Ex-PM Johnson Arrives At UK Covid Inquiry Ahead Of Expected Grilling

Johnson, who was treated in hospital intensive care for COVID early on in the pandemic, is expected to say that shutting down the country went against all his personal and political instincts.

Britain’s former Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, in west London, on December 6, 2023 to give evidence. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)




Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived on Wednesday at a public inquiry where he is expected to be grilled over his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson, who has faced a barrage of criticism from his former aides for his indecisiveness and a lack of scientific understanding during the pandemic, is expected to admit that he “unquestionably made mistakes” during two days at the inquiry in London.

The former UK leader arrived around three hours early for the proceedings, which are due to start at 1000 GMT.

Nearly 130,000 people died with COVID in the UK by mid-July 2021, one of the worst official per capita tolls among Western nations.

Johnson appears ready to insist the decisions he took ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives, the Times newspaper reported, citing a written statement that has not yet been published.

– ‘Bamboozled’ –
The Times said he would argue he had a “basic confidence that things would turn out alright” on the “fallacious logic” that previous health threats had not proven as catastrophic as feared.

But he is expected to say that overall, the government succeeded in its main goal of preventing the state-run health service from being overwhelmed by making the “right decisions at the right times”.

He will also say that while the country’s death toll was high, it defied most of the gloomiest predictions and “ended the pandemic well down the global league table of excess mortality”.

According to The Times, Johnson, who quit in part because of revelations about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, has reviewed 6,000 pages of evidence and spent hours in talks with lawyers.

He can expect to be questioned on whether he thought the government was initially complacent about the pandemic, despite evidence suggesting a more proactive approach was needed.

He will also need to justify his timing of the first UK lockdown on March 23, 2020, which some senior ministers, officials and scientific advisers now believe was too late.

Johnson, who was treated in hospital intensive care for COVID early on in the pandemic, is expected to say that shutting down the country went against all his personal and political instincts.

But he had no choice because “ancient and hallowed freedoms were in conflict with the health of the community”.

Johnson’s understanding of specialist advice is likely to come under scrutiny after his former chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance, said the former premier was frequently “bamboozled” by data.

Comments about lockdowns and the death toll, including a claim that Johnson suggested the elderly might be allowed to die because they had “had a good innings”, could also be raised.

Johnson has denied claims he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown.

– Hesitations? –
Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings and communications chief Lee Cain both criticised their ex-boss when they gave evidence at the inquiry.

Cummings said a “low point” was when Johnson circulated a video to his scientific advisers of “a guy blowing a special hairdryer up his nose ‘to kill Covid’.”

Cain said Covid was the “wrong crisis” for Johnson’s skill set, adding that he became “exhausted” by his alleged indecision and oscillation in dealing with the crisis.

“He’s somebody who would often delay making decisions, would often seek counsel from multiple sources and change his mind on issues,” Cain said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was Johnson’s finance minister during the pandemic, is due to be questioned at the inquiry in the coming weeks.