Nicola Sturgeon branded Boris Johnson a "f****** clown" over the Prime Minister's decision on Halloween to lock down England for a second time in 2020.

Details of the then first minister's criticism in a series of messages shared with Liz Lloyd, her most senior aide, emerged during a session of the UK Covid inquiry on Thursday morning. 

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Johnson's address was “f****** excruciating” and that the UK communications were “awful”.

"We're not perfect but we don't get nearly enough credit for how much better than them we are," she added. 

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She also told Ms Lloyd: “His utter incompetence in every sense is now offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere.”

Ms Lloyd said she was “offended” on behalf of special advisers everywhere.

Ms Sturgeon then replied: “He is a f****** clown.”

The Herald:

Mr Johnson announced the second lockdown in England on 31 October 2020, with all nonessential shops, restaurants, pubs and leisure facilities told to close for at least four weeks.

He also announced that the furlough scheme, covering 80% of the wages of workers who are temporarily laid off, would be extended throughout November.

At the time that created some dilemma for the Scottish Government, over whether they should go further while there a more extensive furlough scheme was available.

"The decision we have to weigh up is should we take the opportunity of more generous financial support to step harder on the brakes now, to drive down infections," Ms Sturgeon said at her daily briefing the next day.

She added: "It cannot be right that the only time that additional financial support is made available is when the south of England needs to go into a lockdown. That just isn't fair given the situation we are dealing with."

The conversation between Ms Sturgeon and Ms Lloyd showed the then first minister discussing it with her aide. 

"I'm assuming 80% will be available for any of our businesses shut now? The question is if it's only available in Nov, do we shut more to maximise impact of it?" she asked.

Ms Lloyd replied: "I assume so. And my reading is Nov only. Officials have been given all of that in their Qs for tomorrow and to push for it to be there whenever we want it - but yes it would give us reason to go harder in central belt particularly now while money is available rather than take our chances."

Ms Sturgeon replied: "They really are a shower."

The Herald:

The messages were supplied to the inquiry by Ms Lloyd. Ms Sturgeon has deleted her WhatsApp messages from the time.

They show that the pair discussed policy, and debated government positions on Covid restrictions. 

One message showed the two talking about the number of guests that were allowed at weddings. Others showed them discussing the numbers allowed to mix indoors and outside.

During the hearing, junior counsel to the inquiry, Usman Tariq, asked Ms Lloyd if there was "a perception amongst Nicola Sturgeon and the wider Scottish Government that it was doing so much better than the UK government in the pandemic response around this."

She said this referred "specifically to the communication."

"I think that's sometimes dismissed but communications is very important in a public health situation. People need to know what to do and why and to understand it and to trust in it.

"And this was the end result of a day that had been quite shambolic in the UK Government, and that has an impact on what people see and think in Scotland about the pandemic overall.

"So while he was announcing something that was not relevant to Scotland, the sort of chaos that appeared around some of the decisions they took, we then hard to work hard to mitigate because people in Scotland see both."

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Mr Tariq asked Ms Lloyd if the relationship between the then first minister and then prime minister had “broken down”.

She replied:” That overstates what was there to break.”

Ms Lloyd said it was clear that Mr Johnson did not want to be on calls with the devolved administrations, that he "wasn’t well briefed, he wasn’t listening" and that "engagement with him became slightly pointless."

“They didn’t get us anywhere. We started with the approach we should work together, in co-ordinated fashion, but a substantive discussion isn’t what we got.

“The prime minister was reading a script and would largely ignore points made.”

She said Ms Sturgeon’s strong language showed her “frustration” towards Mr Johnson.

The inquiry also saw messages from Ms Lloyd telling Ms Sturgeon that she wanted a “good old-fashioned rammy” with the UK Government so she could “think about something other than sick people.”

She told Ms Sturgeon she had “set a timetable” for the UK Government to answer the Scottish Government on furlough as a “purely political” move in the messages between herself and the former first minister on November 1, 2020.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Yeah, I get it. And it might be worth doing. I’ve sent a rough formulation of what I might say tomorrow.”

A handwritten notes shown earlier in evidence showed Ms Lloyd suggesting a possible strategy of “calling for things” that the Scottish Government could not do to “force the UK Government to do things”.

The Herald:

Mr Tariq asked Ms Lloyd if she was looking for a spat.

She replied: “I was looking for a spat with a purpose.

“It had been shown in the past that they would sometimes change their mind if they felt that pressure and I wanted them to change their mind.”

During the session, Ms Lloyd was asked about Scottish independence. 

It came after Cabinet minutes from June 2020 showed ministers had agreed to give consideration as to how the pandemic had changed the arguments for independence.

Ministers, including current First Minister Humza Yousaf, agreed that future arguments for independence should reflect “the experience of the coronavirus crisis”.

That was despite Ms Sturgeon telling her daily briefing that she was not "dealing with politics at the moment.”

She added that anyone “trotting out political or constitutional arguments is in the wrong place completely and has found themselves completely lost”.

READ MORE: 'Disgusting': SNP cabinet discussed using Covid to push independence

Speaking at the inquiry on Thursday, Ms Lloyd was asked if it would be “fair to say” that she had “spent a lot of [her] career strategising about Scottish independence”.

She replied: “I think supporters of Scottish independence might be disappointed about what my answer is, but not as much as people would have thought or would have liked.

“A large part of my political career has been spent strategising about what the Scottish Government does in other policy areas. But yes, I have had a role throughout in the progress of Scottish independence.”

Ms Lloyd said there was no "active discussion" on independence and the constitution at that cabinet meeting, but a discussion around Brexit.

She said it was only agreed that "consideration should be given" and there was no agreement that something other than thinking about it should be done. 

"If the government had proactively done something there would be much more evidence of it. There would be published papers. There would be statements."