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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson rejects demands for immediate inquiry into government’s handling of pandemic

PM says 'we will learn lessons in due course’, but now is not the right time to divert government resources

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 20 January 2021 13:04 GMT
Johnson rejects demands for immediate inquiry into government's handling of Covid

Boris Johnson has rejected mounting demands for an immediate inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, telling MPs it must wait until after the current crisis.

With NHS hospitals facing immense pressures, the prime minister told the Commons that it would not be “sensible” to divert government resources away from the fight against Covid-19.

His comments came after Sir Keir Starmer told The Independent that bereaved families “deserve to know” when the inquiry will begin — six months after Mr Johnson pledged to hold an independent probe.

Challenged at prime minister’s questions as the latest data showed the UK now has the highest death rate per capita, Mr Johnson dismissed a call from the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey to launch the inquiry this year.

“The NHS is under unprecedented pressure, the entire British state is trying to fight Covid and trying to roll out the biggest vaccination programme in the history of our country,” Mr Johnson replied.

He added: "The idea that we should now concentrate state resources, vast state resources, to an inquiry now in the middle of the pandemic does not I think seem sensible to me, and I don't believe it would seem sensible to members of the House.

"Of course, we will learn lessons in due course and, of course, there will be a time to reflect and to prepare for the next pandemic."

Speaking to The Independent last week, Sir Ed stressed the government could begin preparatory work for an independent inquiry immediately, by outlining its remit, establishing a timeframe and beginning the process to appoint an chair to oversee the proceedings.

Major questions remain over the format of an independent inquiry, including whether it will be established under the 2005 Inquires Act — on a statutory footing —  which will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, or a non-statutory basis similar to the Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 Iraq invasion.

The Labour leader added at the weekend: “The government failed to learn lessons from the first phase of the pandemic. The tragic result is that Britain has now suffered more deaths during the second wave than the first.

“Every life lost to this virus is a family shattered. The prime minister promised an independent inquiry, and those families deserve to know when it will start.”

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