Boris Johnson to apologise over Covid mistakes but insist his decisions saved lives

Former prime minister is also expected to say he ended up saving ‘tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives’

Shweta Sharma
Saturday 02 December 2023 09:31 GMT

Related: Boris Johnson ‘not aware’ other countries had imposed Covid lockdowns, says Sadiq Khan

Boris Johnson is expected to apologise for “unquestionably” making mistakes in his handling of the pandemic during his appearance before the Covid Inquiry.

But the former prime minister will argue that his controversial decisions ended up saving “tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives”.

Mr Johnson will be grilled next Wednesday and Thursday over the government’s decision-making during the pandemic in two marathon evidence sessions.

He faces a mammoth task to salvage his reputation, however, with the inquiry over the last two months having heard:

The former PM, who has since quit as an MP, will argue that without restrictions in place a considerable number of individuals would have experienced “miserable and unnecessary deaths”, some of them occurring in hospital car parks and corridors, with the healthcare system overwhelmed by the virus.

And he will tout his vaccine programme and argue that the country emerged from the final lockdown before other economies.

The probe so far has painted a damning picture of Mr Johnson’s Downing Street team, with clandestine WhatsApp messages exposing the internal turmoil and discord behind the scenes.

His senior aide Dominic Cummings has emerged as a vocal adversary of Mr Johnson following their contentious parting. Mr Cummings described the former prime minister as the “trolley”, referring to his habit of changing his mind more often.

The former prime minister is expected to counter accusations of him constantly changing his mind by underscoring the substantial volume of briefings he received, the rapid evolution of advice, and the enormity of the decisions he was compelled to make, those who helped prepare him for his appearance told the BBC.

But it is understood that his statement barely mentions Mr Cummings.

Mr Johnson will also argue that Britain’s obesity problem made tackling coronavirus more difficult, The Daily Telegraph reported. “ As a nation, we are fatter, less fit, there’s lots of factors in our public health that are just facts which made the UK very different from other comparable democracies,” a source close to the former PM said.

And Mr Johnson will extraordinarily clash with Sir Patrick Vallance and Sir Chris Whitty, claiming the controversial Eat Out to Help Out scheme was “properly discussed” with the scientists, The Times reported. Both the former chief scientific adviser and Prof Whitty, who is the chief medical officer, have said they were blind-sided by the scheme.

The paper added that the ex-PM will claim it is misleading to take his WhatsApp messages out of context, where “dark humour is lost or morphs into mockery”.

He will also defend the use of his colourful language during his tenure and taking more provocative positions in private. He will argue that the strategy helped him get the best work out of his advisors and it would not have been correct for a prime minister to sit in silence when being briefed by experts.

“Ministers can argue for their briefs, as they should. So a health secretary will argue for public health. A chancellor will argue for the economy,” a source said.

“But there is only one person in the British system of government that has to arbitrate between the competing arguments and ultimately come to a decision, having made a call on the trade-offs.”

The person said: “There is only one guy in this country who can tell you what it is like to be prime minister in a pandemic. And one day there will be another one.”

Mr Johnson is poised to support the embattled former health secretary, Matt Hancock, despite criticisms from numerous inquiry witnesses who singled him out, crediting him for doing a “good job in very difficult circumstances”.

Mr Hancock has said in his written statement to the inquiry that “the then prime minister has apologised to me for appointing his chief adviser and for the damage he did to the response to Covid-19”.

Mr Johnson’s statement to the inquiry, which is said to be 200 pages long, has been already submitted.

Mr Johnson will be the only figure at the inquiry next week and is scheduled to sit from 10am to 4.30pm on Wednesday and Thursday.

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