‘Disgrace’: Government scientific adviser criticises Boris Johnson over Covid inquiry start date

‘There is absolutely no reason, other than political manoeuvring, to wait,’ Sir Jeremy Farrar says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 19 July 2021 11:56 BST
(AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson’s decision to wait until spring 2022 to launch the public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic has been labelled a “disgrace” by a senior member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

In frank remarks, Sir Jeremy Farrar said political decisions made in the second half of 2020 were “unforgivable” and that there was “absolutely no reason” to wait until next year for the probe, “other than political manoeuvring”.

It comes after the prime minister bowed to pressure and announced the inquiry earlier this year, but told MPs it would not begin until spring 2022 as he did not want to divert officials’ attention and time as the crisis continues.

Mr Johnson said the independent probe would place the “state’s actions under the microscope” and will have the powers to compel the production of documents and take evidence from witnesses under oath.

However, Sir Jeremy said: “The full story of this historic crisis, particularly the delays that preceded the second lockdown, despite the wealth of data pointing to imminent disaster, demands an immediate public inquiry”.

The comments appear in an extract of his new book — Spike — which details the inside story in responding to the pandemic, and suggests that many of the UK’s Covid deaths in the early part of 2021 were “avoidable”.

Published in The Times, the extract adds: “Boris Johnson has announced that a public inquiry will start in 2022. It’s a disgrace it will take that long. There is absolutely no reason, other than political manoeuvring, to wait.

“Everyone needs to learn the lessons, scientists included. We only honour the dead by pledging to learn from the mistakes that cost them their lives.”

Sir Jeremy stressed the probe — to be held under the 2005 Inquiries Act — will not be “anywhere near as complex” as the Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which took almost seven years to complete.

According to The Times, Sir Jeremy also revealed he came close to stepping down as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) over the prime minister’s decision not to impose restrictions in autumn 2020.

“By not going into lockdown in September, the UK epidemic was left to continue its upward trajectory,” he wrote.

“The decision not to act fostered the conditions for the arrival and then the domination of new variants, which had such a dramatic impact. Transmission was already getting away from us. It was a catastrophe playing out in slow motion”.

“That was the darkest moment. I began to question the point of giving advice to a body that chose not to use it.”

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