised about – I mean, all the way through I was quite surprised at the meetings on Covid with the Prime Minister. We’d have the Health Secretary there and we’d have Chris Whitty, as the Chief Medical Officer, but we wouldn’t have a senior official from DHSC. You know, a senior official who was working on something. It might have rotated.

And that was out of keeping with the practice for most other departments: when we were meeting on education, the Education Secretary would be supporting individuals.

And I was quite worried, but actually, after this incident, I spoke to Chris Wormald, who was the permanent secretary, to say, “You know, is this all right? Are you being excluded from these meetings? You know, is this a problem?” And actually he reassured me that, in fact, what was happening is they were having quite extensive pre-meetings with Matt, with the then Health Secretary, before he came over. So actually I think my criticism about DHSC was – they didn’t come to the meetings at senior official level at this time but I think it was – I was being unfair.

Lead Inquiry: The issue of the DHSC was a perennial one –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – was it not?

Dr Simon Case: I think particularly in the first lockdown, from the evidence that I’ve seen, there was real – real tensions.

Lead Inquiry: But that, those problems persisted throughout the summer because –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – on 3 June, with reference to the Civil Service, and I’m not going to name individual names, but with reference to the Civil Service and the DHSC, you said of this particular person, “he is hardly convincing senior ranks of [government] that the health system is on it”. On 29 June you referred to the failure on the part of the Civil Service side of the DHSC to drive the policy side of the operational lockdown on Mr Hancock’s behalf?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: And you also, in a number of other WhatsApp messages, debated the need to – the need for Lord Sedwill to tell the Prime Minister to sack Mr Hancock?

Dr Simon Case: That’s – that’s Lord Sedwill –

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – referring to his –

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – conversation or something. He was reporting that conversation to – yeah, so you’re right –

Lead Inquiry: I’m so sorry, Dr Case –

Dr Simon Case: Oh.

Lead Inquiry: – please don’t attempt to move away from your endorsement of his position, perhaps in –

Dr Simon Case: Oh, yeah, no, sorry, I –

Lead Inquiry: “I told [the Prime Minister] to sack [Mr] Hancock … and replace him with Gove.

“Simon Case: I think that’s a great move.”

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, I wasn’t – that wasn’t my suggestion – and I never discussed that, I don’t think, with the Prime Minister.

But on – but the important point on DHSC, actually one of the thing – that pulling together the policy about local lockdowns, of course, is something that ended up inside the Covid Taskforce and the test and trace operation, so those concerns were addressed.

Mr Keith: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Right, just – as we’re not sitting according to our normal pattern, I shall return at 2.05, sit till 3.10, take a 15-minute break, and then sit 3.25 to 4.30 or thereabouts. We’ll definitely finish your evidence today, Dr Case.

(1.05 pm)

(The short adjournment)

(2.05 pm)

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: In the course of this morning’s evidence, Dr Case, we were looking at the government’s consideration of whether the consequences of lockdown were so awful that there had to be a proper formal consideration of alternatives and whether or not there was a viable alternative in terms of the weighing up of the issues and the QALY analysis.

Another part of that debate concerned or involved segmentation, and in July you discussed the issue of population segmentation with Mark Sedwill.

Dr Simon Case: Mm.

Lead Inquiry: And without in any way suggesting that you had reached concluded positions, you were debating, you were talking around the alternatives and one of them was – I think it was described by him as a Stalinist segmentation whereby the virus – it’s not permitted to kill the old and the sick because nobody ever permits a virus to do anything, but there was a recognition that there could be a system by which – or process by which part of the population is segmented, shielded essentially –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – and part of the population is allowed to get on with life after a fashion.

What work was done in reality on pursuing segmentation as a policy possibility in the summer of 2020?

Dr Simon Case: If I remember correctly, I think during July, maybe August, early September, work was done to look at this. I think, in the end, it finished up in a note to the Prime Minister, I think, in September, which effectively concluded that large-scale segmentation was impractical. And if I remember correctly, the recommendation was the shielding programme needed to be developed. The version that was ruled out was a very large-scale segmentation.

And I think along the way in producing that there were various conversations with public services, and if I remember correctly I think maybe even, sort of, some of the supermarkets and that sort of thing, about the practicalities of large-scale segmentation. You know, ie that anybody above a certain age group would be segmented from everyone else and –

Lead Inquiry: Pausing you there, segmentation by age?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, I think that was the main focus of the work. Because shielding, the shielding programme, as it were, was segmentation by vulnerability. I’m not sure whether that’s quite a right word, but by clinical definition of vulnerability. The work that was done on segmentation was – yeah, exactly, it was a crude age thing. Where, you know, the reality became that you would – you would have to totally divide society in its purest form. Supermarkets would have to be open certain hours of the day when only certain people of certain age could come in. You would – intergenerational households couldn’t function. So it was ruled out as sort of impractical in that sense.

Lead Inquiry: How developed did the thinking become? I mean, was it appreciated at a relatively early stage that the practicalities made it something that was impossible to pursue, or did it progress after a fashion but then ultimately run into the ground?

Dr Simon Case: I think it’s the latter. I think it was maybe six or eight weeks’ work that was started, you know, it wasn’t a cursory look. As I said, I think there was dialogue with – you know, you actually look at the practicalities but I think was then ruled out in that form. And I don’t – I’m not aware that any other form of segmentation – I can’t quite think what that would be, but was explored.

Lead Inquiry: I asked you earlier this morning about your acknowledgement of the understandably vocal debate in the public arena about whether or not segmentation or a form of shielding –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – presented itself as a viable alternative to lockdown, and you’re obviously aware of the many people who –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – who called upon the government to justify the second lockdown and who asked the government: why didn’t you contemplate an alternative? Why didn’t you put into place a practical alternative to lockdown that would have obviated the need for it?

What do you say to them? Why wasn’t segmentation or the QALY analysis or the other steps that might have been taken to provide the government with an option, an alternative, taken?

Dr Simon Case: Two points, if I may. We talked about QALYs this morning and I’ve acknowledged that was, sort of, a mistake.

On segmentation, I think the version of segmentation that was actually developed, in fact through the whole pandemic, ie shielding of the clinically extremely vulnerable, ended up being the best form of segmentation because it was done by, sort of, vulnerability to the virus.

I think the problem with the age version of segmentation which was being put forward – you know, because I think there was a crude look at the statistics that said, well, if you’re above – if you’re below a certain age your probability of ending up in hospital or whatever – hospitalisation rates are low.

Yeah, the problem with that, of course, is that that still ends up admitting that you’re allowing some people, as it were, who beats the stats – you’re actually allowing that some younger people would get the virus and would be hospitalised and what have you.

The other argument I remember being put forward against segmentation was – actually, I think it was by Patrick Vallance – was the problem with segmentation was at some point you had to stop. Which, of course, once you’d got vaccines, fine. But if you had a bit of the population – if you had a segment of the population where, in effect, you were letting the virus circulate rapidly, and it would keep doing that, and it would mutate, at what point are you allowing that segment of the population to reintegrate without vaccines or what have you? How do you eventually stop segmenting?

I think that was one – actually, again, quite a practical point, which was: once you’ve started doing this, if you’ve got very high transmission of the virus amongst one set of the population, how do you ever stop, if the other side of the population can’t get that virus but it’s spreading rapidly?

Lead Inquiry: So shades, in fact, of the herd immunity debate from –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I suppose, yes.

Lead Inquiry: – earlier in the year?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think – I think that’s right.

Lead Inquiry: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but was this the position, then: that the government reached the view that, for practical and epidemiological reasons –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – segmentation as a process to allow society to continue to function –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – without the need for a lockdown proved not to be possible?

Dr Simon Case: Certainly that was the conclusion of the work.

Of course there were lots of other things that we tried to do, you know, in the run-up to the second lockdown, to avoid it, tiering, mass testing and all of these sorts of things, to desperately try to avoid a second national lockdown –

Lead Inquiry: We’ll come to those.

Dr Simon Case: – but segmentation was ruled out, I think. I think it was September that the Prime Minister accepted the advice.

Lead Inquiry: Would you acknowledge that the government failed to demonstrate publicly –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – that it was considering any –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – a possible alternative to a lockdown, if the R rate and the public health arguments demanded – otherwise demanded a lockdown, and it failed to make plain that it was considering alternatives, because in the public arena –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – at any rate, the government has been very severely criticised for at least appearing not to have considered anything but –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – a public health driven lockdown?

Dr Simon Case: I think it’s a very fair criticism.

There were a number of occasions where this desire to have simple, clear, unambiguous messages coming out of government about the strategy meant that there wasn’t enough engagement on the alternatives, and, as you say, I think this is a case where there could have been explanation, there could have been more explanation of what we’d done to explore alternatives and why they wouldn’t work. You know, it was a sort of failure of transparency.

Lead Inquiry: It does rather appear that, in relation to a number of issues, the U-turn on exam results, the face mask policy, face covering policy –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the issue of whether or not there was an alternative to lockdown, there was a high degree of confusion, at least, in terms of the government’s understanding of its own position and what –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the public made of your position.

Dr Simon Case: Yes, I think absolutely, absolutely fair. There were times when, you know, almost within a day, a minister would do what we call the morning round, you know, going on the television and radio in the morning and sort of say one thing, and by the end of the day the government had actually announced a different position. I think that happened on a couple of occasions, which, exactly as you say, confused the public, because it wasn’t giving them the information that, “Well, you know, what do you want me to do? You know, what am I supposed to do?”

There was another period, I mean, again part of that autumn, late summer/autumn period, as part of this move to try to find alternatives to lockdown, we made a real drive to put more of the data, more of the dashboard into the public domain, including getting more regional data out there, because the argument was if you give people the data they’ll make – they’ll make decisions for themselves about how they lead their lives.

I think the problem is we put – ended up putting so much data out that, you know, people couldn’t necessarily understand it, whatever – that sort of went from very simple messaging to sort of hyper transparency, and that wasn’t very successful either.

Lead Inquiry: In your own WhatsApp to Helen MacNamara in August 2020 you described the U-turn on exam results as being “the most awful governing I think I have ever seen” –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and you said:

“Lots of people should lose their heads.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Elsewhere you described the “total chaos” of government.

Explain, please, why or how the government got itself in the position in which there appears to have been U-turns, a lack of a coherent strategy, a lack of a coherent approach being explained to the public, and an extraordinary inability to be able to rationalise a position and then stick to it.

Dr Simon Case: It wasn’t for want of trying, I can tell you, and, you know, my frustrations are laid bare in the material that you have.

Now, some of the explanation is, of course, because of the inherent complexity of the challenge of the virus and the wider impacts of the virus on society, economy, non-Covid health, et cetera.

Some of it is that, as it were, new things were learnt. And the obvious point there is on variants: when new variants turned up, the facts – as it were, in that Keynesian sort of thing, “The facts have changed so I’ve changed my mind”.

But it was also just very difficult, in a sort of human sense, to keep the discipline of government together, to sort of keep everybody on the same page. People had strong views. You know, we tried to keep cohering the view but, you know, weren’t always successful.

I mean, exams, you mean – you mentioned. I mean, exams are a separate issue, and I think you’re doing a module on education. I mean, the thing about that that was, sort of, very frustrating was that, of course, exactly the same thing had happened in Scotland just before. And, again, some of us had asked questions about: are we okay? Is – you know, I think it’s two or three weeks before the Scottish exam results come out, and sort of again said: are we on top of this? Is this going to be okay? And then exactly the same thing happened in England. It was frustrating.

Lead Inquiry: Eat Out to Help Out.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: My Lady’s heard evidence, quite extensive evidence, about that scheme, and there is evidence to suggest – well, quite plain evidence to suggest that Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were unaware of it and that it was – when it was presented –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – to the cabinet on 8 July, some ministers, but particularly Mr Hancock, for them it was the first time they’d heard of the scheme.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Were you aware that Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance had not been approached for their views on the scheme?

Dr Simon Case: No, in fact I wasn’t aware of Eat Out to Help Out until it was announced either. It hadn’t – it hadn’t – you know, I think you’ve already heard from Simon Ridley it didn’t come through the Covid Taskforce, so I don’t think we were aware.

Lead Inquiry: You were the permanent secretary in Number 10.

Dr Simon Case: Well, permanent secretary in Number 10 working on Covid, and it didn’t – it didn’t –

Lead Inquiry: But you didn’t know about –

Dr Simon Case: No –

Lead Inquiry: – the Eat Out to Help Out scheme?

Dr Simon Case: – no. And I think – I mean, obviously – I mean, my Lady, I know you have to – I’m sure you’ll have to try to pull together a coherent account of this.

I mean, what is clear is that the Prime Minister thought they had been consulted.

Lead Inquiry: Can I assist you? We’re not delving into –

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, okay.

Lead Inquiry: – the merits of the scheme.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: That’s for other witnesses and has been for other witnesses. Or the impact –

Dr Simon Case: Okay.

Lead Inquiry: – or any of, I suppose, the societal consequences.

Just in terms of the process by which the scheme came to be promulgated, it’s quite obvious that very few people knew about it?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. I think because it had been worked up as what we call a budget measure sort of between – sort of, in the Prime Minister/Chancellor space, where budget work is done, as I say … yeah, that – as I say, I didn’t – I didn’t know, and actually the – the concerns about it – in fact I think I didn’t know until about – about until late August, actually, when Matt Hancock raised his concerns with me.

Lead Inquiry: Yes, in the context of whether it would be extended or whether –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, yeah, which it wasn’t.

Lead Inquiry: He raised concerns –

Dr Simon Case: It wasn’t to be, and I raised that with the Prime Minister, and I think he already knew about the scientists’ concern in late August.

Lady Hallett: Were you saying just a moment ago, Dr Case, that the Prime Minister thought that people like Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance had been consulted?

Dr Simon Case: That’s my understanding, is that he thought they had been consulted. Apologies if I’ve misrepresented his evidence, but my – certainly my reading of his written evidence – I haven’t seen everything that he said to you in oral evidence – was he thought that they had been consulted.

Lady Hallett: Oh, I see, that’s not coming from what you knew at the time –

Dr Simon Case: No, sorry, sorry, apologies, no, it’s from what I’d read in the material.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr Keith: Mr Sunak in his witness statement said the policy was subsequently approved and signed off by Number 10. Mr Johnson said in his statement before the scheme was implemented he had discussions with Mr Sunak, and that he understood it had been discussed with the relevant advisers.

Can we now, please, come to the autumn of 2020. And I want to try to focus on the overarching strategic considerations. By this time you, of course, were Cabinet Secretary.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: There is ample material in the WhatsApps and the policy documents, the materials prepared by the Covid Taskforce, to suggest that by the end of August government knew that the numbers were rising.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: The government knew also that one of the primary features of a viral pandemic is the wave and, therefore, that a second wave was very likely. And indeed, your own communications show that you discussed with the Prime Minister the emergence of the second wave in France and other Western European countries, and he and you agreed that you’d have to be mad to think that it wouldn’t come to the United Kingdom.

There was at the beginning of September no vaccine.

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: Although there had been a debate about the Moonshot project –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – of getting test and trace to a position whereby the population at large –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, it was mass asymptomatic –

Lead Inquiry: Mass asymptomatic –

Dr Simon Case: – with testing was the goal, which couldn’t be achieved in the timescale.

Lead Inquiry: But by September/October – well, certainly in September, although there was a great deal of goodwill and a great deal of optimism that it would work, the signs that it wouldn’t work were already becoming apparent.

So the government was faced with a terrible predicament, was it not: they knew – you knew the second wave was coming, you had no practical vaccine-related or test and trace methods at your disposal to deal with the second wave, and therefore you knew you would have to contemplate at some point the possibility of another lockdown with all the terrible consequences that ensued, because you knew from the first lockdown what they were?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: Is that all a fair summary so far?

Dr Simon Case: It is, I think it goes, this – this avoiding second lockdown actually goes right back to May. I think when you read the May roadmap – that roadmap is worth looking at. It talks about harms. It – you – quite soon after sort of when I’d started the Number 10 – the Covid Taskforce job, we’d already got this mentality – we were using the language of an R budget. I think people will have spoken to you about this concept of R budget. This is mostly in relation to unlocking.

I wonder if that didn’t actually trap us into a certain way of thinking, which was an R budget – again, it’s sort of one of those read – a read-across from how we do financial budgets, which is you – the Chancellor will get from somewhere and the Prime Minister will get a forecast which will have in it: this is how much room you’ve got to play with, this is how much money you’ve got to spend on tax cuts or more public service spending.

The problem I think in the autumn goes – there’s – I can make an argument that it actually goes back to the unlocking in the summer. The R budget mentality thought: well, okay, if R is 0.6, that means we’ve got 0.4 of R to spend, so let’s unlock as fast as we can up to the point of 0.4.

What this – what we didn’t have was an incidence-based measure. In the roadmap, and all the way through the summer – all the way through the autumn, we were trying mass testing, we were trying tiering in ever strengthening forms, you know, Hands, Face, Space, rule of six, and all of those little nudges on the tiller that were going on. They may have worked, they could have worked – test and trace is probably the best example – but they couldn’t ever work in a high-incidence environment, which is what we had.

Lead Inquiry: Can I pause you there?

Dr Simon Case: Sorry, I’m going off on a –

Lead Inquiry: No, no, no, it’s plainly very important. I wanted you to explain some of the thinking about the incidence level.

Had the position been or was the position that in the summer, as part of the roadmap and the easing off, the United Kingdom had been unlocked, eased, at a point at which the levels of circulation of the virus in the population –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – were, relatively speaking, at a higher level –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – than the incidence rates in other comparable Western European countries?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think – I think there’s a – that’s true. I was always told at the time there may be an artefact of the data, which is – of course we were doing very sophisticated – we had more testing going on than others, but I think – I’m sure it is right that we were unlocking at higher incidence than others, which always made it harder for our – for our – measures that we were doing to try to avoid the second lockdown probably were less successful because of that high incidence.

Lead Inquiry: So to some extent the die were cast by the beginning of September, because the United Kingdom had gone beyond the point at which it had made decisions about easing and the roadmap –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the incidence levels had remained relatively high and had started to go up, and so by that time, early September, the government’s hands had already been tied, because anything that you did in terms of rules of six, or circuit-breakers, or local restrictions, or, as it turned out, tiers –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and then a lockdown, were all going to be less effective, or at least, alternatively, when imposed they’d all have to be imposed for longer –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – and to greater or more severe effect –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – because you were dealing with a background –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – of a high level of incidence.

Dr Simon Case: Yes. I agree with that articulation and say it’s only myself having gone back in the last few weeks in preparation and re-reading all this stuff, thinking: is that – was that the big problem?

Because I remember us discussing – I remember discussing with the then Prime Minister in particular the German experience, where it looked like – I think it was German and Belgian – where there seemed like relatively small measures that they were doing – like they’d brought in a curfew, I think, on their hospitality and their pubs at one point, and it seemed to work in – I can’t remember which city it was in, but it looked like it worked.

And we said, well, why is it such a small measure looks like it’s working there? And the answer that we got back, you know, from the discussions with Chris and Patrick and the data people was: well, actually these interventions are happening at a much lower level of incidence. The test and trace – actually test and trace was sort of much maligned through the autumn as not being effective. Actually I think it was an impossible job that we did – we set them, because incidence was so high, unlike in Germany and other examples of test and trace where, if you’ve got a very small number of people with the virus, low incidence, and you go in with a test and trace mechanism, you have a pretty good chance of actually locking down that outbreak.

If you’ve got the virus – we were talking all the time about – you know, Chris Whitty used to talk about a number of pandemics going on at the same time. There was the pandemic in the general population, there was the pandemic in hospitals, and then there was the pandemic in care homes. The problem was our pandemic in the general population, the incidence remained so high that these measures couldn’t work as effectively as they did elsewhere.

Lead Inquiry: So is this the position, Dr Case: there were a number of serious failings on the part of the government? One, and it’s a problem that you faced throughout the whole of 2020, there had been no scaled-up test and trace process which would have allowed you –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – a way out of the conundrum?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: Two, you had eased off too much in the summer, which had allowed incidence levels of circulation of the virus to remain high, which came back to haunt you in the autumn, because it then restricted your freedom of manoeuvre when it came to dealing with the rocketing rates in the autumn.

Three, in the autumn, although some people had called for a circuit-breaker, and SPI-M-O had –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – called for a circuit-breaker, Mr Cummings had called for a circuit-breaker, a number of others, the government didn’t impose a circuit-breaker in September, but instead tried the tier process –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – in October?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, correct.

Lead Inquiry: But those two decisions proved to be inadequate –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – to deal with the rocketing rate of the virus?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: So that’s the third failing.

Then the fourth problem – perhaps not a failing but a problem – was that in trying to resolve what should be done, there was a high level of confusion at the heart of government, perhaps reflective of how impossible a task it was – you were being, as you described, buffeted by significant internal and external pressures. Bluntly, you just couldn’t see your way out of the sack –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – that you were in?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, and as we’ve discussed this morning, the consciousness around the harms, the, sort of, hidden and, sort of, less hidden harms, was a real – much more part of the conversation in the internal decision-making. You know, there is this sort of – a, sort of, an expression I think that gets used, about – you know, about boiling frogs. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it – I won’t bother – but this idea that we’d got sort of trapped into a way of thinking and wrestling that meant we couldn’t actually see what was really happening and take the decisive action. You know, sort of prisoners of our own mentality, which was we were desperate to avoid another lockdown. We’d … you know there was just all these attempts to try to come up with solutions, and we were just prisoners of our own thinking.

Lead Inquiry: And bluntly, the government, as we’ve discussed, the structures and the processes and the systems for allowing you to release yourself from your own self-imposed prison were not up to the job?

Dr Simon Case: The debate was there, we just couldn’t bring it to a conclusion. As you said – I mean, interestingly, circuit-breakers, the idea of circuit-breakers had come up, I think, in several papers that were put to Covid-S, even before SAGE, on 21 September, it included it in one of their –

Lead Inquiry: First week of September, SPI-M-O raised it.

Dr Simon Case: It was, I think it – if I remember it, it was, sort of, in – it was in papers in July and August, this idea of circuit-breakers, so – but we – the debate was there about it, but just couldn’t take the decision, you know, just couldn’t get the agreement to do something other than just keep trying all these things desperately to avoid a national lockdown.

And, you know, now it looks like – it’s sort of – you wonder: how on earth did we make that mistake? You know, at the time it felt like just reasonable attempt after reasonable attempt to avoid that second lockdown, because it was so damaging.

The language at the time, and this isn’t, you know … about in particular – every time you get an economic sort of crisis or dip or crash, one of the long-term effects in particular is youth unemployment, and the unemployment at lower end of the wages, which – you know, that part of our workforce, as it was then, is disproportionately female, young and ethnic minority. These were in all of the forecasts, these were the sorts of things that were being discussed, is: this is – these are – call it scarring. Economists sort of call it long-term scarring in the economy, you know, human beings who lose their job and then can’t get jobs for a very long time. This is the sort of – sorry, I’m going on – this was the sort of debate that was playing out, and we couldn’t – we just couldn’t get out of those – the clarity of thought that probably was needed.

Lead Inquiry: On 22 September the Prime Minister announced his decision, which is that, instead of there being a circuit-breaker, which was one of the options –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – on the short list of options proposed by SAGE and SPI-M-O and latterly by Covid-S, there would be a mixture of options, a mixture of packages A and B?

Dr Simon Case: Oh, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: The early closing of pubs and bars.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Table service only, expanded face coverings and so on, and a call to work from home.

So that opportunity for a circuit-breaker which might, and one can’t put it any higher than that, but that is the word that Sir Chris Whitty –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – used, might have made a difference in terms of obviating the need for a lockdown later or at least shortening its length, might have made a difference, that opportunity was lost?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, because the interesting thing is – well, interesting is again the wrong word. There is, interestingly, a counterfactual on the circuit-breaker in that the Welsh Government did decide to do the circuit-breaker, I think it had some impact but not –

Lead Inquiry: The reason it didn’t was for the same reasons you’ve already expanded upon –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – which is that by then the incidence rate –

Dr Simon Case: Was too high.

Lead Inquiry: – was so high –

Dr Simon Case: No, I agree.

Lead Inquiry: – that it wasn’t going to work.

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: Sir Chris Whitty has already rationalised that issue, and had already rationalised that point, when he said a circuit-breaker in September, if that opportunity had been taken, might have made the difference.

Secondly, the tiers. Mr Hancock has said in evidence that he knew that tiers wouldn’t work. Would it be fair to say that tiers, implemented as they were –

Dr Simon Case: At the time they were as well, I think – I don’t think were going to work. We didn’t see it – I didn’t have that same clarity of thought that Mr Hancock says. I think we thought they were going to work.

I know – I think Chris and Patrick were very concerned that tiering of the – there are all these, remember, Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, they were very concerned that basic Tier 3 wouldn’t work. We had to go to the top end of Tier 3 and all this sort of thing –

Lead Inquiry: They said on 11 October –

Dr Simon Case: That’s right, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – the level 3 baseline was highly unlikely to work.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: So even before tiers were imposed, which they were by public announcement on 12 October, the scientific advisers were concerned about –

Dr Simon Case: They were concerned about the low level. Actually the first Tier 3, which was agreed voluntarily with, I think it was Steve Rotherham who was – I think you might have heard from or had evidence from – was the mayor in Liverpool, he actually agreed that they needed to go in at the top end of Tier 3, it wasn’t the bottom end. And then I think we had Manchester not long afterwards which had to be imposed, it couldn’t be negotiated.

But, sorry, I –

Lead Inquiry: Yes. Liverpool was the 14th, Greater Manchester on the 20th into Tier 3 –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – then South Yorkshire, Coventry, Slough and Stoke-on-Trent, Tier 2.

Dr Simon Case: This is all detail you know. I agree with Chris Whitty. Could tiering have worked if we’d started earlier at a higher level? Possibly it could have done. It’s another of those “what if” moments that … but I think as you said a number of times, and we agree on, the high incidence through late summer and autumn was the thing that was – that was the underlying current, if you like, that we were swimming against.

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

So to stand back, then, from its decision on easing in the summer, the government had put itself in a position whereby its options became much more limited, it eased off too soon, it was an outlier in that regard, and the chickens came home to roost in the autumn?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. And contrasts, if I may –

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – you know, with the lesson being learnt: different world, third lockdown, roadmap, vaccines. But the crucial thing about “data not dates”, which I know you’ve heard evidence on, or had written evidence on, was the thing.

The unlocking in the May roadmap was done by date and it was a very clear drumbeat. It wasn’t … it wasn’t – the decisions to unlock were, sort of – it was a rhythm that was pre-determined. Yes, we delayed one step, I think, in the late summer – was it July, I think we delayed by two weeks one element – but that roadmap to get out of the third lockdown was all about the conditions had to be right to let us unlock.

Lead Inquiry: You failed to avail yourself of the opportunity of a circuit-breaker in September when it might have made a difference. You put into place a tier system which was fundamentally flawed and quickly came to an end.

There was, you’ve already agreed, an insufficient analysis concerning alternatives to lockdown, QALY analysis, segmentation tried but for practical and epidemiological reasons couldn’t be pursued.

So by the end of October isn’t the nub of it that the government left itself with no option –

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – but to self-impose a lockdown?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: And to make matters worse, do you acknowledge that it’s now recognised that there isn’t really a hard edged balance between public health outcomes and economic damage, because a lockdown if imposed earlier, when incidence is lower, is likely to be shorter and less devastating than the lockdown which you in fact imposed?

Dr Simon Case: Those are my instincts as well. I know that this has been looked at. I know, I think it was either earlier this year or earlier last year, the Royal Society looked at this question of – you know, these questions of NPIs and what form worked and how, and they struggled to quantify – the Royal Society doing – I think it was a global literature search – I mean, they struggled to be clear a couple of years on that the evidence was there.

That was – as you put it, Mr Keith, that was certainly – that sort of feels instinctively right. I just – I’ve not seen the sort of the serious data, evidence-driven thing that really proves that. But I agree with your instinct.

Lead Inquiry: But on 20 September the Prime Minister convened that roundtable scientific discussion which I think you organised and perhaps you, I think, called for, although I think parentage is perhaps disputed because Sir Patrick Vallance has said that, perhaps, he’d called for it. But in any event, the Prime Minister received the ideas of Professor Gupta –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – Professor Carl Heneghan, because he wanted to hear alternative views to – because he’d been criticised quite roundly in the press –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – to the effect that he’d been receiving the wrong scientific advice.

To be fair, the former Prime Minister made plain that he knew the views of Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

Dr Simon Case: Yes, of course.

Lead Inquiry: He knew – of course he knew the public health debate and he knew what factors weighed heavily in favour of a lockdown, but he wanted to hear the opposing –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – argument.

At that meeting, and you were there –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – did Professor Gupta and Professor Heneghan, whilst faithfully advancing their positions, in fact argue forcefully for there to be no intervention? Putting it another way, how strongly did they advance the anti-lockdown case as it happened?

Dr Simon Case: I – sort of, this meeting, sort of, achieved perhaps mythical status afterwards. I don’t – I don’t personally remember really strong anti-lockdown cases being put forward. In fact I think it’s – I think it is – I’ve exhibited it in my evidence, in fact – each of the individuals that were there submitted a page or two as to sort of summarise, so if I’ve misremembered wrong, I apologise.

Actually I thought probably the most interesting contribution to that meeting was from, apologies if I get his name wrong, but I think it was Anders Tegnell, who was –

Lead Inquiry: Sweden.

Dr Simon Case: Sweden. Who described – you know, there were a lot of people saying, well, why – and still are saying, why didn’t we do the Swedish model. But he gave a very astute observation about how society in Sweden works very differently. They did very little through the law. That’s actually the contribution that sort of stood out.

And of course we had people – I think John Edmunds was there, if I remember correctly, as well, who was putting forward a stronger lockdown case.

So it was a real – it was an interesting discussion. But I don’t – I don’t think it sort of was the lightning, sort of, rod. It wasn’t quite the shard of light on the whole thing that maybe some people have made it out to be.

Lead Inquiry: But it’s important to acknowledge, isn’t it, that the government, and particularly Mr Johnson, took steps to inform himself of the bona fide and the genuine and rational arguments advanced by those who were concerned about the prospect of a second lockdown –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – but the reality was, as you have now –

Dr Simon Case: By late September it was –

Lead Inquiry: By late September it was just already too late, wasn’t it?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: The die had been cast, because of the earlier failures?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think, as I say, it goes – I think it goes back to …

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

I think you accept and you said in a WhatsApp that … or at least – I’m afraid I was just about to “verbal” you, Dr Case.

Sir Patrick Vallance says in his evening notes that you said to him, following the decision that a second lockdown be imposed, “They should have done this a month ago”?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: So –

Dr Simon Case: I mean, that’s obviously not – as we’ve discussed, there were earlier – there could have been other things that were done –

Lead Inquiry: No, quite.

Dr Simon Case: – differently.

Lead Inquiry: So actually the government was in the very worst of all worlds: it missed the opportunities to avoid a lockdown, and then through its own failings, having pre-determined that there would have to be a lockdown because of the earlier decisions, it then failed to impose it speedily enough?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think Chris Wormald – I said to you about these things should have been imposed, sort of, two weeks earlier and I think that feels right.

Lead Inquiry: So whichever way, in fact, whichever angle one approaches these extremely difficult decisions, the government erred on almost every level?

Dr Simon Case: Yes. You know, clearly, with hindsight, absolutely clear that all of the – as I say, I – the sort of thought and the discussion that we’ve been having about the incidence I think goes back. I think at the time, as I said, it wasn’t – it was a desperate attempt to avoid a second lockdown because of the consequences of that second lockdown.

Lead Inquiry: Of course.

Dr Simon Case: And so, you know, as you say, we erred but, you know, it – we erred because of the building up of a series of decisions – as you said – actually you put it that in the end we had no choice to do it, because all the things that we tried, we either didn’t try early enough or hard enough or we unlocked too early.

Lead Inquiry: It’s self-induced lack of intent, Dr Case: you erred because of your earlier governmental decisions. You said in a WhatsApp with Helen MacNamara –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – “We are back here” – this is after the lockdown decision was taken, the second lockdown decision – “because the state has failed”.

You didn’t say “We are back here because the nature of this virus, its tendency to re-emerge epidemiologically as a second wave. Because of the societal and economic nature and make-up of this country, we’ve just had no option but to reimpose a lockdown”. You said:

“… the state has failed. [And] We have some massive questions to ask ourselves.”

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. It was – so, I mean, I think it was that evening, the evening before the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, or the day of, I can’t remember, but, I mean, that’s what it felt like. It felt – you know, it was, sort of, how – how have we … you know, we have tried, I think at every stage, to act through the best of intentions to find the right balance to avoid these harms, but yet we just didn’t … yeah, we just didn’t come up with the right answer. It was a very dark day.

Mr Keith: Yes.

My Lady, is that a convenient point for the next break? I actually only have about ten minutes more to go.

Lady Hallett: I was going to go a bit longer.

If that’s – are you okay with that?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, of course. Of course, yeah.

Mr Keith: Barnard Castle.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Mr Cummings drove to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, and then gave a press conference in May to explain his driving.

In Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries around that time, 25 May, he suggests that he and Sir Chris Whitty came under considerable pressure from you to attend and be seen to join a press conference. It’s not at all clear whether it’s – it was Mr Cummings’ press conference or a later one, I suspect a later one with Mr Johnson, and Sir Patrick complained in his diary and gave evidence to this effect: that “Simon Case had a go at us”, had tried to persuade them to join what was a highly political press conference.

Dr Simon Case: I think you’re reading that the wrong way round, aren’t you? I’d had a go, he’d rung me up and said “We don’t want to appear”, and I’d had a go at trying to get them out of the –

Lead Inquiry: Ah.

Dr Simon Case: It’s the other way round, I think, that’s –

Lead Inquiry: That’s what he means by “had a go”?

Dr Simon Case: Had a go, not at him, I had a go at trying to get them out of the press conference.

Lead Inquiry: Right.

Dr Simon Case: And I think actually, in the end, the person who brought sort of total clarity I think was actually – they ended up arriving at Downing Street, I think, if I remember correctly, and bumped into Dom Cummings, and Dom Cummings was the one who said “Of course you can’t appear”. I think it was to do with the Prime Minister’s press conference that evening –

Lead Inquiry: After the rose garden –

Dr Simon Case: – and actually I think it was Dominic Cummings who said, “Of course you can’t be there, because you’ll be asked all about Barnard Castle”.

Lead Inquiry: You state in your witness statement your belief that the breaches registered with the public, they eroded public trust in the legitimacy of the government’s response to Covid, and together with the confused communications and the complex and confusing guidance, led to a very significant dropping off in the public’s adherence to Covid rules?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah and, I mean, I’ve exhibited that, you know, they were doing tracking, polling on people’s confidence in the government response and I think actually through late April and into May almost it just declined and I … you know, after the clarity of Stay Home – sort of – Save Lives, Protect the NHS, the muddle I think made it very difficult for the public to sort of understand and trust what the government was trying to do and of course, you know, much later on with Partygate and all that sort of thing, you know, it’s just, you know …

Lead Inquiry: It was a terrible self-imposed wound?

Dr Simon Case: I mean, yeah, I mean, and it sort of – I’m sure to the bereaved it sort of feels like a terrible insult.

Lead Inquiry: You’ve given evidence today, if I may say so, very candidly, although it’s a matter for my Lady, of course, as always. You’ve accepted a very significant number of failings on the part of the government, and you’ve described the root causes of those failings, responsibility for which cannot be placed solely at the door of the virus, it has to be placed at the door of Number 10 –

Dr Simon Case: Well, on all of our shoulders, all of us who were there at the time.

Lead Inquiry: You must have given, since those terrible events, a great deal of thought as to the root cause of the dysfunctionality, if you agree that’s what it was, in Number 10. The issue of data –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – was ultimately resolved. Thanks to you, the issue of structure was ultimately resolved, with the CTF, the Covid Taskforce. But the dysfunctionality continued, it would appear. What was the root cause of that?

Dr Simon Case: (Pause). Between us we couldn’t – we couldn’t get the – we couldn’t get the right balance of personalities and people. It took us too long to get those things right.

Lead Inquiry: Was that why, is that why you’ve agreed today and in your witness statement and in your WhatsApps that the government failed at a number of fundamental levels and contributed to the worst governing, to use your words, ever seen?

Dr Simon Case: (Pause). There’s language in those WhatsApps that we’ve discussed, they come out of a raw, human, in-the-moment, you know, it is not – it’s not a roundly considered view in those moments but, yeah, I felt – there were some dark days when it felt we just couldn’t – we just couldn’t get it right.

Lead Inquiry: Happily, Dr Case, you are our Cabinet Secretary. What can the Civil Service do to help prevent this sort of unhappy tale ever occurring again?

Dr Simon Case: I think … I think decisions are sort of a consequence of a number of – sorry. Sorry to the tech people – a sort of consequence of a number of different inputs. Sorry to use that language, but just allow me for a moment. There’s what happening in the world, so that’s sort of the data, your understanding of the world. There’s processes. You know, very much the domain of the Civil Service is making sure we’ve got the right processes in place to support good decision-making. Actually I think we were very conscious, certainly I know during the Covid Taskforce time and the Covid-S, Covid-O, we had ringing in our ears the criticisms of the Blair government around the decision-taking around Iraq, when there were absolutely no – you know, it was sofa government galore and the processes didn’t work, so we ended up getting there.

They’re also a function of two other things, so one of them is the characters and the personalities, and in particular obviously it’s always been true in politics that senior ministers, prime ministers are a big part of that. What can you do about that? Well, some of that is about the structures and processes and the people you put around them to manage those characters. But there’s a limit. You know, democracy is the one that – democracy is the thing that gives us the Prime Minister of the day, and if that’s the Prime Minister of the day, people like me have to do our best to try and, you know, work with, you know, what the electorate, you know, give the country or want the country – want for the country.

The final thing which we haven’t touched on – and I don’t know to what extent it’s in the scope of my Lady’s sort of thinking – is actually scrutiny, external scrutiny. If you think about how government really works and the pressures, why do governments act – well, actually pressures from outside, not of the data sort and what’s happening in the real world, but what does Parliament think? What does your political party think? What’s the media saying? How’s the public reacting? And it’s – a Cabinet minister, a current serving Cabinet Minister recently put it to me that one of the big mistakes was Parliament not functioning properly. Parliament is a thing that obviously exercises real scrutiny and control, it’s one of the things that holds the executive true and to account, and actually parliamentary scrutiny didn’t really work in the way that it does in normal times, because obviously Parliament wanted to follow the same rules as everyone else, but that for me is one of the pressures that was – is a really important thing in the day-to-day of how government approaches its decisions, and it didn’t function like it normally does.

Lady Hallett: Can I ask: one of the things that concerns me, you mentioned there lessons learned from what you called sofa government of Tony Blair and the decision to invade Iraq. Do I get the impression that lessons may be learned for a few weeks or a few months but then are forgotten?

(Pause)

Lady Hallett: Covid-O, Covid-S, is that an example?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: I mean, everyone knew it worked for Brexit. It seemed to have been quite efficient.

Dr Simon Case: Yes. So, yeah, I think –

Lady Hallett: So why didn’t someone think of it immediately?

Dr Simon Case: I’m sorry, I don’t know, I sort of –

Lady Hallett: I appreciate you weren’t there.

Dr Simon Case: No, but it just – but when I came and I heard about how it had been functioning, like, this is actually a really rather good model of managing all of this, and Helen MacNamara felt the same thing, which is why we recommended it to the Prime Minister. Some lessons do get learnt for a short time, in the way that you put. I mean, look, you know, there’s other things. To go back to the Iraq Inquiry, you know, the Chilcot checklist, something it’s in there, but it was recommended. Every time ministers meet now to take decisions of matters of peace and war or, you know, on Ukraine or the Red Sea at the moment, the Chilcot checklist sits there as a reminder of the things that need, you know, as a matter of good government and good decision-taking, these are the things.

So I think there are some lessons that really stick. I think the ones that are really difficult are the cultural ones. So I’m sort of very conscious – you know, the Civil Service today isn’t the Civil Service of the sort of 1950s and 60s; we’ve got a lot more to do to change who we are and where we’re from and what our skills are. Culture change is really difficult and needs long, long consistent commitment to that change, and I think those are the things that are really – are the ones that are really difficult to make stick.

Lady Hallett: Totally understand that. Changing culture is something I’ve worked with over the years and I know how difficult it can be. But can I go back to my point about learning lessons. So, for example, when the pandemic struck, we had to scale up infrastructure –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: – and get things to be flexible, get manufacturers to do things they hadn’t been doing before. To what extent have we, since the pandemic, said, “Oh, right, we’re out of the pandemic”, and the structures have been dismantled?

Dr Simon Case: Some have, not all. So, you know, one of the lasting changes is what we call now the UKHSA, the Health Security Agency, there’s material that I’ve submitted on: in the summer of 2020 we were focused on creating the equivalent of the American Centers for Disease Control, so there’s a good example of a lasting structural change deliberately designed to be at the heart of the next – should we have another pandemic or outbreak of anything, there at the heart, still in its infancy as an organisation.

There are other things we’ve done structurally, it’s often our way in sort of the bureaucratic world. So a National Situation Centre which is now a permanent thing, it’s there along with our joint data analysis and – sorry – more of this sort of alphabet spaghetti sort of stuff, but we’ve created these structures to answer the challenges.

The thing that, of course, is our real – our real problem is the Singapore problem: you build your guns pointing in the wrong direction because those are the lessons of the last war, and that’s the thing that we have to – you know, we can see the elements: you’ll need things like data, you’ll need good structures and processes which I hope Covid-S and Covid-O, or XS, XO, continues, I think it is a good model – it’s actually not a million miles away from an approach that Tony Blair took in his second administration with his Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, with just getting ministers and people who deliver things around the table and talk about what works and what doesn’t. They’re there.

So the structural changes I think are coming, we’ve changed how we do our resilience and planning, and this may be something that you’ve heard evidence on this Module 1. One of the mistakes that I think we made at the – one of the problems we had at the start of Covid was that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat that ran COBR, they’re actually responsible for running the immediate crisis response, but they were also responsible for the long-term what we call resilience planning. How do you get these things right in the long term? We’ve since separated those out. So, again, the immediate of running COBR meetings on whatever isn’t crowding out long-term thinking that has to be decades long.

And perhaps the other thing is increasingly, you know, the more we go to the 20th century and 21st century, the answer to these problems don’t just lie in government. There are things that we’ve got to get right but, as we’ve already discussed on the non-shielded vulnerable, so many of those things were actually down to individual police officers, social workers, whatever; so much of the answer to this lie in the private sector. So getting the relationship right between government and its thinking and the private sector is vital too.

Sorry, I’m going on.

Lady Hallett: No, no, I’m inviting you to offer your thoughts.

Dr Simon Case: Sorry.

Lady Hallett: A lot of what we needed but didn’t have were things like arrangements with manufacturers –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: – to produce PPE, or laboratory facilities, although obviously a great deal of fantastic work was done by way of research. But to what extent are the Civil Service currently ensuring they have in place arrangements that can just step in, in a national civil emergency, and say “Right, you might normally manufacture raincoats but you’re going to be manufacturing PPE”, once we work out what kind of virus we’re protecting people from?

Dr Simon Case: I understand the point, and of course the Civil Service does advise on those things, but there has to be ministers that decide that we are going to spend taxpayers’ money on that sort of resilience. We can give all of the advice we like, which is: we need to be better prepared, we need to have sort of dual use factories, those sort of things; but ministers decide in the end how to use taxpayers’ money.

Lady Hallett: Right. Well, that brings to me to my final question –

Dr Simon Case: Uh-oh.

Lady Hallett: – very neatly. Sorry.

I have heard it said by some experienced politicians that the trouble with being a minister in power is that the temptation is to focus on the immediate –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: – and not the long term.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: To handle the crisis that’s before you, not prepare for the crisis that might come next year.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: How can one increase the importance of preparedness and resilience and having in place the necessary infrastructure to respond to a crisis –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: – with ministers when the natural temptation is: well, I may spend a fortune on that, as you say, and then it may not get used –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: – as opposed to making sure that even if I spend a fortune on that the public will understand because we’re preparing for pandemic.

Memories fade.

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Lady Hallett: Apart from those who sadly lost loved ones –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: – or suffered terribly during the pandemic, memories are fading. So how do we keep the politicians thinking of it, and how do we keep the public onside supporting them in their decisions?

Dr Simon Case: Two things. I think this is where – sorry to sound like the bureaucrat – it’s actually the structures matter. So, you know, we now have a National Security Council subgroup that sits all the time under the chairmanship of the Deputy Prime Minister on resilience, it’s thinking about these long-term problems and, you know, it’s there, and actually keeping those structures going.

The things that – of course, ministers, they’re reacting to politics, they’re reacting to what the public demand, but it does rely on people like me and my colleagues saying: well, actually you do need this National Security Council subset on this because we do need to keep coming back to you on an annual basis or whatever with our pandemic preparedness plan.

So I think actually structures, trying to get consistency of structure, which of course is you don’t want to go too far, the criticism of the Civil Service is we cling too much to structures that are outdated, but some of those really important things I think you can do.

On the public, I think again it comes back to transparency, as in answers to sort of some of Mr Keith’s questions. There is – it’s quite – to a lot of people it looks like dull stuff, “Why is the government spending money on this? You know, I want this thing immediately now”, and the government are saying, “Well, we’ve got to set aside hundreds of millions of pounds for a rainy day sort of preparation” and, as you sort of heard, you can have a great pandemic flu preparedness plan, and be told they have, and it turns out that’s not the pandemic that hits you, you have to be careful.

So I think the answer has to lie in communicating around more generic capabilities that can be turned, not just to a pandemic but something else, you know, you suddenly find yourself at – well, I mean, Russia decides to invade Ukraine, huge challenge, where are we going to get our energy supplies from? Right, well, it turns out that investment in alternatives to gas turned out to be a really rather important thing that we’d done. You have to … you know, you have to do that.

And I should add on that there is a group in Parliament under the chairmanship of Bernard Jenkin who chairs the liaison committee that brings all of the other select committee chairs together, to think about how Parliament can play its role in driving strategic thinking more into government through its scrutiny function. There’s nothing like making government think harder about strategy and long-term thinking, if permanent secretaries and ministers are regularly in front of Parliament being answered – having to answer questions about: how are you doing on that long-term thinking?

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much.

Have you completed your questioning?

Mr Keith: My Lady, Ms Nimmo, who misses nothing, has just reminded me there are two more questions which, with your permission –

Lady Hallett: From you? Oh, yes, yes, of course.

Mr Keith: Would the attendance of the Minister for Disabled People or the Minister for Equalities at Covid-O and Covid-S have been a more suitable –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – mechanism for ensuring that the interests of vulnerable groups were properly taken into account in the decision-making?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think that’s, that’s a strong argument because they’re supported by – again, a terrible word – equalities hub, there’s a machinery that supports them, so I think that would be valuable.

Lead Inquiry: I omitted earlier to ask you to confirm what might be thought to be fairly obvious, which is that the impact of Mark Sedwill’s departure and the process by which he came to depart in September in summer, in the summer of 2020, caused considerable damage to Civil Service morale and the general functioning in those higher echelons of government?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, it was really destabilising.

Lead Inquiry: The third and final question is – well, it’s more of a comment: what you’ve said about structures and Covid-O and Covid-S, XO, XS and so on, doesn’t really address and can’t address fundamentally the issue of which you spoke, which is that one of the undoubted benefits of democracy is you get what you vote for.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: Right, we shall break now. I shall return at 3.30 for the last session, Dr Case. Thank you for your help.

(3.15 pm)

(A short break)

(3.30 pm)

Lady Hallett: Ms Mitchell.

Questions From Ms Mitchell KC

Ms Mitchell: I am obliged, my Lady.

Dr Case, I appear as instructed by Aamer Anwar & Company on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved. I just have a few questions to ask you this afternoon.

We’ve heard earlier on in your evidence about the interaction, or lack of it, between the then Prime Minister and the ministers of devolved administrations, in particular the First Ministers. So we understand that background, but what I would like to understand is: what, if any, formal structures were in place at senior Civil Service level to allow for you, as Cabinet Secretary, to liaise with the heads of departments of the Civil Service in the devolved administrations?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. So a number of different structures. The one that I chair, I actually chair a weekly meeting of permanent secretaries, which obviously all the way through this period was largely focused on Covid, and there were actually a second meeting each week through a good chunk of 2020 where we’d come together.

In addition to that, there were – we’ve already talked about the Chief Medical Officer, who’s the permanent secretary equivalent, meeting regularly with his Chief Medical Officer counterparts.

And the final one is Sue Gray, who was our permanent secretary who oversaw the relationship with the devolved administrations, she also had weekly meetings with her – with permanent secretary and other counterparts from the devolved administrations.

Ms Mitchell KC: In particular, the group that you chaired –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Mitchell KC: – did you find that a useful tool in discussions with the devolved administrations? What benefit did that bring?

Dr Simon Case: Well, I think actually incredibly valuable. The … particularly those meetings tend to be a more – they were more sort of free-flowing discussions about the issues and challenges that we were facing. You know, other meetings have sort of set agenda and that sort of thing, but those more free-flowing discussions with counterparts about, “Well, we’re seeing this, how is this working?”, I think that’s real sort of value in understanding where you are, you know, with your counterparts.

Ms Mitchell KC: We’ve also heard that you talked about the absolute importance of structures, particularly in a pandemic, and given, as her Ladyship has reflected, that we’re looking to learn lessons from the pandemic, were there any additional structures which you would have liked to have been in place to ensure co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved administration?

And I should explain the reason that I’m asking is that we heard, for example, earlier in your evidence you talked about the issues of politics and personality, and I’m wondering if we can learn from the experiences that we have had to try and limit as much as possible those difficulties in –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Mitchell KC: – providing some form of structure.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think, I mean, a good thought is I think it probably would be valuable to have – actually not just in pandemic but, you know, in emergencies, having a sort of set structure about senior official engagement. That tends to happen around the COBR table, of course, but again that’s not really the point. The point is when we get in – as we were discussing with my Lady earlier, it’s actually the chronic phase is the really difficult one. So actually having sort of set structures around that engagement I think would be valuable.

Ms Mitchell KC: Can you envisage as to how that would look? For example, who would it be important to have at those meetings?

Dr Simon Case: So I certainly think you’d want permanent secretary colleagues from the devolved administrations and perhaps other sort of key senior officials, and then, depending on the nature of the crisis, you know, the Cabinet Secretary, might be the National Security Adviser; and of course if we follow through the model, if it’s a very serious go on – you’ve actually got a taskforce lead, you’d want them in there, and, you know, potentially the most relevant departments. So I think you’d want that blend of experience and viewpoints.

Ms Mitchell KC: What benefit do you think that would bring?

Dr Simon Case: I think – I think you are – I think the point stands from your earlier question, which is there’s always – the reality of politics is there’s always going to be politics and personalities. By the way, you’re not guaranteed there aren’t personalities at senior official level, they’re not – some of them aren’t shrinking violets, that – but that would allow the discussions, perhaps slightly freer of politics, to go on. I think that would be the value.

Ms Mitchell KC: Can I move on to ask about an issue which you raise in your statement. I don’t need it brought up, but you spoke in regulation to the information given to the public about Covid and the regulations and –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Mitchell KC: – the guidance, and you explained, and as indeed we’ve heard from others, that it was complex and confusing, you referenced the Stay Alert message, but you also say – and just for reference this is at paragraph 6.29 of your statement, for the Inquiry – that the complexity of the rules was symptomatic of how the response to the pandemic had strained the balance and interaction between the UK, devolved and local administrations.

What I would like to ask you is: how do you consider that the balance and interaction between the UK and devolved administrations was strained?

Dr Simon Case: I think, I mean, I sort of – I’m just adding to the evidence that you’ve heard, what I’m really talking about is the personality differences and the fact that I think particularly in relation to Great Britain, where it is a sort of single epidemiological zone, people interacting across all of those boundaries, but we actually had different rules in place in different parts of Great Britain within an epidemiological zone, and, I mean, that’s – that’s – that’s what I sort of mean by the strain.

Ms Mitchell KC: Can I then ask whether or not there were any practical steps taken to try and rectify those strains? Was there anything done to ease it?

Dr Simon Case: I sort of refer back to the earlier points, I think in particular the four CMOs meeting was absolutely vital in keeping the flow of information and the discussion about either individual or collective action. You know, there were also important moments, if I remember correctly, I think it was in September 2020 we did a four nations joint statement, there were moments like that that I think were important about recognising the – I think it said we recognised there’s a second wave coming. But those sorts of structures, the ones that we’ve already mentioned, I think were the answer.

Ms Mitchell KC: So the answer to our first and second questions, that if we have better communications not only at governmental level but also at a Civil Service level –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Mitchell KC: – then that will assist managing personality –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Mitchell KC: – and the inevitable strains?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Mitchell KC: Were there any attempts made at the time, other than the CMOs, were there any person-to-person civil servant attempts to make matters –

Dr Simon Case: Better.

Ms Mitchell KC: – run more smoothly?

Dr Simon Case: So, as I mentioned, the main one was Sue Gray’s weekly meetings across the devolved nations, that was important. They were – there were very particular moments of tension where I would speak directly to my counterparts, you know, just pick up the phone to one of my permanent secretary counterparts to say, “Are we – you know, there’s a bit of politics going on here, how do we – how do we get through this?”

So there were a lot of – and there was a lot of sort of civil ser – I mean, we’re colleagues, we work together day in, day out, so that was happening, you know, all the time.

Ms Mitchell: I’m obliged.

I had one more question, my Lady, but that’s been covered, I’m obliged to my learned friend Counsel to the Inquiry. So those are my questions.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Mitchell.

Ms Mitchell: I’m obliged.

Lady Hallett: Mr Metzer. He usually sits behind Ms Mitchell. Oh, he is there.

Mr Metzer.

Mr Metzer: My Lady.

Questions From Mr Metzer KC

Mr Metzer: Dr Case, I shall be asking you a few questions about one topic only on behalf of the Long Covid groups.

You were part of a WhatsApp group including the then Prime Minister. On 17 May 2020 he shared an article about people suffering from the prolonged symptoms of Covid-19, and I wonder if we can please call up INQ000102087.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. I think that’s come up.

Mr Metzer KC: Thank you. As a direct result of this article, was any advice sought on the prolonged symptoms of Covid-19?

Dr Simon Case: I’m afraid I can’t remember whether this particular interaction sparked advice. I remember … I think it’s probably later in 2020, probably into the late summer, maybe the autumn, when I think it was Chris Whitty started to talk about Long Covid –

Mr Metzer KC: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – in the meetings with the Prime Minister. But I’m afraid I don’t – I can’t – I mean, I’m happy to check. I don’t know whether it’s possible to check and come back, I don’t know whether that route’s available but I can’t tell you I know for sure.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes, I think you’re right to recall that, but that is much later in time.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Mr Metzer KC: The Cabinet Office received advice from the DHSC on 25 June 2020 – we don’t need to call it up, but it’s INQ000069853 – that there could well be a number of longer term health impacts of Covid-19.

You describe the role of the Covid Taskforce – and for reference, it’s paragraph 3.10 of your corporate statement, we don’t need to go to it – as ensuring the government received the most up-to-date advice on the state of play on the ground, was guided by the science and – these words I emphasise – continued to adopt a holistic approach to decision-making to ensure that the impact of all decisions was assessed in the round. That’s what you said.

Can you assist, please, then, as to why it took until – not until April 2021 for the CTF to prepare advice for Cabinet Office on the long-term effects of Covid-19?

Dr Simon Case: So if I – if I remember correctly, in the autumn of 2020, what I remember is … is sort of, as I say, Chris Whitty talking to the Prime Minister, you know, with the Covid Taskforce people in the room, about the possibilities of there, you know, being long-term effects of Covid. I can’t tell you precisely why that – why that piece of advice came at that particular time. I can’t remember quite what the – you know, what the moment was. But I can tell you that, you know, advice was coming straight from – I mean, probably advice is strong – sort of commentary about the develop(sic) of the understanding of Long Covid – as we, you know, later called it – was coming from Chris directly to the Prime Minister.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes, that is later in time, but you accept that’s a ten-month delay, and I’m just particularly going to ask you about a parliamentary paper on short and long-term effects of Covid-19 which was published in early September 2020. That’s INQ000023854. We don’t need to go to it.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Mr Metzer KC: Can you assist as to: why couldn’t the Covid Taskforce prepare something similar at that time?

Dr Simon Case: I don’t … the direct answer is I don’t know. I don’t know who sort of saw it and what was done with the parliamentary advice. What I recall, I think I recall this, as I think it was Patrick, in and around that late summer/early autumn time – actually it was a little bit, I think alongside the discussions around segmentation that Mr Keith was asking me about earlier – was this idea that it was just fine for children to get Covid because they bounced through it. I seem to remember Patrick being clear that it wasn’t that straightforward and that in fact the impacts – there could well be lasting impacts of Covid. Again, I can’t tell you what precisely was done. I’m happy to check on that parliamentary report and who saw it.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes. I simply wanted just to ask you whether in principle the Covid Taskforce could, I suggest –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Mr Metzer KC: – have prepared something similar?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr Metzer KC: So help me then with this: how could Cabinet Office factor Long Covid into decisions around NPIs, including the imposition of the later lockdowns, if they were not provided with either timely advice or data on it?

Dr Simon Case: I think … again, if I remember correctly, in the papers that were coming to Covid-S and Covid-O around the decisions around the second lockdown, there were – there were discussions or references in that to the long-term impact of Covid. So I think it was – I think it was discussed, I’m not going to pretend I think it was discussed in detail, I think it was much more in 2021, but in – if I’m remembering correctly, I think it’s in the papers Covid-S and Covid-O. Apologies if I’ve misremembered.

Mr Metzer KC: With the greatest of respect, I’m not sure you are right about that.

Dr Simon Case: Okay, sorry, apologies.

Mr Metzer KC: Well, I’m just – do you agree in principle –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Mr Metzer KC: – that it’s necessary, if you’re going to factor in Long Covid into decisions around NPIs, to have timely advice and data?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Mr Metzer KC: Thank you.

I’m going to suggest to you, finally, that, simply put, was it that Cabinet Office did not take into account that a significant number of people would suffer long-term effects of Covid-19 when carrying out that balancing exercise required to make a decision to lock down?

Dr Simon Case: I think that’s true to an extent in the – in relation to the 2020 period. I think in 2021 the – it factored more in the decision-taking.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes, I think that’s –

Dr Simon Case: And of course that’s –

Mr Metzer KC: – the second and third lockdowns, so you agree with me on that.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Mr Metzer: Thank you very much indeed. That’s all I ask.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Mr Metzer.

Ms Davies.

Ms Davies is over that way.

The Witness: Thank you.

Questions From Ms Davies KC

Lady Hallett: Have you got a green light?

The Witness: This reminds you of Covid, “You’re on mute”.

Ms Davies: Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Davies KC: – so you will know from that that my focus of inquiry is about domestic abuse.

And you may want to look at me, but it would be helpful if you could direct your answers to her Ladyship, and that’s not being rude to me at all.

Dr Simon Case: Thank you.

Ms Davies KC: My questions derive from some of the questioning this morning to you in two chunks, one was about the non-shielded vulnerable that you took responsibility for when you came back into government at the beginning of April, and the other was a later chunk on domestic abuse.

So you referred to this in your evidence: when you came back into government at the beginning of April, you were looking at SROs, senior responsible officers, very early on, and you were looking at non-shielded vulnerable, and you wrote in an email to Michael Gove – and that’s what you referred to –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Davies KC: – in your evidence. I’m not going to ask them to bring it up, but for the reference it’s INQ000137204, and it was 7 April, and you said that there was a great deal of work going on now that you’d looked at it, there were myriad SROs working away but they were working away in silos and they were not sufficiently joined up. So that was your view –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: – as of 7 April.

We’ve in fact seen – we have two documents that show the programmes for the SROs. There were ten SROs. They included non-shielded vulnerable, and I think you became that SRO?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Ms Davies KC: And they included vulnerable children. There was no separate SRO for domestic abuse?

Dr Simon Case: I can’t remember without, but –

Ms Davies KC: There are lists.

Dr Simon Case: I’ll take your word for it.

Ms Davies KC: Thank you.

Then you reported to cabinet on 24 April, and this is a document that – if we can bring up INQ000088638, please, and now I’m aware that you haven’t had notice of this document, you may not have had a chance to review it in your preparations, but those are the cabinet minutes of 24 April. Do we have them up?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, they’re there.

Ms Davies KC: Good.

On page 1, we can see that that’s the date and the ministers present.

On page 2, we can see that you’re present.

Then if we go to page 4, you are invited by the Foreign Secretary – he is, of course, deputising for the Prime Minister at that time – to present on the non-shielded vulnerable programme.

If we go down to the bottom of what we currently have up, you will see the final paragraph:

“Continuing, SIMON CASE, CABINET OFFICE, said that the three areas where there was the highest risk of the government failing to meet the needs of non-shielded vulnerable individuals were … [and the second one is] domestic abuse, where the risk was acute …”

So that was your view?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: And you were concerned that they were failing – government was failing to meet those needs?

Dr Simon Case: Correct. I think the – well, I won’t explain. I don’t – you know, very clear that if people couldn’t get out of their home, that the victims of domestic abuse were – yeah, the risk was going to be acute if they couldn’t –

Ms Davies KC: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – they couldn’t get out of their houses.

Ms Davies KC: If we could just stay on that document for a moment and go to page 6 … I don’t know, is that up? It’s not up on my screen.

Dr Simon Case: It’s up on mine.

Ms Davies KC: So that is the discussion.

Dr Simon Case: Yes. Sorry, this is a cabinet committee, so the way we do this is the points –

Ms Davies KC: In general terms, yes.

Dr Simon Case: You don’t record who made the points, yep.

Ms Davies KC: If we can scroll down actually to further down that page, to paragraph (g) –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, got it.

Ms Davies KC: – and that’s probably, I would guess, a point made by the Home Secretary, although it may be that because it’s cabinet we’re not allowed to speculate on –

Dr Simon Case: I mean, I’d be very sure it was the Home Secretary because, as I mentioned in questioning to Mr Keith, she was really focused on this and how the Home Office could – what more they could do with the relevant charities. I think they –

Ms Davies KC: Yes.

Dr Simon Case: – put out more funding for the charities and got the police to think more about how they could assist.

Ms Davies KC: So she, if we’re working on the basis it is her, she does give us the data, the latest data available on the victims of domestic abuse, was revealing the scale of the problem, and it’s quite telling: helplines had received a 52% increase in volume of calls, but the demand for refuges and shelters had fallen, indicating that the victims were increasingly unable to leave their abusers. So there was both a demand for help but difficulty in actually leaving?

Dr Simon Case: Correct.

Ms Davies KC: And I –

Dr Simon Case: If I’m right, one of the responses, I think, that was between government and the charitable sector was the – do I remember it right, was it the Ask for ANI?

Ms Davies KC: That’s next year, that’s 2021 –

Dr Simon Case: Sorry.

Ms Davies KC: But just on that, you were asked and agreed this morning about the inadequacy of data at that time, but is it fair to say that by 24 April cabinet has the data confirming the rising calls for help in domestic abuse and therefore confirming the obvious inference that domestic abuse increases as a result of lockdown?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think the Home Office were getting this data from relevant charities and passing it to the Cabinet Office.

Ms Davies KC: Yes.

Two days later, presumably as a result of the discussion at cabinet, then we have a paper – and I’m not going to put that to you, but you proposed that there is a gold SRO in overall co-ordination of the ten SROs. You also say that in your witness statement. Does that ring a bell?

Dr Simon Case: Yes, it does.

Ms Davies KC: It’s not clear, either from your witness statement or the documents, whether a gold SRO was ever appointed. Can you help?

Dr Simon Case: I cannot. Is it possible to check these things and come back to the Inquiry afterwards? I don’t know what the procedure is. But on things like that which are just factual which I don’t know, I’m happy to check and answer the question in writing if needed.

Lady Hallett: Thank you. There’s certainly ways we can do it.

Ms Davies: Thank you.

Thank you, my Lady.

So that’s helpful, we don’t know that, but you’ll let us know. Then, as you discussed with Mr Keith, by the end of May the MIGs are abolished, they’re replaced by Covid-S and Covid-O at ministerial level and later the Covid Taskforce; and are the SROs abolished at the same time?

Dr Simon Case: The SROs in, which were largely in departments, continued – sorry, I have to look this way. It feels very, very rude.

Ms Davies KC: Whichever is most comfortable.

Dr Simon Case: They continued in departments. Yes, they did.

Ms Davies KC: Right. You said also this morning that the work of the non-shielded vulnerable continued in the taskforce, and you struggled for the name but you thought it was Kay Withers –

Dr Simon Case: Yeah.

Ms Davies KC: – after a while –

Dr Simon Case: That’s right.

Ms Davies KC: – and then by a small group, you said.

Dr Simon Case: Yes, that’s right, and I think Simon Ridley addressed this. I think he said it went into – into the Covid Taskforce under him.

Ms Davies KC: Again, nothing specifically on domestic abuse either within the SROs or within the Covid Taskforce. Again, we’ve looked at lists.

Dr Simon Case: Fine. Again, I’ll take your word for it.

Ms Davies KC: So would you agree that the work on domestic abuse, which is a subject that several different government departments have various responsibilities for, the Home Office, Department for Levelling Up –

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: – Department of Education and so forth, Ministry of Justice; would you agree that work on domestic abuse should really have had a specific co-ordinator at the centre in times of crisis?

Dr Simon Case: I think in a crisis such as this that idea of having – yeah, I think that’s actually a rather good idea.

Ms Davies KC: Is it fair to say that the failure to have a specific co-ordinator, given that we’re now learning the lessons, meant that domestic abuse work effectively fell through the cracks, that the Home Office and the other departments were doing what each one was doing, but nobody was co-ordinating across government; is that fair?

Dr Simon Case: My honest answer is I don’t know, because I sort of don’t know the detail of how the teams across those departments were working together. Actually I would expect – but this is just an expectation – that they would have been working quite closely together on a subject like this, because they would be working closely together in peacetime, not just in crisis. But certainly, you know, as we’ve discussed at length, the idea of having sort of somebody in the centre of government whose job title is “Make sure this all works” is a good idea.

Ms Davies KC: Without that someone in the centre of government, there is a real risk of everybody working in silos, as you put it when you emailed Mr Gove at the beginning of April?

Dr Simon Case: There is, but I refer back to a thing – there’s a phenomenon always which is the centre of government can often believe that if it’s not seeing something in government, it’s not happening. Actually there’s a lot of often very good working across government that doesn’t involve the Cabinet Office or the Prime Minister telling them to; people do just get on with it. But, I mean, the strength of the point is that I think probably across domestic abuse and the other sorts of groups that we identified through the non-shielded vulnerable programme, having dedicated officers whose job it is to think about that and co-ordinate would be a good idea.

Ms Davies KC: This is my very last question: fair to say that that’s why – the working in silos point – that’s why on 24 April when you were presenting to cabinet you described domestic abuse as one of the areas where there was the highest risk of government failing to meet needs – and I’ll just finish the question, then you can reply to both points – and that that analysis didn’t change throughout the period of Covid, despite the Covid Taskforce, despite Covid-O and Covid-S?

Dr Simon Case: Again, I’m … I’m sort of – later on, once I become Cabinet Secretary, I’m just not sure I would have seen the detail of what was going on, so I – sort of I think that the thrust I can agree with, but the precise point I just don’t –

Ms Davies KC: If you don’t know, you don’t know.

Dr Simon Case: – I didn’t know from my position the detail of what was going on in the Covid Taskforce to join up departments. You know, I mean, I’m sure the analysis was right that there was unmet need, I think particularly in relation to domestic abuse, because of the terrible circumstances that victims must have been in of being trapped in houses with – well, wherever with abusers, I suspect it’s right that there was unmet need.

Ms Davies: Thank you very much.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Davies.

The next two questioners are both behind you. Mr Thomas has just stood up, he’s behind you to your right, and then it’ll be Mr Jacobs in front of him.

The Witness: Can I turn round to see the questions –

Lady Hallett: Yes, of course.

The Witness: – and then look back this way?

Lady Hallett: I won’t consider it disrespectful either. It’s probably easier because you can then face the questioner.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Good afternoon, Dr Case. Can you hear me okay?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I can.

Professor Thomas KC: I represent FEMHO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations.

I only have a very small handful of questions for you, but let me just briefly set the context.

So as the legal representative of FEMHO, one of the things that we are deeply concerned about is the disproportionate impact that the pandemic had on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, particularly given the significant number of healthcare workers from these backgrounds who were right on the frontline. Early reports, such as that that was contained in The Guardian on 10 April 2020, highlighted an alarming trend amongst ethnic minority healthcare workers. So I have in mind the report that they were being disproportionately impacted; the first ten doctors were from ethnic minority – who died – backgrounds; and at about this time, with the Prime Minister hospitalised and the absence of clear leadership during his illness, it’s vital to understand who within Number 10 was actively addressing this issue.

Additionally, it’s critical for this Inquiry to delve into what the initial understanding was of these disproportionate deaths, whether viewed merely from a physiological anomaly or whether it had a deeper, more deeper meaning such as structural issues within the healthcare system.

So, can I now turn to the questions. As I say, it’s only a handful of questions.

In your witness statement at paragraph 2.4, you mention presenting on the non-shielded vulnerable programme to the Covid-19 strategy ministerial group on 24 April. So this would have been some two weeks after that report that I’ve just mentioned.

First question: what specific information did you possess or know regarding the disproportionate impact of the virus on the BAME community, especially considering the significant representation of Black, brown healthcare workers on the frontline?

Dr Simon Case: So at that time I don’t think I had any information specifically on this. If I remember correctly, the focus on these, sort of the – there’s material that I think I’ve exhibited – comes later. I think after the June 2020 PHE report where we start to focus much more on the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities by age group.

When I was doing the non-shielded vulnerable work, actually the, I think the specific issue about healthcare workers – I mean, and this is the silo problem – would have been coming to the health MIG, through that route rather than through the non-shielded vulnerable group.

Professor Thomas KC: But you agree – as you say, there may have been a bit of a silo there – this is the sort of information that should have been shared?

Dr Simon Case: I certainly didn’t – I remember becoming very conscious of the – this, as we’ve already – I discussed with Mr Keith earlier, but it was later, it wasn’t April.

Professor Thomas KC: There was a Public Health England report in 2019 that was talking about structural racism within the NHS. Were you aware of that?

Dr Simon Case: No, I wasn’t.

Professor Thomas KC: Secondly, in the discussion surrounding the non-shielded vulnerable programme to the Covid-19 strategy ministerial group, was ethnicity acknowledged as a potential risk factor contributing to the significant disproportionate impact on these communities?

Dr Simon Case: I don’t – I don’t think it – I don’t remember it being, but I’d want to check notes and minutes of the meeting to be sure, but I don’t think it was.

Professor Thomas KC: Thirdly, given the absence of the Prime Minister due to his hospitalisation from 5 April to 26 April, was the surge in the disproportionate deaths within the BAME community recognised as an urgent matter, particularly concerning frontline healthcare workers? You know, the very people we were clapping for every Thursday.

Dr Simon Case: So I – if – I don’t – I don’t think I would have had visibility of it, if it was. Obviously, you know, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, had taken the Prime Minister’s place whilst he was ill and the team was working, but I’m afraid I simply – I don’t – at that time I could see what I was working on, the non-shielded vulnerables; I don’t – I couldn’t see myself what was going on in other bits of the forest. So I’m not sure I can actually help you, with apologies.

Professor Thomas KC: You may have touched upon my last question – but let me put it to you, just to see if you have – which is: who, if anyone, held the highest authority in addressing the disproportionate impact on the BAME communities and the safety of frontline healthcare workers during the Prime Minister’s absence?

Dr Simon Case: Again I’m not sure. As I say, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, had the overall control –

Professor Thomas KC: You seem a little bit uncertain about that.

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I’m – I actually don’t know who would have been the equalities minister at that time, but it also would have been with Matt Hancock, of course, as Health Secretary, in relation to health workers.

Professor Thomas KC: Respectfully, there seems to be some hesitancy. That might just be down to the passage of time, but equally it might be because there was genuine confusion about who held this brief. Would that be fair?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, it could have been actually my hesitation is because I wasn’t there and I’m trying to cast my mind back to actually what I have direct knowledge of, and I have limited direct knowledge and I just don’t want to mislead you in my answers.

Professor Thomas KC: I understand.

Let me finish with this: would you agree with this, certainly those who I represent have the perception that little was done despite the fact that knowledge was there – and I’ve given you the alarming article about the first doctors who died were Black or brown. Would you agree that, looking back on this, there does appear to be some dilatoriness in terms of addressing this? Would that be fair?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, I think I’d sort of said similar to Mr Keith this morning. I know – I don’t know whether it was your exchange or one of your colleagues’ exchange with Simon Ridley about the development of the work on our ethnic minority groups. I touched on it this morning. It was one of the areas where I think we were too slow.

Professor Thomas: Dr Case, thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Thomas.

Mr Jacobs.

Questions From Mr Jacobs

Mr Jacobs: Good afternoon, Dr Case. I ask questions on behalf of the Trades Union Congress.

We’re going to look, if we may, at page 144 of Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries. It’s an entry from 12 August 2020, it refers to a meeting in which you were present with the then Prime Minister, Mr Cummings and others. What it says is:

“We suggested that more carrot and incentives required to make people take a test, self-isolate etc but they always want to go for stick not carrot.”

Firstly, the carrot that was referred to in that meeting, would that include financial support for those self-isolating?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, again, sorry for turning my back on you whilst I answer.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. The – there was a very big debate all the way through August, September and I think even into October, possibly even longer, about financial support for those who were self-isolating. Test and trace, who were sort of in the lead, I think, were consistently saying that the financial support for those self-isolating wasn’t enough.

Mr Jacobs: And was the idea in general terms that those on lower incomes who also happened to be working in care homes, in transport, in supermarkets, et cetera, may struggle to have no or restricted pay for two weeks?

Dr Simon Case: Yeah, that was the point that I remember Dido Harding and her team making, yes.

Mr Jacobs: Is Sir Patrick’s impression of that big debate, as you describe it, a fair one, namely that they always want to go for the stick and not the carrot?

Dr Simon Case: It’s sort of obviously difficult to comment on someone else’s words, as I don’t quite know who he means by “they” but, you know, as I say, I think the characterisation of it taking a lot of pushing from the test and trace organisation to increase the financial support, it went on for a long time. I think in the end there was resolution. It was a discussion that largely happened between the test and trace team and the Treasury directly, if I remember correctly. But I, you know –

Mr Jacobs: Let’s –

Dr Simon Case: – I recognise the point.

Mr Jacobs: Yes. Let’s hazard a guess that by “they” he means the Prime Minister and the Chancellor; would it have been your impression that the instinct was to reach for the stick and not the carrot?

Dr Simon Case: This is August … I mean, certainly at this time the former Prime Minister, Mr Johnson, was very focused on enforcement, I think around this time he’d had a meeting with chief constables, with the Home Secretary, it was very much, you know, get people to comply at that time. I don’t think that was his view all the way through. I think the Chancellor was doing – always doing the Chancellor’s job, which is “I’ll pay for things if you can show that they deliver value for money, so please show me the evidence they’ll work”.

Mr Jacobs: Okay.

One observation you made in your evidence earlier this afternoon was a lower income workforce which is disproportionately young, female and ethnic minority; do you think there was adequate consideration of that as a feature and whether financial support for self-isolation may be a part of addressing some of that disproportionate impact?

Dr Simon Case: That point was discussed, definitely discussed more broadly, but certainly in the discussions – and there wouldn’t have been many that I was in on this – I don’t remember that featuring particularly in this particular discussion around self-isolation.

As I said, I have to be careful that a lot of these conversations – you know, I will have been in the discussions with ministers, but there would have been a lot of discussions outside and so, you know, official to official, that I may not have been party to where that was discussed, but I don’t remember it being discussed particularly.

Mr Jacobs: Put simply, should it have been?

Dr Simon Case: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: Those are my questions, thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Mr Jacobs.

I think that completes the questioning for Dr Case, Mr Keith?

Mr Keith: My Lady, it does.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Dr Case, I’m really grateful to you. It’s been a long day for you. I hope it hasn’t been too much occasionally like a seminar when I’ve got involved.

The Witness: No, sorry, I thought that was my fault.

Lady Hallett: No, I asked you the questions. But I’m delighted too to see that your health seems to be improving. So thank you for your help.

The Witness: Thank you.

(The witness withdrew)

Closing Remarks by the Chair

Lady Hallett: Right, that now completes the oral evidence for Module 2, the bulk of which of course we concluded last December.

Since then I’ve heard evidence in Edinburgh, Cardiff and most recently in Belfast, and I can assure the members of the public that the Inquiry teams for each module have already begun work on producing their analysis of the evidence, both written and oral, and I will consider all the evidence that has been gathered and the submissions before reaching any conclusions. There may be additional submissions as a result of Dr Case’s evidence today, and I will happily receive them.

We are close to publishing the report for Module 1, and I will publish the report for Module 2, 2A, 2B and 2C as soon as we reasonably can.

I should say this: that as I went around the United Kingdom, although I understood clearly the distinct differences in the context of each devolved nation, I also detected a large number of common themes, and I have decided that because of the number of common themes, to save duplication and to try and get the report out as soon as possible, I will address them in a single report. But I want to reassure the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that in doing so I will ensure that the issues specific to their country are properly addressed.

So I’d like to conclude by thanking again all those who have been involved in the hearings for Modules 2, 2A, B and C, all the witnesses, the material providers, the core participants and their legal teams, and of course to the Inquiry team. We could not have completed the hearings without everyone’s very substantial assistance.

I do know that the Inquiry makes great demands on people and organisations, and that I have set a very challenging timetable. This, I’m afraid, is a consequence of the extremely broad terms of reference set by Mr Johnson as Prime Minister, and of my determination to fulfil those broad terms of reference within a reasonable timeframe.

I hope to make recommendations where appropriate to make the United Kingdom and the devolved nations better able to face threats such as the Covid pandemic in the future, and I want to make those recommendations before the memories of some fade.

So thank you all very much, and I think the next substantive hearings will commence in Module 3, the healthcare module, at the beginning of September. September 9, I think it is. There will be other hearings, preliminary hearings, but those will be the next evidential hearings.

So thank you all.

Mr Keith: Thank you, my Lady.

(4.16 pm)

(The hearing concluded)