5 Key Moments From Boris Johnson's Tetchy Second Day Of Testimony To The Covid Inquiry

Former prime minister riled when questioned about wanting to let the virus “rip” and partygate.
Boris Johnson giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 inquiry.
Boris Johnson giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 inquiry.
- via Getty Images

Boris Johnson was put on the back foot over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic during a second day of testimony at the public inquiry into the crisis.

The former prime minister was at times tetchy when responding to questions from lawyers about some of his behind-the-scenes comments, the controversial Eat Out to Help Out policy and partygate.

Here are some of the key exchanges from the final day of Johnson’s evidence.

1. Denies he wanted to let Covid-19 ‘rip’ through the population

Johnson rejected suggestions that he wanted to let Covid-19 “rip” through the population as he was confronted with a series of diary entries by his chief scientific adviser that indicated he had argued in favour of letting the virus spread rapidly to increase immunity rather than imposing further restrictions.

The former prime minister said he was simply pushing scientists to explain why such a strategy wouldn’t work as the government debated whether to impose a second national lockdown in the autumn of 2020.

Johnson said critics should look at his public statements and actions, rather than “people’s jottings from meetings that I have been in”.

“I think, frankly, it does not do justice to what we did – our thoughts, our feelings, my thoughts, my feelings – to say that we were remotely reconciled to fatalities across the country, or that I believed that it was acceptable to let it rip,” a frustrated Johnson said under questioning from the inquiry’s chief legal counsel, Hugo Keith.

2. Dismisses portrayal of parytgate as ‘a travesty of the truth’

Johnson contended that media coverage of law-breaking parties in Downing Street during lockdown were “absurd” and “a travesty of the truth”.

“The version of events that has entered the popular consciousness about what is supposed to have happened in Downing Street is a million miles from the reality of what actually happened,” he told Keith.

“I speak on behalf of hundreds and hundreds of hard-working civil servants who thought that they were following the rules. Some of the media coverage, the dramatic representations, that we’re now having of this are absolutely absurd.”

He added: “I think that the characterisation, the representation that has been of what civil servants and advisers were doing in No 10 has been a travesty of the truth. They thought they were working very, very hard, which they were.”

3. Becomes emotional when describing his hospitalisation

Johnson rejected the notion that he was untroubled by the “suffering that was being inflicted on the country” and became emotional as he shared his experience of Covid-19 sending him to hospital.

“When I went into intensive care, I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly. In fact, they were middle-aged men and they were quite like me – and some of us were going to make it and some of us weren’t,″ he said.

“What I’m trying to tell you in a nutshell – and the NHS, thank god, did an amazing job and helped me survive – but I knew from that experience what appalling a disease this is. I had absolutely no personal doubt about that, from March onwards.”

4. Reveals Chris Whitty called Sunak’s covid policy ‘eat out to help the virus’

Chris Whitty dubbed Rishi Sunak’s policy to encourage people to support restaurants during the covid pandemic “eat out to help the virus”.

Johnson said the chief medical officer made the remark at a meeting in September 2020, weeks after the scheme’s launch.

Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, launched Eat Out To Help Out that summer as a way of helping the hospitality recover from the economic impact of lockdown.

Under the scheme, the Treasury covered the cost of 50% of restaurant bills.

However, the inquiry has already heard that neither Whitty or chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance were consulted in advance about the potential impact of the policy on the spread of covid.

Giving evidence for a second day at the covid inquiry, Johnson said: “I think it was something like September 16 or thereabouts… when I heard Chris in a Covid-S [strategy meeting] say ‘It’s eat out to help the virus’ and he looked at me meaningfully.

“I thought, ‘well, that’s funny, because I didn’t remember this being something that had previously seemed to attract objection or controversy’.”

He defended his efforts to balance the health and economic impacts of Covid-19, and said he had no reason to question the restaurant initiative. “I must emphasise, it was not at the time presented to me as something that would add to the budget of risk,” he said.

5. Took aim at his current employer, the Daily Mail, during the pandemic

Johnson launched a tirade against the Daily Mail, according to diary extracts from Vallance from September 2020. The entries describe Johnson being frustrated about how his coronavirus restrictions were interpreted by the influential newspaper.

Vallance quotes Johnson as saying: “everyone says rule of 6 so unfair, punishing the young, but FUCK YOU Daily Mail – look this is all about stopping deaths. We need to tell them.”

Johnson has written a weekly column for the Mail – and is thought to be being paid as much as £1 million a year, according to one report – since June.

When pressed on the remarks, Johnson told the inquiry: “I am sorry to have said this about the Daily Mail … I don’t think that was meant to be a general criticism of that great organ [they must have] said something that had wound me up about the rule of six or whatever.”


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