Don't Let This Boris Johnson Drama Distract You From The Covid Inquiry

It's worth remembering the bigger picture, too.
Boris Johnson is making headline news over partygate yet again – but there's a bigger picture here, with the Covid Inquiry
Boris Johnson is making headline news over partygate yet again – but there's a bigger picture here, with the Covid Inquiry

Boris Johnson has been torn apart in a new report into partygate – but, amid the excitement, it’s key to remember this was all part of a much bigger picture.

The Covid Inquiry launched this week with a particularly gut-wrenching video showing testimonies from those grieving for relatives they lost in the pandemic.

It’s the start of a historic moment which will unpack everything that happened throughout the height of Covid, and provide an unflinching look at how our government actually works in a time of crisis.

What just happened with Boris Johnson?

The parliamentary privileges committee just revealed that after almost a year’s worth of investigation, Johnson did “deliberately mislead” the Commons when he said no lockdown rules were broken in No.10 at the height of the pandemic.

The committee claimed Johnson misled his fellow MPs 11 times over partygate.

He did pay a fixed penalty over breaching the lockdown rules and not following social distancing measures in Downing Street, but maintained that he never intentionally misled his colleagues when saying previously no rules were broken.

Clearly, the committee disagrees.

While the ex-PM stepped down as an MP last Friday after reading an advance copy of the committee’s findings, the group said they would have recommended a 90-day suspension from parliament for him if he still had a seat.

Although the rest of the Commons has to vote on whether to follow through with the committee’s recommendations before they actually happen, that is the most severe form of punishment the cross-party group could have suggested.

They found him guilty of “repeated contempts”, including breaching confidence, attacking the committee, and supposedly engaging in the “personal abuse” of MPs on the committee.

The MPs also suggested that Johnson should be denied the parliamentary pass all former members of the house are entitled to.

The one-time PM and MP was not exactly pleased with the findings, releasing an angry statement at the same time as the report where he accused the committee of a “final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”.

“The committee now says that I deliberately misled the House, and at the moment I spoke I was consciously concealing from the House my knowledge of illicit events,” he said.

“This is rubbish. It is a lie. In order to reach this deranged conclusion, the committee is obliged to say a series of things that are patently absurd, or contradicted by the facts.”

Why is the Covid Inquiry so important?

The Covid Inquiry kicked off this week. It will be looking into the decisions made by the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) and two dozen nationwide departments.

It will stretch over three years at the very least, but it intends to unpick who was accountable for the UK’s Covid deaths and the difficulty the country went through at the height of the pandemic.

Chairwoman Baroness Hallett said she plans to answer three questions: “Was the UK properly prepared for a pandemic? Was the response to it appropriate? Can we learn lessons for the future?”

It will cover an extraordinarily wide set of topics – and it has very high stakes for the people involved with decision-making at the time.

What does the partygate report have to do with the Covid Inquiry?

What the government was doing at the height of the pandemic is of utmost importance when examining how the country managed the crisis.

As a campaigner for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, David Garfinkel, tweeted on Thursday: “While families like mine were saying goodbye to our loved ones over Zoom, the same prime minister that failed us so badly in the first place was breaking his own rules so that he could have a party and a laugh.”

He added: “Johnson has shown no remorse. Instead he lied to our faces when he told us that he’d done ‘all he could’ to protect our loved ones, he lied again when he said the rules hadn’t been broken in No.10 and he’s lied ever since when he’s denied it again and again.”

Garfinkel also suggested that “Johnson should never be allowed to stand for any form of public office again”, and his “fall from grace must serve as a lesson to other politicians”.

Why will Johnson be a big part of the Covid Inquiry?

He was behind all key decisions

Johnson was in office between July 2019 and July 2022 – meaning he was only PM for around eight months before Covid became a nationwide concern.

He was the one who ordered the country into its first nationwide lockdown.

He oversaw all of the decisions the government made in relation to Covid, including easing lockdown that summer, introducing the tier system, then putting the UK back into lockdown in November and keeping the country to stricter conditions around Christmas and into 2021.

Johnson has also hailed the rollout of the Covid vaccine in the UK as one of his greatest achievements while in office.

This all means it’s pretty hard to separate him from the probe into how the UK handled the pandemic.

His Covid WhatsApps have already caused a row

Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApps, messages and notebooks about the pandemic have already been dragged into the Inquiry.

Hallett wants access to Johnson’s personal communications from when he was prime minister and making key decisions at the height of the pandemic.

However, this has turned into a row with the government, who doesn’t want to send any communications which might contain personal information in them to a public inquiry.

Hallett maintains that it is up to her to decide what is and isn’t relevant to this investigation. The inquiry has the legal powers to force people to hand over their documents.

Johnson says he has already handed over his WhatsApp messages and notebooks in full to the Cabinet Office, and said he will bypass the department by providing WhatsApps dating from April 2021 onwards directly to the inquiry.

The government has launched a legal bid in an effort to protect Johnson’s messages.

Amid criticism that this was a waste of taxpayers’ money, ministers have claimed that the Cabinet Office just wants to clarify the legal scope.


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