Covid Inquiry latest: Boris Johnson gives evidence for a second day on Covid-19 pandemic
and live on Freeview channel 276
For the second consecutive day, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry.
The ex-PM spent much of yesterday defending the actions he took in the early stages of the pandemic, from deciding when to go into lockdown in March to WhatsApp messages that were critical of the team around him. Johnson defended the toxic culture which appeared to form in Downing Street as "an atmosphere of challenge" and claimed he "thought about" getting rid of health secretary Matt Hancock.
Today (December 7) his evidence continues - follow the live stream above and the blog below for all the latest updates.
- Today's evidence likely to include Partygate scandal
- Johnson has been defensive about his actions during Covid-19 pandemic
- Eat Out to Help Out "was safe" insists former Prime MInister
Opinion: Johnson is desperate to save his own skin
Live stream begins
Questioning is beginning with the reduction of social distancing guidelines from 2m to 1m halfway through 2020.
Hugo Keith KC said: "It is obvious that the underlying scientific advice was that staying 2m away from other people remained the best way of reducing coronavirus transmission - but it is equally apparent that there was economic pressure to reduce the 2m rule to make business viable."
Boris Johnson said: "It wasn't quite as simple as that. The 2m recommendation is of course correct, but it was also true that 3m would have been better than 2m. It was a question of where to draw the line."
A precedent for social distancing
Boris Johnson argued that other countries had also reduced social distancing guidelines before his government did. These changes came in on the cusp of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
"The country had made a huge effort and within the budget of risk it was possible to open up hospitality," Johnson said. "If we were going to take advantage of that it seemed to me to make sense to make sure they actually had some customers.
"If it was safe to open hospitality then it must be safe for people to go to hospitality."
Johnson defends Eat Out to Help Out scheme
Johnson said: "At the time that the Eat Out to Help Out policy was being aired with me it was not presented as an acceleration - simply something to make sense of the freedoms we were already giving.
"It was not presented to me as something that would increase the budget of risk."
Scientific advisers have already given evidence to the inquiry about how they were not consulted on the scheme. Johnson has countered by claiming there is no evidence that the scheme contributed to an increase in Covid infections.
Tories must answer for Johnson’s recklessness, say campaigners
Reacting to Boris Johnson’s evidence at the Covid Inquiry, Naomi Smith, chief executive of Best for Britain, said: "Johnson’s recklessness led to thousands of preventable deaths and his indifference meant millions are still living with the crippling impact of long Covid. Many of us who lost loved ones during the pandemic will never forgive him, even after his well-rehearsed, three-year-late and qualified apology.
“While he may never be properly held accountable, the party which put, and kept, him in power can be. We need to vote this government out. We need a general election now.”
Johnson "surprised" scientists were not consulted
Johnson has told the panel that he was "surprised" to find out that scientific advisers were not consulted over the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
"I don't understand how something as well-publicised as that could have been smuggled past the scientific advice," he said. "I don't see how that could have happened."
In his statement, it is suggested that he did hold discussions with the likes of Sir Chris Whitty about the scheme. Johnson described it in his evidence as "properly discussed".
The second wave strikes
After the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August 2020, it became apparent that a second wave of Covid-19 was on the horizon. Hugo Keith KC reiterates that there is no evidence the scheme directly led to a rise in the infection rate.
Johnson said: "We could see it was coming."
Explaining the tiered system
After turning down the idea of a 'circuit breaker' despite scientific advice to hold one, the government turned it's attention to a tiered system, which placed different restrictions on geographical areas.
Johnson said: "There were some areas that had outbreaks where we had very tough measures. We ramped it up over September and October to intensify the tiered system.
"I think that programme had a very good chance of actually working. The disease was starting to turn down."
Johnson under pressure
Keith KC said: "You did not accept the advice set out for the two-week circuit breaker."
Johnson replied: "We go for the working from home and the curfew - the health secretary himself was opposed to this. It's not as though nothing was happening in that period."
"Follow the science"
The government mantra was to "follow the science" but in not enacting a circuit-breaker lockdown, the government betrayed this stance, Keith KC argued.
"The advice was not clear," said Johnson. "There was a push for a circuit-breaker but that was not supported by the health secretary. There were question marks about its efficacy - and in Wales it's not clear that it worked.
"I was keen to continue with a local or regional strategy which continued to have scientific support for being reasonable."