‘Hundreds of officials and potentially ministers’ broke Covid rules on daily basis – MacNamara
Coronavirus rules were broken on a daily basis at the heart of government, with hundreds of civil servants and potentially ministers at risk of being fined, a former top official said.
Helen MacNamara (pictured), who was deputy cabinet secretary during the pandemic, said she profoundly regretted the lockdown-busting gatherings that took place in No 10 and the Cabinet Office.
She said the events “should never have happened” and “we should have been following rules”.
Ms MacNamara, who was in charge of propriety and ethics, insisted “I definitely wasn’t partying in Number 10, I was either at work or at home”, even though she was one of the people issued with fines over illegal gatherings.
At a leaving do for a No 10 official on June 18 2020 – when social gatherings of two or more people indoors were banned – she attended for part of the evening and provided a karaoke machine.
She said there should have been an admission that rules were broken – something Boris Johnson repeatedly denied.
And she said that given the police had decided Mr Johnson’s own birthday event in the Cabinet Room – for which he was fined – had breached the law, then many other incidents would also have crossed that line.
“I am certain that there are hundreds of civil servants and potentially ministers who in retrospect think they were the wrong side of that line,” she told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
“I really hope there’s been some mature conversation about that because that sort of thing, if it’s not addressed, is corrosive, actually, in a culture.”
She suggested rules were being broken on a daily basis in No 10 just in the conduct of government business.
“Actually, I would find it hard to pick one day when the regulations were followed properly inside that building,” she said.
She said there was “one meeting where we absolutely adhered to the guidance to the letter” – the Cabinet meeting – “and everybody moaned about it and tried to change it repeatedly”.
“So I know how exceptional it was to really, really, really properly follow the guidance.
“I think that, in retrospect, obviously, all sorts of things were wrong.”
Ms MacNamara, who told the inquiry there was a “toxic” culture in No 10, said staff at risk of “breaking” had needed space to spend time together.
“My profound regret is for the damage that’s been caused to so many people because of it, as well as just the mortifying experience of seeing what that looks like and how rightly offended everybody is in retrospect,” she said.
“I absolutely knew and thought it was actually important for there to be space for – particularly the private office – to be able to gather together and spend time together.
“That was entirely because of the kind of culture that they were working in and entirely because I was really worried about individuals breaking and suffering, and whether they were going to be OK, and how important their colleagues were to each other.”
But she said that none of that was “in excuse of my own misjudgment” it was just to show the “complex situation” at the time.
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