No scientists attended meetings about eat out to help out scheme before it launched, Boris Johnson tells UK Covid inquiry – live | Covid inquiry – Freedom Voice


No scientists attended meetings about eat out to help out scheme before it launched, says Johnson

Johnson has walked back claims that Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance were present to “properly discuss” the eat out to help out scheme before it went live, conceding that no scientists attended meetings about the scheme.

Johnson said he had “frankly assumed” they were involved in talks about the scheme with the Treasury and that he was “surprised it was smuggled past them”.

Key events

Keith said it had been suggested by Dominic Cummings that the cabinet process had been more “politically excitable”, at which point Boris Johnson interjected to suggest the word “performative”.

Keith said: “Thank you. Performative. How there were worries about leaks, where it was more a matter of political theatre.”

Johnson replied: “I think that’s certainly a fair criticism of some cabinet meetings but as time went on, I genuinely think that cabinet proved to be more and more valuable, and you genuinely started to have different points of view properly represented around the table, and different departmental interests, particularly HMT (the Treasury), properly represented.

“And it became a much more … I started to see the wisdom in the system and I think it worked.”

After Johnson denied he had used the phrase “let the virus rip”, Keith shows the inquiry a dairy entry from Patrick Vallance from June 2020 that said: “Actually having a discussion (meeting with the MP) about letting (Covid) rip.”

In response, Johnson said “this is exactly what you’d expect me to be talking about at this stage.”

After this, further entries from Vallance’s diaries were shown.

Another extract from Vallance’s diary dated October 2020 says Johnson argued for “letting it all rip” and that he said: “there will be more casualities but so be it – ‘they’ve had a good innings’.

An extract from May 2021 claimed Johnson said they should let Covid “rip a bit”.

In August 2020, Vallance wrote Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on in life and the economy going.”

An entry from October 2020 said that Johnson was “now obsessed with the average age of death being 82” which was “longer than average life expectancy”, adding that Johnson had said “get Covid live longer”.

In response, Johnson said “the implication that you’re you’re trying to draw from those conversations is completely wrong and my position was that we had to save human life at all ages.”

Johnson said he asked government scientists and experts whether over-65s should be given the choice to enter “spontaneous self-preservation and keep themselves to themselves or run the risk of hugging their grandchildren and engaging fully in society”.

Johnson said the policy was not pursued because he was told: “Even if you’ve elected to be shielded, or even if the government is trying to shield this segment of the population, it is not going to work because the infectiousness is too great.”

Johnson said he had “a great deal of sympathy for the police, those who are charged with enforcing (rules), because it changed very often”.

He added: “I think there were 60 separate changes, and the complexities for the public to understand were very grey.”

Asked how it might be done differently in future, Johnson said: “I think that there needs to be a great deal of reflection about simplifying the whole approach, and seeing what we can do to rely more on common sense and less on regulation and legislation.

“But there may be limits to that. I’m not suggesting there is an easy answer, because the reason fundamentally in the UK, and I say this to all the libertarians, why you need regulation is because ultimately people want to see everybody being obliged to obey the same set of rules and they want their neighbours to do what they are doing.”

No scientists attended meetings about eat out to help out scheme before it launched, says Johnson

Johnson has walked back claims that Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance were present to “properly discuss” the eat out to help out scheme before it went live, conceding that no scientists attended meetings about the scheme.

Johnson said he had “frankly assumed” they were involved in talks about the scheme with the Treasury and that he was “surprised it was smuggled past them”.

Johnson said the eat out to help out scheme was not presented as something that would accelerate transmission.

Keith says this argument was put forward by the chancellor and the Treasury.

Johnson also said he could see evidence that “conclusively shows” the eat out to help out scheme made a big difference to Covid transmission rates.

Hugo Keith KC asks about the eat out to help out scheme and the rational behind it.

Johnson said the country had made a huge effort, that the R number was below 1 and that the “budget of risk” was enough to reopen hospitality.

Hugo Keith KC is opening today’s session. He begins by asking Johnson about the 1 metre rule for social distancing.

Scientific advice suggested 2 metres as a safer distance, Keith says.

He asks Johnson if this is an example of the need to help businesses affecting policy decisions.

Johnson says that the scientific advice actually suggested 3 metres would have been better – it did not seem to him “on balance” necessary to impose more than 1 metre of social distancing considering the impact it would have on hospitality.

If you refresh this page, a live stream of Boris Johnson at the Covid inquiry will appear at the top. My colleague Sammy Gecsoyler will take you through Johnson’s evidence.

With so much happening today, we’re running two UK politics live blogs. This one will focus on Boris Johnson’s evidence to the Covid inquiry. Andrew Sparrow’s regular politics blog, meanwhile, will focus on the deepening rift within the Tory party. You can follow that here:

At his first day of evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday, Boris Johnson apologised for “the pain and suffering” people experienced during the pandemic – but he also admitted “vastly underestimating the risks” in the early stages of the pandemic and denied that there was a toxic culture at No 10.

My colleagues Matthew Weaver and Ben Quinn have a round up of the day’s key takeaways here:

Analysis: we saw Johnson on his best behaviour yesterday – but it won’t do him any good

Pippa Crerar

Pippa Crerar

When Boris Johnson arrived three hours early for his long-awaited evidence session at the Covid inquiry on Wednesday morning, it was still dark outside, leading one minister to joke that “it’s the first time Boris has ever been early for anything”.

Johnson’s promptness – which meant he avoided the families of some of those who died during the pandemic gathering outside – was not an indication that he had turned over a new leaf, rather that he wanted to avoid all the negative headlines he possibly could.

The former prime minister is acutely aware that his first appearance in front of the official inquiry is a key moment in shaping his long-term legacy – particularly as his friends claim that he still harbours hopes of making a political comeback.

In previous weeks, evidence at the inquiry has painted – in the words of its lead counsel, Hugo Keith KC – “an appalling picture of incompetence and disarray” at the heart of Johnson’s government. He has been described by a string of advisers as indecisive and lacking in leadership, and even as a “trolley” veering from one position to another.

So this was always going to be a perilous moment for Johnson, with his government facing criticism for its slow initial response to the pandemic, decisions such as discharging patients from hospitals into care homes, schemes such as “eat out to help out” and delays in locking down the country a second time.

Read on here:

Peter Walker

Peter Walker

In a full day of questioning by the inquiry’s lead counsel, Hugo Keith KC, Johnson frequently said he couldn’t recall meetings or what he had been told by his ministers and advisers.

In a version of events described as “deluded” by one bereaved relative watching in the room, Johnson rejected yet more evidence of bitter internal warfare involving officials, notably his then chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

While conceding some errors over the outbreak of the virus, saying there were “clearly things we could and should have done if we had known and understood how fast it was spreading”, Johnson insisted these lessons were only apparent in retrospect.

He faces Keith for a second session shortly, when he will be challenged over delays to locking down the country for a second time. Rishi Sunak will appear next week.

Johnson returns for second day at the Covid inquiry

Good morning. Boris Johnson is returning to the UK Covid inquiry today to face further questions on his government’s handling of the pandemic.

Yesterday, he admitted there were decisions that his government “could and should have” made to stop the spread of coronavirus but denied he had made major mistakes and attempted to defend the chaotic and abusive culture in his top team.

The former prime minister even insisted that a Downing Street culture widely described as toxic and dysfunctional in fact led to better decisions.

You can read the full report from my colleagues Peter Walker and Robert Booth here:

Johnson’s evidence is due to begin at 10am and we will have a live stream of it here.

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