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Boris Johnson fails to deny he delayed lockdown as ‘Covid only killing 80-year-olds’

Prime minister accused of ‘casual disregard and contempt’ for life after grilling on ex-chief of staff’s comments

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 26 May 2021 15:03 BST
Boris Johnson fails to deny he delayed lockdown as ‘Covid only killing 80-year-olds’

Boris Johnson has failed to deny that he rejected a fresh Covid-19 lockdown at a crucial moment on the basis that the disease was “only killing 80 year olds”.

Asked about the reported comments by Opposition leader Keir Starmer during prime minister’s questions Mr Johnson changed the subject and did not address the issue.

It came after he previously denied saying he would rather than “bodies pile high” than introduce restrictions again.

Mr Johnson came in for heavy criticism from his former chief aide Dominic Cummings on Wednesday, who was giving evidence to MPs at a joint hearing of the health and technology committees.

Ahead of the meeting ITV News reported that Mr Cummings would make the claim about the PM’s comments the next day.

Speaking in the Commons Sir Keir said: "Another central allegation briefed overnight, is that the Prime Minister delayed the circuit break over the autumn half term because 'Covid was only killing 80 year olds'.

"Can I remind the prime minister that over 83,000 people over 80 lost their lives to this virus, and that his decision to delay for 40 days from the Sage guidance on the 21 of September until the 31 October will be seen as one of the single biggest failings of the last year.

"Now having been told of the evidence does the prime minister accept that he used the words, "Covid was only killing eight year olds", or words to those effect?"

Mr Johnson’s reply did not address the question, instead veering into issues of Brexit.

“We saw what happens during the pandemic, and particularly he talks about the September lockdown,” the prime minister stated.

“My approach to it and the very, very difficult decision that the country faced – and of course this will be a matter for the inquiry to go into – but we have a an objective test, in the sense that there was a circuit breaker of the kind he describes in Wales, it did not work. And I'm afraid to speak... I'm absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interest of the of the British people.

“And when it comes to when it comes to hindsight, just remind the right honourable gentleman that he actually denied this at the time, and then had to correct it, but he voted to stay in the European Medicines Agency, which would have made it impossible for us to do the vaccine rollout at the pace that we have.”

Speaking after the exchange, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "Of course the PM can’t deny that he delayed locking down in the Autumn because Covid was 'only killing 80 year olds'. An utterly abhorrent thing for a PM to say.

"And it shows - his casual disregard and contempt for the lives of British people had devastating consequences."

Following the exchange, Downing Street also declined to deny the allegation. The Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “I think the point of this is we’re not going to engage with every allegation made today.“

"And the PM was setting out that throughout this pandemic our priority has been to save lives, protect the NHS and support people's jobs and livelihoods across the entire United Kingdom."

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