Prime Minister will be asked about his 'opposition to Covid lockdowns'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set for a grilling on his ‘opposition to Covid lockdowns’ at inquiry next week

  • Rishi Sunak will be interrogated about his lockdown-sceptic views 

Rishi Sunak will be interrogated about his lockdown-sceptic views at the Covid Inquiry next week.

The Mail understands that a piece in The Spectator in which the Prime Minister said scientists were ’empowered’ too much during the pandemic has been submitted as evidence.

In the August 2022 interview, given during his leadership campaign, he hit out at ‘the fear narrative’ created about the virus and said he was effectively banned from discussing the ‘trade-offs’ of plunging the UK into restrictions, such as mounting NHS backlogs and public debt.

At the time, he claimed that many of his objections to draconian rules were met with a ‘big silence’ from colleagues, adding: ‘Those meetings were literally me around that table, just fighting. It was incredibly uncomfortable every single time.’

It is thought Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry’s lead counsel, will quiz Mr Sunak – who was chancellor during the pandemic – about the comments when he takes to the stand on Monday.

Rishi Sunak will be interrogated about his lockdown-sceptic views at the Covid Inquiry

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives evidence at the COVID-19 Inquiry

The line of questioning could prove very uncomfortable for Mr Sunak as he will be keen not to re-open old wounds with allies of ex-PM Boris Johnson, who led the Covid response.

READ MORE – Ex-PM says sorry for ‘pain and loss’ of victims and admits he ‘should have twigged’ earlier how bad pandemic would be – but insists scientists also struggled to ‘compute’ the dangers 

An entry in the diary of chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, referred to at the inquiry this week, appeared to support the account given by Mr Sunak. The entry in July 2021 said of him during a meeting that day: ‘Pushes very hard for faster opening up and fuller opening up, getting rid of all restrictions.Repeats his […] mantra, ‘We either believe in the vaccine or we don’t’.’

He will also be interrogated over his Eat Out to Help Out scheme and whether it fuelled a spike in infections in August 2020. Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty branded the policy ‘Eat Out to Help The Virus’, Mr Johnson told the inquiry this week while giving evidence.

On Thursday it was put to Mr Johnson that Mr Sunak threatened to resign as chancellor if the PM plunged the country back into lockdown in December 2021 as the Omicron variant swept the country. Mr Johnson replied: ‘No, I don’t remember [him saying] that.’

Mr Sunak, who was chancellor from February 2020 to July 2022, is also likely to face questions about whether he believed it was best to ‘just let people die’. Another diary entry of Sir Patrick’s in October 2020, revealed at the inquiry last month, quoted Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings as saying: ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay. This all feels like a complete lack of leadership.’

Dominic Cummings is quoted as saying: ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay’

In The Spectator interview, Mr Sunak said he believed that one of the major mistakes of the pandemic was to allow the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to have so much sway over policy. 

‘We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did… If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed,’ he said. ‘And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning. If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place. We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools, for example.’

He said that in one meeting he attempted to raise his misgivings about closing down schools, adding: ‘I was like… ‘Surely we can all agree that kids not being in school is a major nightmare’. There was a big silence afterwards. It was the first time someone had said it.’

He also claimed minutes from Sage meetings were edited so that dissenting voices were not included in the final draft. ‘The Sage people didn’t realise for a very long time that there was a Treasury person on all their calls. She was great because it meant that she was sitting there, listening to their discussions,’ he said.

Former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence at Dorland House

Chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty leaving after giving a statement to the Covid-19 Inquiry

Discussions about the cost of imposing lockdowns were often suppressed, he claimed, adding: ‘In every brief, we tried to say: ‘Let’s stop the fear narrative…’ It was always wrong from the beginning.’

He said the Government’s lack of honesty with the public was the biggest problem, adding that if he had been in charge he ‘would just have had a more grown-up conversation with the country’.

Mr Johnson defended the decisions he made during the pandemic while giving evidence this week but conceded he ‘unquestionably made mistakes’ for which he ‘unreservedly’ apologised.

In his written statement to the inquiry he defended the role of scientists, saying: ‘The advice that I received from Sir Patrick and Chris [Whitty] seemed to me to be transparent and clear throughout the pandemic. They were both exceptionally good… I have nothing but praise for them.’

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