Planning For No-Deal Brexit Left UK 'Match Fit' For Covid Pandemic, Oliver Dowden Claims

But Jeremy Hunt admitted the government had prepared for the wrong kind of outbreak.
Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden
Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden
UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via Copyright remains with handout provider

Government planning for a no-deal Brexit left the UK “match-fit” for the Covid-19 pandemic, Oliver Dowden has claimed.

The deputy prime minister made his comments as he became the latest senior Tory to give evidence to the public inquiry into the pandemic.

Dowden was asked about a Cabinet Office memo from January 2019 which said that government planning for a flu pandemic could be affected by the “stepping up” of preparations for the UK leaving the European Union without a deal.

He admitted there was a “general impact” on pandemic planning, but insisted the no-deal preparation was necessary – and beneficial in the long run.

“We had to ensure we allocated resources according to where the greatest risk lay, ” he said.

“It was appropriate, given the apocryphal [Brexit] warnings, in relation to medicine supplies, for example, that we shifted our resilience function to deal with this.”

But he insisted it left the UK “match fit” for when Covid hit a year later.

Dowden said: “It forced government departments to work together more closely, and we [created] additional capacity – so there were another 15,000 staff who were able to be redeployed to contribute to our Covid response.”

His comments come after George Osborne claimed the deep spending cuts he introduced as chancellor had made the UK better prepared for the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt told the inquiry that the government had put too much emphasis on preparing for a flu pandemic rather than one involving a coronavirus like covid.

Hunt was health secretary in 2016, when the government carried out Exercise Cygnus to test how prepared the country was for a pandemic.

He said John Hopkins University in America had rated Britain as the second-best prepared country in the world for an outbreak.

But he added: “I think the truth is we were very well prepared for pandemic flu because we had put a lot of thinking into it. Exercise Cygnus was a huge thing.

“But we hadn’t given nearly enough thought to other types of pandemic that might emerge and that was, with the benefit of hindsight, a wholly mistaken assumption.”


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