POLITICS EXPLAINED

The questions Rishi Sunak will face at the Covid inquiry

Were they really ‘following the science’ in Downing Street during the pandemic? Sean O’Grady looks at what the inquiry lawyers will have in store for the prime minister

Monday 11 December 2023 11:57 GMT
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<p>Sunak spent £800m on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme during the pandemic </p>

Sunak spent £800m on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme during the pandemic

As if Rishi Sunak didn’t have quite enough to worry about, he will spend his entire Monday at the Covid inquiry taking questions from various barristers, including Hugo Keith KC. The prime minister obviously played a key role during the pandemic, as he was chancellor of the Exchequer for most of it.

What did Sunak do during Covid?

He was promoted from chief secretary to the Treasury to chancellor on 13 February 2020, and so was in place just as the concerns about the Covid crisis were reaching a critical point. He won much praise for the packages of measures that the Treasury, with the Bank of England, put in place to support the economy during the emergency restrictions on economic activity; conventional borrowing limits were disregarded in what was treated as a wartime situation. For that, and his empathetic and competent manner, Sunak enjoyed a boost to his image. Critics say that the damage to the public finances wasn’t necessary because lockdowns were an overreaction – a view Sunak now seems to sympathise with. Indeed, despite bragging about what he did, Sunak said during his party leadership campaign in 2022 that he wouldn’t do the same thing again and would oppose any future pandemic lockdowns.

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