Ex-prime minister Boris Johnson did his best to hide during his two days giving evidence to the Covid inquiry last week.
The darling of the hard right arrived early on both days in a failed bid to avoid protesters who’d lost family and friends to Covid.
He is one of a string of Tory criminals appearing at the inquiry, including Rishi Sunak this week. They are all guilty, and all should be brought to account.
The bereaved rightly blamed Johnson for Britain having one the worst pandemic death figures of any European country, and chanted “liar” as Johnson’s minders scuttled him away.
In the witness stand Johnson feigned an apology for his failings—met with angry cries from the public gallery.
As he continued his evidence it became obvious what his strategy was. Johnson wants the world to believe that he was just an ordinary guy caught in extraordinary circumstances—and someone who did his best, even if that was not enough.
But the inquiry already has a mountain of evidence that points in exactly the opposite direction.
Johnson and the right deliberately played down the danger of a pandemic even as it became clear that Covid would become one.
And they argued continually against basic safety measures on the basis that the threat to the British economy—profits—was more important than even a huge loss of life.
Minutes of the Cabinet meeting on 31 January 2020 detail then health secretary Matt Hancock saying that Covid had a reproduction rate of between 2 and 3, meaning the virus would spread incredibly quickly. He also reported a death rate of 2 percent.
That was a warning that unless tough measures were taken immediately, hundreds of thousands of people would die.
No one who heard that briefing could say they were unaware of what was coming. Yet Johnson had the gall to tell the inquiry he didn’t really understand the danger.
He said, “We should have collectively twigged much sooner. I should have twigged.”
Cabinet minutes a week later show that the former prime minister was aware and worried by one threat—the “danger” that virus protection measures would hit bosses.
Counsel to the inquiry, Hugo Keith asked him why he “didn’t say, ‘There is a potential for this virus, indeed a probability, now, that it will kill large numbers of people,’ rather than focussing on the economy.”
Johnson replied, “That’s not what I thought.”
By the end of February 2020, ministers were briefed that around 520,000 people could die as a direct result of Covid, but Johnson’s notes from the time showed his biggest fear was “overreaction”.
His one-time chief political adviser Dominic Cummings submitted to the inquiry a WhatsApp message sent on 3 March.
It described Johnson’s feeling at the time as the “main danger” coming from “talking the economy into a slump”.
No wonder that Keith summed the situation at the beginning of March as, “No effective border control, scaled up test, trace and isolate contacts system is absent”. “The debate simply didn’t take place,” he said.
That was a theme Keith would return to throughout Johnson’s evidence.
On 12 March 2020, the cabinet was shown projections showing a shortage of nearly 400,000 hospital beds—even if the government imposed seven-day isolation for infected people combined with household isolation.
Keith asked, “You didn’t yourself ask, firstly, what can be done to reduce the number of people hospitalised by Covid, why are we talking in terms of these modest measures which may or may not even be imposed this week.
“Why didn’t you ask, ‘Why are you presenting me with this and at the same time telling me we mustn’t go too early with interventions?”
Johnson rambled about “collective failure of the imagination”.
It would be another ten days before the first national lockdown and already people were needlessly dying. The Tory right still believes that protecting people from the virus is a sign of “weakness”.
It says those that get ill are “lazy” and that the furlough scheme created “state dependency”.
The then chancellor, Rishi Sunak was among those that pioneered this approach.
He probably knew that his Eat Out to Help Out restaurant scheme was likely to drive up Covid infections, Britain’s top scientific adviser during Covid has told the inquiry recently.
Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance said the corporate-boosting scheme was “highly likely to have” increased the number of Covid deaths.
Measures taken were too little and too late
Ultimately, the sheer scale of the crisis forced Johnson into announcing lockdown measures on 26 March 2020, weeks after scientists were calling for it. And once in place, the prime minister and his cabinet wanted to undo them as quickly as possible.
Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance noted that Johnson was “very bullish and wanted everything to be released sooner and more extremely than we do”. Vallance said the then prime minster held a discussion about whether to “let it rip”.
And Johnson’s contempt for those that became ill with Covid can be seen in the notes he scribbled on a report on Long Covid. “Bollocks. Gulf War Syndrome stuff,” he wrote.
He also said he didn’t want to go through the “bollocks” of consulting with unions that raised the cases of frontline workers dying in disproportionate numbers.
Johnson was also confronted over lockdown partying in Downing Street.
Once again Johnson tried to palm off the gatherings as something he knew nothing about but was nevertheless sorry for.
Lawyer Brenda Campbell quoted a bereaved daughter who said it was “galling and sickening” to find out about a wine and cheese party on 18 December 2020—when her father was dying alone in hospital.
In September 2020 infection numbers were rising again sharply but the Johnson gang were doing everything they could to prevent a second national lockdown. Johnson said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” rather than introduce one.
Patrick Vallance’s diary notes from the time note that Johnson blamed Wales’ high Covid numbers at the time on “the singing and the obesity.”
According to the note, revealed at the inquiry, he quickly added, “I never said that.”
The notes also record Vallance calling for tougher measures, but Johnson being distracted.
“Called for package of actions… PM ‘everyone says rule of 6 so unfair, punishing the young, but fuck you Daily Mail – look this is all about stopping deaths. We need to tell them’.”
Johnson told the Inquiry. “I apologise for my language.” He then adds, “I’m sorry to have said that about the Daily Mail”.
Boris Johnson is currently employed by the Daily Mail newspaper as a columnist on a reported seven-figure salary.Original post