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Michael Gove Covid Inquiry

Damning WhatsApp messages show how Tory MPs looked after their gun-wielding friends

The Covid Inquiry has been telling of how Britain’s most influential looked after their friends during the pandemic. And now more revelations have uncovered how politicians lobbied hard to ensure that hunting and shooting were exempted from Covid restrictions.

Protect the Wild recently reported on comments made by former deputy cabinet secretary Helena MacNamara. She gave a witness statement arguing that Johnson and his “macho” and “toxic” team gave more thought to hunting and shooting interests than they did women’s issues. On 28 November it was Cabinet minister Michael Gove’s turn to comment on the handling of the pandemic. While he was being questioned, WhatsApp messages were shown as evidence. They proved just how far Tory politicians will go to protect the interests of their hunting friends.

The messages centre around Covid’s ‘rule of six’ which was imposed by the government on the general population in September 2020. This meant that social gatherings of more than six people were prohibited. But grouse shooting and other bloodsports of hunting with guns were exempt from the rules – and now we know why.

‘We need to be VERY careful…’

The Inquiry showed messages from two different WhatsApp groups, one of which was called ‘Shoot rules group’.

In the first set of messages, a person – whose name was redacted – said to Gove:

“we are still going round in circles on hunting as we don’t have a policy locked down yet. There is however a new issue – Dom and Lee are minded not to exempt hunting and shooting. I think that’s a bad idea. Nick Herbert (now chair of CA [Countryside Alliance]) was horrified and said would cause huge issue. I presume you are strongly in favour of exempting [hunting] but in way that it doesn’t appear on face of regs.”

Gove replied yes.

Then the other person said:

“… we need to be VERY [in capital letters, VERY] careful on how it is presented.”

To which Gove responded:

“They’re still shooting in Scotland.

Shooting is defensible economically and environmentally. Hunting not so much…..”

 

Covid Whatsapp messages

‘Amazing what a bit of lobbying can do’

The Inquiry then turned to the ‘Shoot rules group’ of WhatsApp messages. Nigel Adams, former MP for Selby and Ainsty from 2010 til 2023, asked in the chat whether there was any update on the regulations for shooting and hunting, to which a man with his name reducted replied:

“Yes. Regs made. Shooting fine. No upper limit. Not yet entirely clear on hunting.

Well done gentlemen.”

Adams then asked what route was being permitted to allow shooting. The man with the redacted name replied:

“Shooting is in the ‘relevant outdoor activities’ and we hope trail hunting fits in ‘sporting gatherings’, but we aren’t sure.”

A couple of hours later, Adams then sent round a link to a Huffington Post article, which outlined that shooting was exempt from the rule of six, and bragged:

“Amazing what a bit of lobbying can do.”

Hugo Keith, chief counsel to the Inquiry, interrogated Gove about the messages, asking:

“What lobbying led to this exemption for shooting and hunting?”

But in typical politician style, Gove completely avoided the question by talking about – of all things – whether a scotch egg was a substantial meal. Yes, really.

 

 

Covid whatsapp

‘Sleight of hand’

Keith stated to Gove that:

“somebody in your department suggests that an exemption be given in a way that doesn’t appear on the face of the regulations. That a sleight of hand is applied.”

Gove disagreed.

But Keith went on to challenge him, arguing:

“Instead of saying, “That’s not appropriate. If there is going to be an exemption for shooting and hunting, for perfectly proper reasons, the rural economy and so on and so forth, then it should be done openly”, but you say yes.”

Instead of answering properly, Gove attempted to turn the spotlight on those questioning him. He disputed why Inquiry chair Lady Hallett was so interested in shooting and hunting, lamenting:

“I should stress that the exchange on shooting, on which I was a part, took place all in one day in a matter of a few hours. So, again, I can entirely understand why shooting and hunting, because they are matters of public contention and debate, might preoccupy you or preoccupy the Inquiry, but given the whole range of activities that we were thinking about regulating and constraining, it seems curious to alight on these.”

Keith then put Gove in his place when he made the point:

“And, Mr Gove, I may say — what I now need to say, I have asked you no questions about the merits of either pursuit. The Inquiry has no interest in either of them. I’ve asked you about why a government official appears to want to conceal the exemption on the face of the regs, which is an entirely different point.”

But despite the WhatsApp texts blatantly showing that this was the case, Gove continued to deny it, saying that he was seeking “horizontal regulation rather than sector-specific”. This is, of course, laughable, when he was part of a WhatsApp group named ‘Shoot rules’ that rejoiced in “what a bit of lobbying can do”.

We need a change of government

As Protect the Wild previously covered, and as these WhatsApp messages show, organisations such as the Countryside Alliance lobbied to ensure that hunting and shooting were exempt from the rule of six. And influential “macho” politicians were only too happy to ensure that their friends’ bloodlust was satisfied during the pandemic.

This Tory government isn’t protecting wildlife. Its politicians are more intent on protecting the ‘rural life’ and ‘countryside traditions’ that need to be banned forever. Mammals and birds need urgent protection, and the Tories refuse to give it to them. The government needs to be urgently replaced with one that cares about ALL living beings – not just its gun-wielding and tweed-wearing friends.