TORY minister Michael Gove sent a WhatsApp message saying the government was “f***ing up” at the beginning of the pandemic, the UK Covid Inquiry has heard.

The Levelling Up Secretary told the inquiry the message was in reference to the ability of the Cabinet Office to deal with key priorities, including the emerging virus.

Giving evidence, he also described the department as “flawed”, stuffed with extra responsibilities like a “Mary Poppins bag” by successive prime ministers, and not effective at dealing with crises.

The veteran Tory, who was Cabinet Office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when the pandemic began in 2020, was quizzed about a message he sent to Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Sent on March 4 2020, it read: “You know me, I don’t often kick off. But we are f***ing up as a Government and missing golden opportunities.

“I will carry on doing what I can but the whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we’ll regret it for a long time.”

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Asked to expand on his comment by Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry, Gove said: “I was concerned at that stage about the ability and structure of the Cabinet Office overall to deliver on the government’s priorities.

“Covid was on my mind but it wasn’t the principle thing that I was messaging about, it was about the Cabinet Office overall, including its ability to deal with Covid.”

He added: “I apologise to you and to the inquiry and to the public for expressing myself in the way that I did, I’m sure you’ll understand this sort of thing happens.”

Gove then asked what was the most pressing concern of the UK Government on March 4.

“It was the coronavirus but I was concerned about the Cabinet Office overall,” he responded.

Gove had earlier told the inquiry that the "inherent structure" of the Cabinet Office was “flawed”.

He said: “The Cabinet Office in and of itself, over many years, has operated in a way which is not as effective as it should be for the effective delivery of government policy, both business as usual, and also in response to crises.

“The Cabinet Office had an approach which I fear ceded too much responsibility to lead government departments and did not mean the assumption of sufficient responsibility at the centre.”

Gove also said successive prime ministers have added responsibilities to the Cabinet Office’s plate that do not fit easily elsewhere.

“So, it becomes a sort of Mary Poppins bag into which different prime ministers will shove things that they believe require to be dealt with by the Government’s nanny, as it were.”

Gove also highlighted the opinion that Covid-19 was “man-made” when explaining the challenges faced by the Government as the pandemic emerged in 2020.

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Asked about shortcomings in preparedness for a new virus, Gove said: “There is a significant body of judgment that believes that the virus itself was man-made and that presents challenges as well.”

He was told by Keith, counsel to the inquiry, that the “divisive” issue was not part of the inquiry’s terms of reference.

Gove added: “I think it is important to recognise that the virus presented a series of new challenges that required both the science to adjust and science , by definition, adjusts on the basis of accumulating evidence – both about the operation of the virus and its effect on particular elements within the population.”

Gove said the UK was “certainly not well enough prepared” for the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic and apologised to victims and bereaved families for Government failures during the time.

When challenged on “chaos” in the Cabinet Office in early 2020, he said: “If I may … apologise to the victims who endured such pain, the families who endured so much loss as a result of the mistakes that were made by Government in response to the pandemic.

“As a minister responsible for the Cabinet Office, and was also close to many of the decisions that were made, I must take my share of responsibility for that.

“Politicians are human beings. We’re fallible. We make mistakes and we make errors. I am sure that the inquiry will have an opportunity to look in detail at many of the errors I and others made.”