Rishi Sunak said the government should just “let people die” during the coronavirus pandemic, the Covid inquiry has been told.
In one of the most explosive claims heard at the inquiry so far, the prime minister, who was chancellor at the time, allegedy said to “just let people die and that’s okay”.
The accusation, made by former chief of staff Dominic Cummings, was documented in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary. The former chief scientific adviser made the note following a “shambolic” meeting about Covid restrictions in October 2020.
According to the diary, then PM Boris Johnson had argued for “letting it all rip”. Mr Cummings, who was at the time Mr Johnson’s most senior adviser, then shared Mr Sunak’s alleged comment agreeing with Mr Johnson.
Although Sir Patrick said he did not personally hear Mr Sunak express such an opinion, he told the inquiry: “That’s what Dominic Cummings said.”
The revelation came as:
- Sir Patrick said Boris Johnson was ‘clearly bamboozled’ by science and didn’t understand graphs
- ‘Broken’ Boris had ‘head in hands’ and said ‘We are too s*** to get our act together’
- Sunak was accused of saying it was more important to control scientists than Covid
- Vallance admitted there was no scientific evidence to justify the Covid “rule of six”
- The top scientist claimed the UK didn’t lock down hard enough during the first wave
A spokesman for Mr Sunak said he would not “respond to each claim in piecemeal” following the new allegations, but said the public “will hear from the prime minister when he gives evidence” to the inquiry.
The bombshell allegation by Mr Cummings was just one of several damning claims about Mr Sunak’s role during the Covid crisis, as Sir Patrick blamed him for helping fuel a second wave with his Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
The controversial policy, which offered diners 50 per cent off meals to boost the hospitality sector’s recovery, was widely blamed for increasing Covid transmission in late summer and autumn of 2020.
Sir Patrick said it is “very difficult” to see how Eat Out to Help Out would not have increased transmission. And he revealed that he and chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty were not told about the scheme until it was announced.
In a damning assessment, Sir Patrick told the inquiry the healh messages had been “very clear” that mixing with people you weren’t living with in an enclosed environment was a “high risk activity”.
“That policy [Eat Out to Help Out] completely reversed it to saying we will pay you to go into an environment with people from other households and mix in an indoor environment for periods extended over a couple of hours or more.”
Asked whether Mr Sunak knew the policy would push up Covid infections before rolling it out, Sir Patrick said he would be “very surprised” if not, directly contradicting a claim in the now PM’s own witness statement.
Mr Sunak said he “did not recall” any concerns about the scheme, including from Sir Chris and Sir Patrick.
In another embarrassing diary entry, Sir Patrick revealed that the ex-chancellor said Covid was about “handling scientists, not handling the virus”, in a push to open up the economy after the first lockdown.
Mr Sunak made the claim during an online meeting in July 2020, having not realised chief medical officer Sir Chris was present on the call. A note by Sir Patrick read: “In the economics meeting … CX (Mr Sunak) said, ‘It is all about handling the scientists, not handling the virus’.”
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick’s diaries revealed that Mr Johnson wanted to “let the pandemic rip” in October 2020 – accepting that it would lead to more casualties but old people had “had a good innings”
The shock diary entry detailed a meeting with Mr Johnson in which he argued that said most people who die “have reached their time anyway”. The then-PM said: “I really don’t want to do another national lockdown”, according to Sir Patrick’s diaries.
In one entry Mr Vallance said Britain had “a weak, indecisive PM”. The chief scientist that Mr Johnson found it “a real struggle” to understand some Covid graph and was “bamboozled” by scientific modelling.
Mr Johnson wondered if Britain was “licked as a species” ahead of putting the nation into another lockdown. Frustrated by lack of progress controlling the virus at a meeting in September 2020, then-PM said: “Maybe we are licked as a species … We are too s*** to get out act together.”
Mr Vallance also told the Johnson government did not go “hard” or early enough with the first national lockdown. “The most important lesson that I learned … was that you had to go earlier than you would like, harder than you would like and broader than you would like.”
But Sir Patrick admitted that the so-called “rule of six” – regulations which banned gatherings of more than six people during the autumn of 2020.
“We were pretty clear that we didn’t actually think that had an enormous basis in anything. Why six? Why not eight? Why not ten? We couldn’t tell anyone which was better or worse,” he told the inquiry.
Sir Patrick’s diaries have provided some of the most eye-catching evidence seen by the Covid inquiry so far. Asked about them on Monday, he said they were a daily “brain dump” to help him “decompress”, stressing that they were “never meant to see the light of day”.