A top assistant to Boris Johnson told the pandemic investigation that the president would rather to “let the bodies pile high” than enforce a second national lockdown. Johnson had contemplated injecting himself with Covid-19 on TV to demonstrate that the virus did not pose a threat.
Additional information on the “toxic” culture at No. 10 was revealed when the inquiry saw texts from Simon Case, who was getting ready to become Cabinet Secretary and described the employees as “mad” and “poisonous.”
The revelations coincided with Lord Edward Udny-Lister’s appearance this week as the most senior officer to appear before Lady Hallett’s investigation.
The previous prime minister had offered to be infected with the virus live on television during the early pandemic to “demonstrate to the public that it did not pose a threat,” according to the former chief of staff for Mr. Johnson, who made this claim in a written testimony to the committee.
Lord Udny-Lister told the hearing, “It was an unfortunate comment” at a time “when Covid was not seen as being the serious disease it subsequently became.”
The majority of the testimony on Tuesday focused on Mr. Johnson’s hesitation to implement another lockdown later that year.
In his written testimony, Lord Udny-Lister recalled the then-prime minister’s September 2020 comment that he would rather to “let the bodies pile high.”
“Although this was a regrettable phrasing, it is important to remember that the government was attempting to prevent an additional lockdown at this time due to the already significant effects on the economy and education,” stated the former top assistant.
During a meeting with authorities in October 2020, Johnson also mentioned “whisky and a revolver” and discussed “medieval measures” to combat the pandemic, according to notes that then-chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance shared with the committee.
Additionally, Sir Patrick bemoaned the “clutching at straws” behavior of Mr. Johnson and his then-chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
When questioned about the claims of a dissatisfied atmosphere among Downing Street employees, Lord Udny-Lister mostly placed the blame on Dominic Cummings, the chief of staff under Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, stating that “he was not an easy man to deal with” and that he always held “the right view.”
He went on, “I believe that it would have been better if the prime minister had dealt with it, if not sooner, when the opportunity presented itself to him in July 2020.
“There was an ongoing conflict between personalities.”
According to Lord Udny-Lister, people ought to have been handled “more respectfully,” calling some of the WhatsApp conversations that were disclosed to the investigation “pretty appalling.” Case claimed to have “never seen a bunch of people less well-equipped to run a country” in a private messaging conversation that was made public on Tuesday. “These people are so mad,” Case said to his predecessor, Sir Mark Sedwill, before to being named Cabinet Secretary. They’re insanely counterproductive, but they’re not toxic to me yet. Several “top-drawer people,” he claimed, “refused to come because of the toxic reputation of his operation” when he requested them to take Tom Shinner’s place as No. 10 official.
Prior to now, concerns over the function and impact of the official body throughout 2020 were raised against Simon Ridley, the former head of the Cabinet Office Covid-19 taskforce.
Sir Patrick recorded the following in his notebook after a meeting in early October: “Very bad meeting in no.10… PM talks of medieval measures than ones being suggested.”
Maybe we ought to take a different tack and employ different principles. Surely, there is nothing we can do as this only spreads like other natural occurrences in waves.
“The PM exclaimed, ‘Whisky and a revolver,’ as Simon Ridley announced the final slide. He was dispersed everywhere. CX (Chancellor) is arguing against shutting hospitality with ever more specious and detailed justifications. They were both clinging to thin air.
“In actuality, there are just three options for the high frequency locations… Perform a suitable lockdown 2) Employ military force to uphold the law 3) Take no action and count the dead (poor, elderly, and BAME) using the “Barrington Declaration.” When will they make a decision?
An other excerpt from the diaries, dated October 25, purportedly indicated that Johnson was frequently “buffeted” by Sunak when making decisions.
The PM meeting was positioned by Sir Patrick as “a chance to step back/but avoid making a whole load of decisions that then get undone by Cx” during the Ridley meeting. When I questioned the PM, I found out that his goals were to “achieve a series of mutually incompatible options.” For a day, he “owns” the reality, but after that, a conversation with Cx buffets him.
Ridley had before admitted that Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative had “blindsided” officials on the Cabinet Office Covid taskforce.
When the then-chancellor announced his idea to bring people back into eateries in the summer of 2020, he acknowledged that there was a degree of surprise.
The approach has already drawn condemnation from the inquiry from a number of people, including Sir Chris Whitty, who referred to it in private as “eat out to help out the virus.”
Lead counsel for the investigation, Hugo Keith KC, questioned Ridley about whether he was “extraordinarily concerned” that a significant policy of that nature had not been presented to the taskforce.
Things unexpected happen. Our attention was on the guidance we might provide within the framework of the May 2020 document’s steps.
“The administration declared this to be its policy. I didn’t give the whys and wherefores of that much thought,” he remarked.
“Correct,” he responded when Keith told him that this was because he was “blindsided by the Treasury and there was nothing you could do.”