Boris Johnson referred to the Treasury as the “pro-death squad” during the pandemic.
The Covid Inquiry heard that the former PM, who wanted support in easing lockdown restrictions, used the phrase at a meeting in January 2021.
Reading from former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary, where the phrase was written, counsel to the inquiry Dermot Keating said:
“There is an entry at a meeting where the PM is recorded saying he wants Tier 3 March 1, Tier 2 April 1, Tier 1 May 1 and nothing by September.
“And he ends it by saying the team must bring in the pro-death squad from Her Majesty’s Treasury”.
Giving evidence to the inquiry, a former senior aide to Johnson, Stuart Glassborow, said he did not remember hearing the term.
“I think (this) refers to a meeting from a couple of years ago. I don’t recall that specific phrase,” said Glassborow.
“I see that this is from Patrick’s notebook. I wouldn’t dispute what he’s recorded, but I don’t personally recall the phrase at all.”
Keating referenced a report from the Institute for Government (IfG) that described a “enormously chaotic tug of war” between scientific advice and Rishi Sunak’s Treasury which was seeking measures to mitigate the economic impact rather than protect public health.
The report stated that because of this dynamic, government decision-making was “a bit of a Punch and Judy” for the most of 2020.
This revelation adds to the strew of evidence seen by the Inquiry suggesting that the former prime minister was keen to prioritise the economy over people’s lives, including his former top aide saying he was “back to Jaws mode w**k” and “let it rip mode”.
The Inquiry also heard from Claire Lombardelli, who advised Sunak when he was chancellor.
She was asked about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, a government initiative that offered discounts at restaurants to encourage people to get back out to eat in 2020 and help rebuild the economy.
Asked whether the potential of increasing infections versus boosting the economy was properly considered in the rollout, Lombardelli replied:
“I don’t know. The policy was conceived in the context that it was safe to lift restrictions and activity could return.”
However, Glassborow said staff inside No.10 were aware there was no scientific advice on the scheme’s effect on the virus before it was implemented.