Boris Johnson has confirmed there will be a full statutory inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, the prime minister said it would begin in spring 2022 and put the “state’s actions under the microscope”.
The total UK death toll from Covid now stands at over 150,000. The timeframe suggests it would not report back before the next general election, which will be held in 2024 or earlier.
Johnson told MPs: “I can confirm today that the government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis, with full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 – including the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public under oath.
He said the inquiry would not start sooner as there was a “high likelihood” of a “surge this winter”.
“Amid such tragedy the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible, and to learn every lesson for the future,” he added.
Downing Street said “if asked to give evidence” Johnson “will do so”, and would do so under oath if required.
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said the inquiry should begin “later this year” and not wait.
“The principle is that the inquiry should be as soon as possible,” he said. “Why can it not be later this year? Why can it not start earlier?”
Jo Goodman, co-founder of campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, has also said there should be no delay.
“An inquiry must begin this summer. The prime minister may feel he can wait for answers, but bereaved families certainly can’t,” they said.
“Learning lessons from the pandemic is critical to saving lives now and in the future. The prime minister knows that and he’s said as much.
“So why does he think it can wait? Who delays learning critical lessons that can save lives?”