Cabinet minister Michael Gove has insisted he “never heard” comments allegedly made by Boris Johnson that he would rather see bodies “pile high” than enter another lockdown.
It comes after the prime minister denied making the remark during a meeting with ministers and senior officials ahead of the government’s official announcement to impose a second Covid lockdown.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said he was present at a meeting last autumn, describing it as “one of the most serious decisions this prime minister and any government has had to face”.
“People have been pointing out quite rightly that tens of thousands of people were dying — the PM made a decision in that meeting to trigger a second lockdown,” he said. “He made a subsequent decision to trigger a third lockdown.”
Addressing the claim the prime minister made the remark about bodies piling high, he went on: “The idea he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind.”
Asked if he had made the comments controversially attributed to him, Mr Johnson earlier told reporters: “No. But I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a government is to make sure that the lockdowns work”.
According to ITV, the prime minister shouted the remark — first reported by the Daily Mail — in his study after agreeing to the draconian restrictions “in a rage”, with a number of officials hearing the exchange due to doors of the Cabinet room and outer office being open.
No 10 denied the account, with the prime minister’s official spokesperson saying on Monday: “The prime minister himself didn’t make that statement and I’m not aware of anyone (in Downing Street) making that statement.
“The prime minister fully denied saying this. He is on the record denying saying it.”
However, critics have pointed to comments Mr Johnson made during a fringe event at the Conservative party conference about worn-torn Libya, predicting a bright future once “they clear the dead bodies” away”.
Following reports by the BBC that the prime minister did make the remark — despite his denial — Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “It now appears that we have confirmation that as the second wave of Covid took hold and the Government lost control of the virus in the UK, Boris Johnson’s disgraceful reaction was to say ‘let the bodies pile high.’”
“The prime minister has degraded the office he holds with rampant and overwhelming sleaze. But making light of the more than 127,000 deaths that happened on his watch and then trying to cover it up is a new low. This must now end. The prime minister should apologise to all those who have lost someone during the pandemic.”
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