‘Big mouth’ scientists are losing the trust of Ministers who are unhappy about the forceful manner in which they have pressed for even tougher Covid restrictions
- Level of trust Cabinet Ministers have in Sage dropped sharply in recent weeks
- One Tory MP insisted that senior Tories have now ‘begun to hate the scientists’
- The MP said that Whitty and Vallance are behaving in a big-mouthed fashion
Members of Boris Johnson’s inner circle are becoming increasingly hostile towards the Government’s top scientific advisers, it has emerged.
Although Mr Johnson pledged to ‘follow the science’ when Britain went into a national lockdown in March, the level of trust Cabinet Ministers and senior Tory MPs have in Sage – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – has dropped sharply in recent weeks.
It is understood that several influential figures in Downing Street are deeply unhappy about the forceful manner in which Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the public face of Sage, have been pressing for tougher Covid restrictions.
Even more crucially, there is widespread dissatisfaction at information about the organisation’s advice to the Government coming into the public domain.
One MP told The Times: ‘The only reason Whitty and Vallance (pictured) are calling for harsher measures is they’re s****ing themselves over the public inquiry. ‘They don’t want to face questions on whether their advice was the reason for 10,000 deaths’
Sources say there was particular annoyance last month at media reports about Sage’s recommendations on the introduction of a national circuit breaker to stem the spread of coronavirus.
One Cabinet Minister said: ‘Leaking is not well received by government – especially when it comes from advisers promoting their own interpretation of events. There is huge sympathy for the position the Prime Minister is in doing this incredibly difficult balancing act.
‘It is unhelpful if one side of the argument is leaking aggressively and saying we’re all doomed.
‘You have to remember that [from the beginning of the pandemic] the scientists’ most gloomy prognostications never happened. That must affect the confidence in “the science” now.’
A No 10 source said: ‘Sage, in terms of briefing to the press, is out of control. If you have a serious briefing with Sage, it will probably leak within hours. You start to question people’s motives.
‘Ministers are questioning what they’re being told.’
Although Mr Johnson pledged to ‘follow the science’ when Britain went into a national lockdown in March, the level of trust Cabinet Ministers and senior Tory MPs have in Sage – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – has dropped sharply in recent weeks
One Tory MP, who has supported the Government on all the votes on restrictions, insisted that senior members of the parliamentary party have ‘begun to hate the scientists’, saying: ‘You’ve got these guys on Sage briefing journalists, going on the telly saying that the PM must bring in a national lockdown.
‘Why are they allowed to do that? You are either part of the team or you’re not. You can be an independent scientist and say what you like. You can’t be part of Sage and go on telly saying they need to do this.’
He added: ‘The problem here is that Whitty and Vallance are behaving in a big-mouthed fashion – and that is causing serious problems for the Government.’
Another MP told The Times: ‘The only reason Whitty and Vallance are calling for harsher measures is they’re s****ing themselves over the public inquiry.
‘They don’t want to face questions on whether their advice was the reason for 10,000 deaths.’
Concerns have also been raised about the level of contact between members of Sage and the Opposition. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has had confidential briefings from Sage prior to issuing calls for a national lockdown.
One adviser said: ‘They should know it just makes it more difficult for Boris to do it because it looks like he is following Starmer.’