Transcript of Module 2 Public Hearing on 29 November 2023

(10.00 am)

Dame Harries


Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry (continued)

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor.

I hope you didn’t have too bad an evening.

The Witness: No, fine, thank you very much.

Mr O’Connor: Professor Harries, we were looking yesterday at some of your public statements around about March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic. I’d like to move on to a different subject this morning, albeit it’s from very much the same time period, and that is an internal email you wrote.

If we could have on screen, please, INQ000151605. Thank you.

Professor, this is an email you wrote on 15 March, which we will recall was in fact a Sunday, it was over that weekend between, as we’ve heard evidence, the meetings on the evening of Friday the 13th and then the COBR meeting on the Monday and so on.

I wanted to ask you about the detail in the email at the bottom of the page. You, I think it’s obvious, were working that weekend. You were no doubt involved in all of the discussions and deliberations and trying to understand the latest data which was causing some concern.

But what we see here is that you’re drawing attention to one particular issue relating to the prospect of imposing more severe NPIs, and you ask – just picking it up a couple of lines in:

“… can I just ask if someone somewhere is also pulling together a risk of other risks of going too early – or in some cases going at all?”

You say that issues keep being mentioned but you’re not seeing them coming through in the paperwork and you’re asking for assurance that these issues are being considered somewhere.

And then you say this:

“The critical ones are of implementing programmes without effective social care and community … support systems in place, which are obvious to everyone and have been mentioned. The ones that bother me most of all currently are those in relation to safeguarding (adult and children) and domestic violence more generally. For some, these risks will be considerably greater than a negative health impact from coronavirus.”

So there is you identifying at an early stage those risks, safeguarding, domestic violence. Well, it’s obvious that you were concerned about them, Professor. Can you say something about why and also what happened as a result of this email?

Dame Harries: Yes, so I think you can see from that email that things were moving fast, I wasn’t in the main meetings that you’ve discussed –

Counsel Inquiry: No.

Dame Harries: – but I will have been trying to respond and input to any potential guidance coming through. I mean, I’ve – I always put my old director of public health hat on whenever I’m working, whether it be in central government or elsewhere, because it immediately takes you to thinking what’s happening to a family, individual in the street, you know, somebody who is in difficulty already. So raising these things, these were perfectly – these will be normal things to think about if you’re public health trained.

The concern I had was I couldn’t see them coming through consistently in the documents, and in fact a clinical colleague who was working with me and working on the documents continued to write things into them, and then the next version that came back would not have them in there.

So one of the problems here is, as you can see, I will be commenting – that was my job, to advise, not – I wasn’t in control of the policy, it wasn’t mine – and documents might go off sort of into the ether and then the next version would come back, and it wasn’t easy to control them. But I think what this shows is these issues were definitely being raised.

Counsel Inquiry: Well, they were being raised –

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and I’m not suggesting it was necessarily part of your function –

Dame Harries: No.

Counsel Inquiry: – to see them through to the end, but other evidence we’ve heard is similar, really, it shows people raising these issues but then perhaps nothing being done about them.

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: What was your memory, perhaps not necessarily tied to this email, but of that time? Were you conscious that these concerns that you’ve raised and we’ve seen others raising were actually taken forward or was it a situation were occasionally it was raised but actually nothing was done, at least in that early period?

Dame Harries: So it’s very complex because I’m sitting in the Department of Health, many of these issues will be predominantly sitting within the realm of what was then MHCLG or DLUHC, the Department for – now – Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and so you’re not seeing right across there to see what activity was going on, so I can’t answer necessarily, but I did not see the relevant responses. And, as I say, even when colleagues were writing things into guidance they were coming back on the next version taken out.

So I think also there was evidence around this, because as the data – as we, you know, the numbers of infection started to rise, I know that the domestic violence third sector, voluntary sector, charities were receiving higher numbers of calls because the likelihood, as the sort of public understanding that there might be a lockdown rose, then the call rate suddenly shot up as people, I think, could see what might happen and that their risk would increase. I didn’t see that coming through in guidance at that time. It was corrected later, but I don’t think it was – personally I don’t think it was given sufficient attention, notwithstanding everybody was working at very, very significant pace.

Counsel Inquiry: That of course is understood but it’s right, isn’t it, that these risks that you’re identifying were not the type of risks that would slowly develop over the period of a lockdown, these were risks that would present themselves as soon as families, wives, girlfriends, were required –

Dame Harries: Exactly.

Counsel Inquiry: – to stay in the same place as other people?

Dame Harries: And then they would be slightly potentially lost to the system as well. So once the lockdown occurred and people were staying at home, and I think we – we’re probably not covering children at the moment but, you know, there are children who would be at home and invisible to the system in a way that perhaps had not happened before.

Now, I know there was a lot of work subsequently. I think my concern at this point was, was somebody considering that, sort of as the curtain dropped almost.

Counsel Inquiry: I think you’ve said that from your understanding at the time not enough was done to think about those sorts of concerns at that time?

Dame Harries: That I couldn’t see, yes, I agree.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s move on, Professor. I want to ask you a few questions about care homes, and again you mentioned later work, and of course it’s right that the Inquiry will be looking much more carefully and in much more detail at care homes in a further module. But that said, you were the clinical co-chair of a group of the SAGE Social Care Working Group –

Dame Harries: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: – from, you tell us, but I think from later in 2020?

Dame Harries: So there was a care – I think it was a care home modelling group which had been set up as a subgroup of SAGE, and Professor Ian Hall chaired that – initially, I understand, I wasn’t part of it, to look at some of the concerns around rates of infection in care homes. And Professor Hall comes very much from a modelling background, and we’ve heard lots about modellers.

And then I think Charlotte Watts, who was the Chief Scientific Adviser for the Foreign Office at the time but sitting on SAGE, supported those meetings as well. She stepped down and I think it was around the beginning of July, it was after the first wave but before the winter period, that Patrick Vallance asked me if I would co-chair. And I remember speaking to the CMO at that time and part of that I think was because I had worked in local authorities and I had supported commissioning of services in local authorities. I’ve actually even worked in care homes as a care home assistant and I’d actually recently been using services as well, so I think there was a knowledge that there was quite a lot of practical understanding.

I’d also been working with the Minister for Care. I’d rather run towards that, that wasn’t part of my job, but it felt such an important area to try to link together.

Counsel Inquiry: So that’s from, you think, about July you joined that committee?

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: We will see in a moment you were involved at least in discussions about care homes before then?

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: But is it right it wasn’t an area that you were focusing on?

Dame Harries: Well, I mean, as a Deputy CMO you will be asked to look at all sorts of guidance but it’s – you don’t lead any particular part of policy.

Counsel Inquiry: All right. Let’s look at a document, if we may, and you can help us with it.

It’s INQ000151606.

So in fact from a similar period to the documents we’ve been looking at previously, it’s the middle of March, 16 March in fact, and if we look first of all at the email at the bottom, which is an email written by someone called Rosamond Roughton to you, she says:

“Dear Jenny

“We estimate that [approximately] two thirds of people in care homes are over 85. When we introduce the shielding policy, what should our approach be to allowing patients to be discharged into care homes who are symptomatic of Covid-19?

“My working assumption was that we would have to allow discharge to happen, and have very strict infection control? Otherwise presumably the NHS gets clogged up with people who aren’t as acutely ill.”

Your response on the same day, you say:

“Whilst the prospect is perhaps what none of us would wish to plan for I believe the reality will be that we will need to discharge Covid-19 positive patients into residential care settings for the reason you have noted.”

You say it:

“… will be entirely clinically appropriate because the NHS will triage those to retain in acute settings who can benefit from [NHS] care.”

And you say:

“The numbers of people with disease will rise sharply within a fairly short timeframe …”

Just pausing there, do you mean to say the number of people with disease in care homes?

Dame Harries: No, I’ve written – in the population. This was the context of this. This was almost sort of – it was exactly that week where the numbers were starting to rise exponentially, and it’s that context. This is a very high – this is not a policy statement, this is a high-level view that says – Ros was the director for – DG for social care in the Department of Health at the time, and it was very much – it was a very bleak picture because I think the reality was – this isn’t an invitation to be discharging Covid patients, it’s actually a reality that says if hospitals overflow those who can benefit from treatment there will be there. Anybody – it doesn’t matter whether it’s residential care settings or going home or going on to other ones, that hospitals will have to manage that, that those who were physically well to go will go.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Well, let’s just finish off the email and then I’ll ask you a question.

Dame Harries: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: So there’s a reference to the sharp rise – I think you’ve – just a –

Dame Harries: Population – absolutely population –

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Counsel Inquiry: – no doubt including in hospitals?

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And so you say you suspect:

“… within a fairly short timeframe … [that will] make this …”

Which I think you must mean the discharge of symptomatic patients into care homes:

“… fairly normal practice and more acceptable but I do recognise that families and care homes will not welcome this in the initial phase.”

Now, of course, much of the debate about discharging patients from hospital into care homes is about asymptomatic patients, I’m not asking you about that.

Dame Harries: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: This email is about discharging people who were symptomatic, who were known or at least strongly suspected to be suffering from Covid.

Dame Harries: Well, it actually says “Covid-19 positive patients”, so I’m anticipating from this that what will happen is the rate of increase in people in the population with Covid will rise absolutely exponentially, that was the data that we’d seen, that hospitals would do their best with this, and that we would have some patients who potentially had gone through the most acute phase, actually were still positive, but then would be of less need, would no longer need acute care, and that – and obviously hospitals will be treating those then that they can treat and these individuals would be safe – safe in terms of their physical welfare at the time to move on. And otherwise there wouldn’t be places for other people from care homes to go in and be treated.

Counsel Inquiry: One understands the logic –

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and the need for this discharge?

Dame Harries: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Or at least the case that’s made for it, and as I say, I don’t want to get into all of that, but on any view what is being discussed in these emails is discharging symptomatic Covid-19, quite possibly infectious Covid-19, patients into care homes?

Dame Harries: So just once again, “Covid-19 positive patients,” not symptomatic patients, because I don’t think they have ever been –

Counsel Inquiry: I only used the word “symptomatic” because that’s the word that Jenny(sic) Roughton used.

Dame Harries: Oh, right, okay.

Counsel Inquiry: I don’t want to get tied up in –

Dame Harries: No, but I mean –

Counsel Inquiry: People who’d got Covid were being discharged into care homes?

Dame Harries: This sounds awful. This is taking a very, very high-level view that says: if we have this enormous explosion of cases in the population, as you will see, there will have to be a national triage. And I think what I was trying to do was explain to Ros what the size of the problem might be. I don’t think it had actually quite registered.

The other thing I would just like to point out there’s a really critical point, and that comes through guidance as we go through, in her email, which is about:

“My working assumption was that we would have to allow discharge to happen, and have very strict infection control?”

And that is the critical point.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Well, I’m going to come to that.

May I ask whether at the time of this email exchange you were familiar with an article that the Inquiry has seen which was written, amongst others, by Professor Van-Tam, about infection control, in particular about influenza, in care home facilities?

Dame Harries: Yeah – well, I mean, I wasn’t aware at that time – that’s the 2017 paper, I think, if it’s – the one you’re referring to?

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Dame Harries: And, I mean, it’s perfectly sensible.

There is nothing in that – and, I mean, I think it’s why we may get to lessons learned – there is nothing in that paper, I think – it’s a very erudite paper, but there’s nothing in it which would surprise any practising public health physician either this year, in 2017, or for previous years. And I think that is a really critical point for lessons going forward.

Counsel Inquiry: He talked, didn’t he, in that paper about the risk of what – the adjective that was used was “explosive” –

Dame Harries: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: – outbreaks of influenza in care homes, for all the reasons which you say –

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – you were familiar with –

Dame Harries: And that does happen every winter now with influenza, and that’s why there are particular outbreak control plans for care homes.

Counsel Inquiry: But help us with this, Professor: it may be perhaps that this is just an email between professionals and the risks were understood, but for us or for people looking at this afresh, there seems to be a sort of degree of equanimity about discharging large numbers of Covid-19 patients into that very vulnerable environment, where, as you say, those risks were understood?

Dame Harries: If I may, I think that’s an interpretation, because I start that email with “Whilst the prospect is perhaps what none of us would wish to plan for”. This was a very high-level picture, to reinforce, if you like, the position that the country was in at that weekend, and I think we’ve heard that in other places. If people were not thinking through what the likelihood was in the rise in numbers of cases – as we’ve heard, I don’t think we have sensible conversations about managing risks. This is not a policy at all, this is a statement of: if you have a pandemic in a country, how on earth are you going to manage that exponential rise in cases?

Counsel Inquiry: If you are suddenly in a situation where – as you say, a highly undesirable situation –

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – where, of necessity, you are finding yourself discharging Covid patients into this very vulnerable environment, then, as Ms Roughton said, strict infection control was obviously important.

And would it be fair to say that it would therefore be necessary to make sure that care homes had proper guidance and, for that matter, maybe mandatory regulation about the clear steps they should take when they are receiving into these care homes infectious patients?

Dame Harries: Well, we might come on to the mandatory regulation. I mean, I think the issue here is, as I think Professor Van-Tam gave evidence before, this sound – I mean, this is just trying to set out: this is the top line, awful prospect, of what could happen with ‘X’ number of cases. But the reality is, and I think Professor Van-Tam noted, that any person who is discharged into a care home, whether they are positive or not, if they’ve come from an environment, actually – whether they’ve had a test or not, it’s actually the infection prevention and control measures which are the critical component over an incubation period.

So yes, I agree with you in principle. I just – I think we get hung up sometimes on the test, whereas in fact it’s the IPC. So I agree with you in principle. The mandatory bit we might come on to.

Counsel Inquiry: Or maybe in another module.

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look briefly, Professor, at the care home guidance that was in force at the time, and there were different sets of guidance that were being published around this time, were there not?

If we can go to INQ000300278, if you can see just below the title, “COVID-19 …”, it was published on 13 March, so in fact only three days before the email we’ve just been looking at.

If we can go on, please, to page 4 of that document, we see, at the top there, the title “If a resident has symptoms of COVID-19”.

Just before we look at the paragraph, Professor, one might have thought, judging by the email and the understanding that, of necessity, care homes were due to receive these possibly large numbers of infectious Covid-19 patients, that they would be told that this was coming and that, as Ms Roughton said, very strict infection control measures would be needed.

In fact – well, you tell us whether what we see here is consistent with that, but the message is:

“Care homes are not expected to have dedicated isolation facilities for people living in the home but should implement isolation precautions when someone in the home displays symptoms … in the same way … [as] if [that] individual had influenza. If isolation is needed, a resident’s own room can be used. Ideally the room should be a single bedroom with en suite facilities.”

Looking at this now, do you think that that type of guidance was appropriate to circumstances where it was understood that care homes would be receiving possibly large numbers of infectious Covid patients?

Dame Harries: So I think we just need to draw a distinction that my message on the 16th was, as you’ve noted, numbers go up, this was a “just look ahead and think this is what will happen in due course”, it doesn’t give a timeframe. And I think, on this one, there had been, I think – the first case in a care home was around the 10th, and I think this guidance actually had been held up from the 7th. It’s not – I’m not sure I’ve signed it. I did comment on a lot of guidance but I think – I would have to check, but I think it was PHE guidance and not one that I finally signed off. That doesn’t detract from the question.

So I think there is a – there was new guidance coming through as cases started to rise. So I think as – as I say, I think the first case was on 10 March. So the critical thing here actually is the isolation. You should not take my email as to say, “the NHS is suddenly going to discharge lots of Covid positive patients and that’s absolutely fine”. What it was doing was painting a picture to the person who was contributing to policy on the official side at the Department of Health and the isolation issues here – I mean, there will be a number, you may come on to, around, you know, how you deal with an outbreak in a care home but this is sitting on top of – because of the Jonathan Van-Tam knowledge, if you like, in that paper, over many years – relatively well known systems of infection prevention control in care homes where it is well exercised. And I think that’s another issue.

Counsel Inquiry: Just looking at that on its own, though, that’s not enough, is it, to give the care homes the guidance, the clarity, the information that they would have needed facing the type of situation that is described in your email?

Dame Harries: So I think there was other guidance that was published alongside this as far as I remember, and the guidance was updated very regularly. I do think there was a problem in the sense of ensuring – and I think I flagged this in my email somewhere, which is I think that the NHS and social care should be seen as a total continuum. They are all part of the healthcare system, and sometimes one bit gets developed separate from another and you can – I know, looking back at some of these, you can see that a piece of NHS guidance pops out and then somebody else is trying to ramp up with it.

So at the time for the patients who were being discharged, for the background epidemiology, it is probably reasonable, but, as I say, that progressed, the guidance progressed as we went forward.

I’m really keen to emphasise my email was a high-level view so people were aware of what was kind of coming over the hill, but the hill was still a little way away.

Counsel Inquiry: All right. Let me ask you about a separate but related issue, Professor, and actually, for this purpose let’s briefly go to Professor Van-Tam’s paper.

So it’s INQ000269388, please, and it’s page 3.

We can see if we look at the very bottom of the left-hand column and then read over to the top of the right-hand column, the paper draws attention to a very particular problem in care homes which, again I understand from your earlier answer, was equally well known, it says:

“Although the role of asymptomatic people and those with only mild symptoms in spreading influenza [in that case] is uncertain, [healthcare workers] often continue to work despite having symptoms and may act as a source of infection to those in their care.”

There is a reference to a Swedish study where nursing home aides are shown to be:

“… the occupational group at significantly greatest risk of continuing to work despite the feeling that, in light of their perceived state of health, they should have taken sick leave … in reality the employment status of many … staff is often precarious and taking unpaid sick leave may result in adverse economic consequences.”

You’re nodding, Professor. Was this another equally well known aspect of the healthcare risks associated with care homes, nursing homes and the like?

Dame Harries: Yes, I shall have to make sure I stick to my professional – I mean, the health – the social care sector, as I’ve said, I think, is under-recognised. There are more people employed in it, I think around 25% – sorry, more people employed than in the health service, is my understanding. Around 25% of them, I think, are on zero hours contract. Many of them, the majority are women –

Counsel Inquiry: First, can I just interrupt you. Could I ask you to try to speak a little more slowly.

Dame Harries: I will do, sorry.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Dame Harries: You can tell that I care passionately about this.

Therefore, when you want to manage situations of infection control, it’s really important – it’s similar, actually, in some other industries, some other settings, for example, like food factories, I’m not suggesting these are the same but this same issue, of people working in poorer circumstances who cannot afford to take the time away from their work. And often it’s compounded because both halves of the couple, for example, will not be able to. And if their children are at home, they are not receiving free meals, they can’t do that either.

There is a whole sequence of social events which, for very understandable reasons in those families, would predicate to people either continuing to work, which of course is a risk to those for whom they’re caring, or for things like, I think, you know, not staying in confinement, or isolation.

Counsel Inquiry: So the problem is and, I think on your evidence, was well understood at the time?

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: If we focus then on that email of yours, and I’m simply using it as a way into this discussion –

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – we understand it was an internal email, but with the prospect, then, of discharging into care homes infectious patients, of course one risk is that they themselves might spread the infection to other patients, we’ve talked about that, but there was just as much a risk that healthcare workers would come into contact with them and then the workers would go on to spread the infection, either within that home or indeed in another care home. Do you think that that side of the risk was sufficiently understood and sufficiently accommodated in 2020?

Dame Harries: I think it was understood. I think it’s difficult to quantify. And I would also add, part of the problem here is that, at the end of the day, my view is, care workers are often absolutely critical in individuals’ lives, they’re the one person who is standing by them at their frailest moment, and there aren’t many of them around. And there comes a point where you say – and we did see this for, in a few occasions in the pandemic, where the workforce capacity was insufficient to care for the individuals.

So if I just paint a picture, perhaps, where you have care workers who may be a risk – and the evidence suggests they were doing a fabulous job but they were bringing in, as the majority ingress route into care homes, infection – that you can’t just exclude everybody, and people who – because you lose the capacity to continue. And one of the biggest risks was care workers. So maybe a nurse, for example, working in the acute sector who then goes and does a night in a nursing care home and then goes on and does a bit of domiciliary work, and you can see the infection tracking round.

But just saying “Stay in one place” immediately means you’ve lost two capacity points in your health and care system.

Counsel Inquiry: That is a description of the problem –

Dame Harries: Yes, it is, I agree.

Counsel Inquiry: My question is, in this emergency situation, whereas you tell us these risks were understood, was enough done to try to mitigate that problem?

Dame Harries: So I think the problem was understood. The reason I explained the problem is because it’s a very, very difficult one to solve. Because if you just isolate care workers completely and clamp down on everything, a care home might fall over, if you like, if you have got somebody working in two care homes.

So I think the care workers were given strong advice, they were encouraged to stay away from work. Clearly, as the pandemic went on, very strong testing procedures were put in – and that was really helpful – and then, in addition, payment funds. I mean, quite apart from the infection prevention control, payment to care workers to support them to self-isolate was also put in.

So the problem was recognised and it was dealt with, but the precarious state of the care workforce was a problem through the pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m going to leave it there, Professor, and move on and ask you about another issue, equally hotly debated, and that’s of face coverings.

Can we start, please, by going to your witness statement at paragraph 8.125.

We will note here, paragraph 8.125, and then we’ll look at the next paragraph as well, and the Inquiry has heard a fair amount of evidence about this, that the advice provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer on the use of face coverings – which developed during the pandemic, did it not?

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: But you say here that as it developed it reflected the developing scientific understanding at any given time. You say:

“The initial position was that outside healthcare settings, the use of face-coverings for people who did not have COVID-19 in community settings was unlikely to have a significant impact and was not recommended …”

and you give references to NERVTAG and so on, and then also a reference to SAGE.

If we can go on to look at the next paragraph, please, you say that:

“Later in the pandemic, as the transmission characteristics of the virus became better understood … there was a growing emphasis on the use of face-coverings as a precautionary tool …”

In the next sentence you say:

“The evidence base for their use in community settings was, and still is to some degree, uncertain.”

Professor, is it fair to say that your own personal view in fact remained that there wasn’t any convincing evidence that face coverings, that is not sort of PPE used in healthcare settings, but the sort of home-made, if you like, fabric face coverings used in community settings, that there wasn’t any convincing evidence that they were helpful?

Dame Harries: Not all the way through, no, and depending on what sort of face covering you had – and this is the problem with the evidence, because much of the evidence – there was a Lancet paper that was very heavily awaited during the pandemic – was predominantly papers not in community settings or – it was very difficult to dissociate the effectiveness of the face covering from other infection prevention control or NPIs. So I think that’s why we have a difficult evidence base.

There is a stronger evidence base about the actual material, if you like. So if you have a one or two layer cloth, thin cloth covering, the evidence is: not particularly effective. If you have – I have my colleague Jonathan Van-Tam’s words ringing in my ear, he always refers to army ones, but a kind of – a 12 layer, I think he calls it “duck material” or something, but, you know, it’s a different sort of barrier.

So even within the face covering there’s a difference. If somebody doesn’t wear it appropriately, it won’t work. But I think the WHO advice actually, I think it was around the beginning of July, changed and I think that was around the right time, where – where you’re starting to see is more recognition of the likelihood, still unquantified, of the asymptomatic transmission, and the opportunity therefore to – the evidence starts to move in a more positive way.

But I think there’s also a difference between, which I think the CMO put in his report potentially, around mandation, recommendation, guidance and allowing people to do what they want to do. And of course anybody could always wear a face covering if they wanted to, nobody was stopped. I think this issue is around which direction is the evidence travelling.

Counsel Inquiry: Let me show you a couple of documents, Professor, and then ask you a question about them. They do cover that period that you’ve just been describing.

So first of all if we could look at INQ000069151.

So this is a document – the date of it, it’s not on the document, but it’s from May of 2020, and it’s some draft guidance, as we can see, how to wear and make a cloth face covering.

If we can go to the third page of it, please, I think what we see on the sidelining is that you’ve commented – made various comments. No doubt it wasn’t you who did the first draft. But what we see on the top comment here, in relation to a – the draft saying – talking about putting two squares of fabric on top of each other to make the mask, you say:

“Just querying the logic behind needing to have two pieces of cotton fabric stacked on this version but only a single layer of cotton t-shirt in the previous model… I think they are both ineffective so am not unduly worried but someone might want to think of an answer for the Q&As.”

So there you are in May expressing a view that, frankly, these home made cloth face masks, one layer, two layer, are ineffective?

Dame Harries: Because the evidence at the time said at least three layers. So I didn’t draft this guidance. My point was the guidance – there were two points about this. The first one was I’m querying the logic, because if I was a member of the public and looked at that I’d think: why on earth do you want one layer here and two there? That was one point. The reason I said “I think [it’s] ineffective” was because the only evidence I think we had at the time was around three layers, which actually started to give a bit of a positive impact. So I don’t think that is effective.

Counsel Inquiry: Well –

Dame Harries: If they’d said three, I’d have said, “Okay, but make the guidance consistent”.

Counsel Inquiry: Professor, if there was evidence at the time that three layers was effective but one or two wasn’t, why didn’t you say, “We should be telling people to use three layers”?

Dame Harries: Well, I’m not sure I even knew where this had come from. You have to bear in mind that this will come to me from somewhere else. Often I would get given pieces of guidance that said, “This is what somebody has decided to do as policy, now make it the best you can”. So I may have read that one as: this is what we’re going to say, and I think this is an example.

So I’ve said, “I don’t think this is effective, I think the public – it doesn’t feel logical as a communication to me, and if that’s therefore what you want to do, work through it”.

I think people would have known, probably, at the time what the evidence was. PHE were continuously providing – reviewing the evidence on the use of face coverings. In fact predominantly at the time I think it was my colleague Jonathan Van-Tam.

Counsel Inquiry: Let me just –

Dame Harries: But can I just go back on that? Because actually this was May and I think this was probably the period – it was coming just after, certainly in the UK, where we’d had the Easter 6 studies and various other things, and it was still not at this point – I mean, WHO was still not recommending face coverings.

So we’d got a position here – I mean, maybe I was a little bit annoyed, you know, I can see it in the tone there, but where there wasn’t a clear policy and yet I was being sent a document to sign off something which I didn’t think was very evidence-based. But that was not an infrequent occurrence.

Lady Hallett: Professor, I understand the need for having an evidence base – I would, given my background – and I understand that you would have preferred three layers because you had the evidence for three layers –

Dame Harries: Well, the evidence with three layers was not very strong.

Lady Hallett: Right, well, okay, let’s forget about how many layers. Is there any harm in – I appreciate buying masks may interfere with supply to care home workers and people working in hospitals – is there any harm in encouraging members of the public to use home-made face masks?

Dame Harries: I mean, this is where it gets, I think – because the evidence at this point is quite tricky, I think once we got past – I mean, as I say, I think WHO changed their guidance in July. They were not – we haven’t got the date of this document.

So I think where you’ve got a very low evidence base, it hadn’t, I don’t think, shifted at that point, we didn’t have the evidence, and still don’t, about asymptomatic transmission. The evidence is definitely there, is strong now, but the quantification of it is quite poor, and therefore understanding the size of effect of this is quite tricky, and this will be a government document effectively. Again, not for me to decide, but there’s quite a difference between mandating, recommending – if a government recommends something that’s quite a strong position – encouraging – and actually if you encourage or support and you’re in a government position, that’s almost taken as recommending, and it’s quite difficult to do that when the evidence is not strong because you will then end up with people challenging other ones.

So you tend to see where it moves to and there – but the other issue here is, if I just point out, you said: are there any other things? We’ve got all sorts of safety issues here as well, and one of the problems in May, and this might be related to this as well, was when – it might show my irritation – was when there were a lot of discussions about coming out of lockdown, opening up the economy and various other things, and the 2-metre/1-metre. I think this was landing just about the same time as the 1 metre plus issue, and the problem we had there was that there appeared to be a view permeating through and a real concern and risk that it was being conceived that if you did 1 metre and you wore a face covering flung round your cheek or whatever it might be, that was fine. And so there was a risk that in encouraging face coverings people would stop doing the thing which was really important, which was distancing and all the other things. So this may have been coming on the back of that. I suspect it was.

Lady Hallett: So the risk of there being a false sense of security?

Dame Harries: Yes, a false sense of security. But it was actually also overlapping with what was economically driven policy, I think, to try to remove some of the distancing rules.

So it was, you will have seen, I think, in the evidence, I think it’s about this time, with Jonathan Van-Tam and myself, where we were trying to really highlight what we thought about the 2-metre and 1 metre rule discussions, and what was being conceived was, if you wear a face covering and reduce everything to a metre, the face covering will make up for the difference. And the answer was: no, it won’t, and it definitely won’t if it’s not evidence-based.

Mr O’Connor: Well, in fact that was the point I was planning to come to, Professor.

Lady Hallett: Sorry if I interfered.

Mr O’Connor: No, but it’s the point about false sense of security.

Dame Harries: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: What we are seeing here is draft guidance on making a mask, which will of course make people feel more confident to go out, go on public transport, whatever, which you are saying is ineffective. Wasn’t that a reason to say, “No, we shouldn’t be encouraging people to use these ineffective masks”?

Dame Harries: That’s a very difficult balance, for the point we’ve just come back to, because the first question was: shouldn’t you be encouraging this, there’s no harm? And the issue for me at that time, and I think Professor Van-Tam shared it, was we definitely shouldn’t be supporting something which was not evidence-based if it was going to promote a risk compensation. And there were a number of different driving factors here and of course face coverings, as I know you’ll be aware, is a wholly polarised debate and it’s quite difficult to maintain a central position.

I – you know, if you – if I’d said, “Don’t do any of this”, somebody would have challenged back and said, “Well, you know, surely there’s no harm”, my main concern was it was being put in – it would have been conceived as a safer way of moving about, just when we’ve got through the first tragic wave of the pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: And did you do something about that concern?

Dame Harries: Yes, well, on the 1-metre/2-metre, and I think this is – I may be getting my timeframes mixed up but I think this is very much around the same time that the CMO, CSA and two Deputy CMOs wrote to Simon Case, because it was around lifting all the different industries and businesses and sectors at the same time, and the anxiety was that if people just thought they could get a bit of T-shirt, put it round their face and that would solve all the problems and we could go back to normal, that was not going to be a good public health intervention.

Counsel Inquiry: All right.

Professor, lastly I want to ask you about a different matter altogether, and it relates to your current role with the UKHSA and some evidence that Sir Patrick Vallance gave, Sir Patrick Vallance, when he was in the box last week.

He was talking about how the country might best prepare for a future pandemic, and he talked about his idea of a need for something that he described as an academic centre for pandemic preparedness, in terms of trying to bring together, in one or more academic institution, all the different fields of expertise that might be relevant to preparing for a pandemic, whether it’s modelling or testing masks or the whole range of expertise.

When I asked him whether that was something that the government should be involved in, he said yes, he thought it should have government funding, and indeed that he thought the UKHSA, your organisation, should be involved in that enterprise.

What’s your view about all of that?

Dame Harries: So I think Sir Patrick and I are looking at it from slightly different lenses, but the broad answer is yes. And in fact it is in my planning.

But what we have at the moment, just by way of description, is a number of different universities across the country have set up their own pandemic institutes, or words to that effect. We are linked to them on an individual basis and they link with each other.

The vision from my lens is that they have a network. They all have brilliant academic work ongoing routinely. We are sitting almost at the interface between government and academia, and so in peacetime, when we’re not all responding to something, then we can be identifying between us what pieces of research work need to go ahead, there’s opportunities to link with the National Institute for Health Research and funding opportunities, so we’re all aligned on what the priorities are. And then at a time of need actually the institute – the global institutes are all there to work through and with UKHSA, working into the pandemic response, you know, for government.

And it wouldn’t just be for pandemics. If you thought about something like the Mpox epidemic recently, then it’s a great opportunity to do that.

The only thing I would say is I think Sir Patrick suggested, and I notice Graham Medley said, well, they were expecting PHE to be doing a lot of the work for SAGE. In fact PHE was doing a lot of the work, it was going in on individual names to NERVTAG, and then the NERVTAG paper would go to SAGE. And so a lot of the academic work has not been recognised of PHE colleagues and I would just like to pull that out.

But –

Counsel Inquiry: That’s a comment about the last pandemic?

Dame Harries: It is, but on this one, now, there are health protection research units, they’ve actually just been refunded, we have a lot of people who – I call them “twin hats”, so they work part time in the UK Health Security Agency, they work in academia, and the Health Protection Research Units can do very rapid evidence reviews or research programmes. Many of the urgent research work that was done through the pandemic is done through those.

So my shorter answer is, to be helpful, I absolutely agree with Sir Patrick. We are trying to do the same approach with industry so that we’re ready to, you know, create vaccines, look at therapeutics. I think there is a partially set up system already. We have our own Centre for Pandemic Preparedness, which is designed as the building block to link with academia already. It is not funded longer term but nevertheless we have prioritised trying to put it together because we also think it’s really critical.

So I think it’s a version of what Sir Patrick has mentioned and I think we’ve started to build it already, so we perhaps just – I’d perhaps need to swap notes with Sir Patrick so we’ve got a consolidated view.

Mr O’Connor: Thank you very much, Professor, those are all my questions.

Lady Hallett: Just before we go to the questions from core participants, Professor Harries, you talked about lessons learned; have you thought of a list of lessons that –

Dame Harries: So I think I put three in my statement, one is very much around data, one is around science and the value and the value of the scientists, and the third one is inevitably, you will see, around social care.

If I work backwards, I don’t think we can have a responsive health system, health and wellbeing system, if the value of social care is not recognised and the value of the workers is not recognised. As I look forward, planning for pandemics, the very same frail individuals who are sitting in residential care settings now or learning disabled, wherever they may be in the community, are the same people I need to reach each time there is an infectious disease incident. And so that should be much better planned for on a systematic basis, and I think social care workers should have parity. That’s not how it’s been seen.

The second point I think is around data. There are a number of reasons why data appeared to flow slowly, probably not for going into the detail here, but there should definitely be a transparency of data. But we also need to engender trust, I think, in people sharing data. One of the problems, for example, with ethnicity is, yes, people aren’t looking to collect it, that’s a problem for researchers for government, but also people need – you know, we need to enable them to feel trust, that they trust us to share that data so that we can actually get the granular level of information to support them.

Then the third one is, although we are a responsed organisation for infectious disease, we also have a significant scientific element. As scientists, they’re just not recognised, they’re sitting at the back of this. Every time somebody uses a point of care test, it will have been validated at UKHSA Porton Down. Every single vaccination programme is – there is a whole pathway, no vaccination programme in this country is running without colleagues working at UKHSA Colindale and across the UKHSA generally. These are quite hidden scientific tasks and we – one of my problems actually in setting up the organisation is having funding for a year, not having that – you know, a scientist has a ten-year career ahead, and you need to do three years of research, and that needs to be really, really embedded and then we can take forward our work with industry as well, I think, and work with them.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much.

Mr Wilcock.

Questions From Mr Wilcock KC

Mr Wilcock: Professor, good morning. I’m going to ask you some questions on behalf of the Northern Ireland Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, and I think you’ve had advance notice of the areas that we wish to cover, and they really deal with your involvement in UKHSA, which you’ve just been talking about.

Yesterday you told us that you became chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency in April 2021, and that that body became fully operational in October of the same year, and that the UKHSA took on much of the health protection areas that had previously been the responsibility of Public Health England.

The Inquiry has heard expert evidence from Professor Ailsa Henderson of Edinburgh University that, despite the name change, which was designed to enhance clarity about the territorial extent of the role UKHSA played, the body still has, in her words, a predominantly English focus, using and analysing English data, and therefore framing an English framework in response.

Can you see the force in those observations?

Dame Harries: I probably should just declare at this moment, I’m a Welsh resident, when we get into questions of four nations, so I look from both angles. I trained and I live in Wales.

Mr Wilcock KC: Well, we’ll forgive you that.

Dame Harries: So I didn’t choose the name.

There are clearly huge advantages of working across the UK, but in – in relation to things like pandemic response, and I absolutely welcome what is actually very, very close working particularly with the CMOs and Deputy CMOs, but also with the health professionals in the different health protection agencies. It’s a very, very positive working arrangement. They happen naturally.

However, I think there are points that have been made, and they’re recurrent points, and so I’d look at them in two ways.

One is the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which I think was welcomed by – I didn’t set it up and I wasn’t – it was welcomed by other UK nations, had a formal agreement, and that agreement is maintained, it was agreed by the health ministers, and then there is a working level board sitting underneath that.

We also have a separate UKHSA devolved nations board, and in fact it met yesterday, as routinely, it’s chaired by my director general for strategy and policy, and that met in Edinburgh.

So I think that in itself should signal the steps that we were trying take to try to maintain it.

When it comes to data, it gets very, very much more difficult. So, for example, we saw discrepancies – I’m part – I was expecting somebody to ask me about QCovid and shielding and various other things, but a QCovid tool, for example, we had in England and we had in Wales, we didn’t have in Scotland. That’s not because people weren’t working together, it’s because the systems are different and each country has its own health protection agency and is responsible for its own health protection response, except for some matters of global health security when we do represent the UK Government and therefore we are UK. So it’s quite a complex setting.

There is also – I mean, I can see this from the Welsh lens as well, having sat there. There’s often a requirement or an ask, and we welcome in those colleagues – you know, there are incident meetings running now and every nation is involved, but the data belongs to those nations and if it is not provided to us we cannot put it on various websites.

I actually tried last night to put in my own postcode into the dashboard, to see what happens, and I can pull up my own data, but it’s not a landing page for Wales, for example. And Wales has some great scientists, they collaborate with us, but it’s not a one-way flow.

And I think the other thing is there’s often an ask, which we’ve heard through the pandemic – through the Inquiry – for people – you know, “Have you got somebody from Wales, have you got somebody from England?” on a particular group. But if you want – it doesn’t work the other way round. So there’s an expectation everybody will come to England, but not that England will be allowed to go to every nation. So I think that’s not – you know, as I say, we work brilliantly with many colleagues and hugely grateful for their support, their particularly good input to the Social Care Working Group, but it’s something that I’d think is not a one-sided picture, and we need to work through how we can improve that.

Mr Wilcock KC: So would it be a fair summary of that answer: it’s a complex problem, you see some force in what the professor says and you’re trying to put in –

Dame Harries: Absolutely.

Mr Wilcock KC: All right.

Now, I think you might have touched on the next questions I’m going to ask you, because some of the families I represent have noticed that if they go on to the UKHSA website there is no reference to Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales on the website, and nor does the website direct readers from those parts of the UK to the equivalent services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Are you able to confirm that that is the case, and if so why would that be the case?

Dame Harries: Well, again, this is one of those areas where it needs both angles, really. So I think if I was sitting, let’s – if I’m sitting in Wales working as part of the health system in Wales, I think they expect residents to track on to their system. And, you know, similarly we had – I know there have been comments about press briefings, for example, over the pandemic, but of course each country also had its own press briefing. So it gets quite difficult.

I would like to – we’re still quite a young organisation. I would like us, with the very strong support of other health protection agencies, to make sure that, as a minimum, we have the links operating across and we’re directing people. Because at the end of the day we’re all here to protect the public and if they can’t actually work their way round this very complex system, none of us are doing a very good job.

Mr Wilcock KC: Understood. Let me just rewind a little bit. Presumably this concentration on English-focused data also existed during the pandemic?

Dame Harries: So that – you know, the data – so the health service for data, for example, for Wales – I’m using Wales simply because I’m very familiar with it – but it’s owned by Wales, it’s not our data. As I think we heard from Professor McLean last week, possibly, DSTL actually helped, in the early phase, get some of that data together, and she gave some reasons as so why it was easier for that organisation to do it than others, but it needs both the will of – the trust, I think, of each nation to share that data. And it does get very sensitive. It happens within the UK as well. Because for something – I’m going to be quite outspoken here – as politically sensitive as the National Health Service and its efficiency in all nations, that can be quite a challenging thing to do.

Mr Wilcock KC: Was anything else done to try to rectify those problems apart from what you’ve just told us Dr McLean –

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Dame Harries: Yes, so – so on the – through the pandemic obviously the dashboard actually did give different country data as well, so we did accumulate it, and I think it was shown, if I remember, at the Number 10 press briefings, for example, you could see some of the – and it was looked at routinely and colleagues from the four nations also reviewed. So when, for example, gold and silver committees were meeting, what have you, it would have input from all the different nations.

But what we’re displaying where needs agreement across all four nations, but certainly from my perspective it would be much better if we had more sharing. I live on the border, so I’m a resident who wants to see and know what’s happening around me.

Mr Wilcock KC: So finally can we assume, therefore, that if the UKHSA is to remain a UK-wide agency, you accept that more can and should be done to try to consider and reflect the UK-wide position rather than –

Dame Harries: Within the remit which we are given, which is not – you know, it’s to respect and work with, you know, the Health Protection Agencies –

Mr Wilcock KC: Not instead of –

(unclear:multiple speakers)

Dame Harries: – we don’t have a control over that.

Mr Wilcock: Thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Wilcock.

Mr Friedman.

Questions From Mr Friedman KC

Mr Friedman: Professor Harries, I act for four national disabled peoples’ organisations.

You have explained in detail in your written and oral evidence that there were foreseeable risks, I think the words used today are “normal things to think about if you’re public health trained”. That social and health inequalities would produce adverse outcomes for people in terms of the virus itself and in terms of its countermeasures, and that would include disabled people.

The question is this: why do you think now, with the benefit of hindsight, there was so little government planning for that?

Dame Harries: That’s – I think I look this way, is that right?

Mr Friedman KC: Please face away from me to the Chair.

Dame Harries: So there was a lot of planning and I don’t think – I wouldn’t wish the Inquiry to think there was no planning at all, but I do think we can do better. One of the things which actually I think is very positive in this regard, which I was personally involved with, and which the CMO started, was the tool called QCovid, which I’ve just highlighted. The shielding programme was – I think has had a quite difficult birth and utilisation, because people have used the word “shielding” – we’ve heard “segmentation”, we’ve heard “shielding”, we’ve heard “cocooning”. From my perspective there were two elements to it. The part I was involved with, which was very definitely, clumsy words, but to distinguish clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable, that was to identify people with diseases some of whom will have disability in higher arrays. And then there were other vulnerabilities, some of which will have been disabilities, some of which will have been financial disabilities, if you like, you know – so – so there were – the – there was the difficult mix, I think, across – between the clinical provision and recognition and the work which was ongoing in local government.

But I think there’s an opportunity for us to actually get that better aligned, and what we did do, I think – I think it was Michael Marmot in the first Inquiry said that nobody had actually – it was all clinical and nobody had put the rest of it together. Actually that’s not correct at all. What we did do was, at the first round, if you like, thought: who do we think is clinically vulnerable? And that will include quite a lot of people with existing disabilities. And then we went on, having started that shielding programme, to develop a weighted cumulative risk tool. It’s called QCovid. But without going into the detail of it, it was for two reasons. It was to ensure that people could have a conversation about their own risk, and it was to ensure that we had captured as best we could the intersectionality of the problems that people might have.

Now, some of these will include disability, so the one that I particularly call out, for example, is learning disability, and that tool also included socioeconomic deprivation and ethnicity. As best we could. And so through that we actually added on a significant number to the shielding patient list, so not just for clinical reasons but for many others, and we also raised – moved up a lot of people into the group 4 for the JCVI vaccination as soon as that was through.

Mr Friedman KC: Thank you, I’m just going to come in there, and in due course we’ll go through the timeline with the Chair on the documents, but I think you know very well that as of March, and let us say 16 March for instance, because you looked at very difficult emails to look at now, where you had to give very high-level realistic advice, you’ve explained something that was developed, and I think you know, from July into September and into the autumn of 2020, I’m not asking you about that.

I’m asking, and maybe you disagree with the premise, but we rather thought it was clear from your statements, that normal things to think about if you were public trained were not normal things that government as a whole was thinking about as of mid-March 2020, and the question is: why do you think now, with the benefit of hindsight, that there was so little thinking about that across government at that time?

Dame Harries: I would say, I certainly – having worked in local authorities, I think local government definitely thinks about it –

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Mr Friedman KC: But I’m asking you about central government, which is –

Dame Harries: I agree, but I’m not sure I can answer that question in that way, because I … it’s not a – I’d be asked for advice and I would give that willingly. It’s not an area that would be – directly involve me.

I mean, I know right at the start of the pandemic the Minister for Care asked for reports, as soon as there was any evidence, that could be used around disability. The data is quite difficult. And of course something like – I think it’s 65% of those over 65 will have disabilities. So to some extent they were already being thought through in the shielding programme.

Mr Friedman KC: Thank you.

Just on that shielding programme, the meetings from early March adopted a two-tier approach to shielding, and you’ve explained there was some baggage in the label, we understand that, and there were going to be different degrees of clinical vulnerability.

Now, was there a foreseeable risk that those in the second tier, however one defines it, would be de-prioritised in being able to access basic services such as food and healthcare services, access to which was explicitly linked, initially, to being within the first tier, clinically extremely vulnerable cohort?

Dame Harries: I might not have quite understood the question. So Tier 1 is –

Mr Friedman KC: CEV –

Dame Harries: Yeah, okay.

Mr Friedman KC: And they got an automatic package –

Dame Harries: Yeah.

Mr Friedman KC: – and CV didn’t?

Dame Harries: The important thing here is that shielding, as I think Professor Whitty said, is not – I mean, basically there isn’t a magic bullet here. It’s somebody is advised (and totally for them to do, completely voluntarily, this is not the sort of segmentation policy that I think is described elsewhere) to go into isolation almost.

And so it is, firstly, for them to choose whether they do that. Always has been.

For those who are in the clinically vulnerable group, the wider one, then there was the – obviously it’s a much wider group, we recognised that we couldn’t contact all of those people centrally. It wasn’t feasible. And for the reasons which I’ve just said, that intersectionality of risks was very much something for local government. So it’s not something that was handled in that way.

So there were funding – there were – to local authorities. But I think you’d need to direct that conversation to somebody from that department.

Mr Friedman KC: Understood, but conceptually, as it were, at the central level –

Dame Harries: Yes.

Mr Friedman KC: – reliance was going to have to be placed on the effectiveness or otherwise at the local government level?

Dame Harries: I think that’s right. And, I mean, local government do – they run, and I’m sure you’re aware, they’re registered – they will know where their local communities are who need support and those people sort of running between both a clinical risk and, you know, a financial or mobility risk.

Mr Friedman KC: We can look at that in due course, and we’ve heard what you’ve said about social care and the lessons learned about that and the parity that’s needed now that perhaps wasn’t there then.

But staying with those who were regarded as clinically vulnerable, and with what degree of risk, may I end by asking you about Down’s Syndrome. I think you were on notice that we wanted to ask you about this, and we’ve got quite specific questions, if you could assist us on them.

The first is this – it’s levelled at March 2020, I’m going to go on in the chronology, so the first one is: bearing in mind that respiratory disorders are a predominant cause of death for people with Down’s Syndrome, should they have been designated in a higher category of risk from March 2020?

Dame Harries: So, we had to look at what was likely to be a risk factor at the start.

Mr Friedman KC: Yes.

Dame Harries: So I don’t think there was any suggestion of perfection in that.

Mr Friedman KC: No.

Dame Harries: The QCovid tool was designed to enhance that. Not everybody with what you might think – and I think, was it Professor Brightling said this earlier – would – you know, some of the things we found did not work out. So, you know, for example we thought people with asthma might be particularly affected, you’d think respiratory disease – actually that wasn’t – for most people that wasn’t it, and they could come off the list.

Mr Friedman KC: Yes.

Dame Harries: So for Down’s Syndrome it’s not that – there was very little signal to start with. So there is a logic and there is a potential logic for a number of conditions.

What we did do was monitor these things. So there was a four nations – goes back to colleague – the question earlier, there was a four nations UK clinical panel, which I chaired. In fact the signal from Down’s Syndrome was raised by NERVTAG, I think, so –

Mr Friedman KC: Yes.

Dame Harries: – time for it to come through, around May.

We asked the clinical lead for the NHS to bring forward a paper, and all of the clinical leads for that UK panel met and reviewed it.

Now, at the time, there wasn’t sufficient granularity in that information to be able to see a signal, but there was a process of bringing things back. And a couple of months later –

Mr Friedman KC: Yes.

Dame Harries: – there was a signal through and immediately people – all the Down’s Syndrome people were moved onto the shielded patient list.

Mr Friedman KC: Well, thanks, you’ve gone ahead a little bit. I’m just going to break that down a little bit, because that’s what I’m going to ask you about.

We know – I hope you’ll just take this from me – we know as a matter of record that Down’s Syndrome was not added to the CEV list until early November, it’s about 2 November –

Dame Harries: Yes, although –

Mr Friedman KC: Can I just set the context for you and tell me if you disagree.

You’ve explained to the Chair, as we understood it to be, that the matter made it to the NERVTAG clinical subgroup. It’s actually first at the beginning of June and then going to a second meeting at the end of June, 29 June, where they indicate on the basis of modelling that there appears to be a high risk, but they want more work to be done, and they pass that up the line, as you’ve just summarised to the Chair.

So we’ve got to 29 June, and then there is a decision that goes before the Covid-O group as of 1 October that is indicating that the work has now been done and the recommendation is there in the pipeline, and then we have, as it were, this letter to the GPs and other stakeholders. That was 2 November.

Dame Harries: Yes.

Mr Friedman KC: So we’ve got a very specific question on that, which is: how could such a delay in adding people to the Down’s Syndrome CEV list have been avoided? How could it have been done quicker? Now we know what we know and, as of 2 November, what had to be done had to be done, how could it have been quicker?

Dame Harries: So number one, just for clarity, if a GP felt that somebody with Down’s Syndrome for some specific reason, because many will have other conditions, so epilepsy for example, needed to be on the list –

Mr Friedman KC: We take that.

Dame Harries: – they could go on. But on your particular point, I think I tried to explain, obviously very badly, that in that intervening period the detail had been looked at. It had come to the clinical panel, it had been presented to the UK CMOs, the signal wasn’t there at that time. And as more data came through, it went back again in September, and we immediately acted on it because we could see that the signal then for Down’s Syndrome was high, and then all of the Down’s Syndrome adults were put on the shielded patient list.

So it’s not that there was no activity, there was actually a systematic approach to looking at the evidence.

Mr Friedman KC: We understand that. The point of it is that the paper in September showed a ten-fold increased risk for people with Down’s Syndrome.

Dame Harries: Yes.

Mr Friedman KC: That’s a very significant risk. That’s a paper in September. The CEV moment is 2 November –

Dame Harries: So I think –

Mr Friedman KC: I mean, I think you’re trying to tell the Chair you went quickly, in your view. My question is: how could it have been done quicker? Your answer may be it couldn’t have been, but that’s the question.

Dame Harries: So there is a process – I’ve got a date here of 9 October when I think the process for moving the people onto the list started, so there is a digital process to do that.

The other point was, I think, just for reassurance for those individuals, that was, of course, the time when no shielding was in process, so I think what we were trying to ensure was individuals were on that for the list going – it had been paused over the summer because of the lower prevalence rates.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

That’s enough, Mr Friedman, sorry, thank you.

Mr Thomas.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Professor Harries, good morning. I represent FEHMO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations. As you probably know, FEHMO represents and advocates for the interests of workers from ethnic minority communities at all levels within the health and social care sector across the UK.

I’m going to be making reference to your fourth witness statement, but I’m not going to call it up, but just for the record, and for her Ladyship, the relevant paragraphs are paragraphs 9.38 and 9.40.

Here’s what I wish to explore, and let me just set out a little bit of context, and I don’t have much for you. During the pandemic, when the NHS was overwhelmed, care homes were meeting deficit in terms of the NHS’s ability to care for often elderly people, some of whom were dying and would ordinarily be in hospital. You would agree, I’m sure, that that situation would have had a significant impact on care homes. Can we agree on that?

Dame Harries: Sorry, I’m not being awkward. Can we just go back?

Professor Thomas KC: Of course.

Dame Harries: So I would expect anybody who would normally be in hospital would be in hospital unless there was a reason not to. I may have misheard. Could you just go back one and then I’ll …

Professor Thomas KC: Of course. I’m suggesting to you that the NHS was overwhelmed –

Dame Harries: Yep.

Professor Thomas KC: – and care homes were meeting the deficit at times in terms of some of the NHS’s ability to care for often elderly people, some of whom were dying and would ordinarily be in hospital. That’s the proposition I put to you. Do you accept that or don’t you?

Dame Harries: I would hope that, except in extreme circumstances, they would be in hospital, that it should be preserved for those will be benefiting from that. But I agree that the whole system was under stress.

Professor Thomas KC: All right. In the light of the unique challenges posed by the global pandemic and the national emergency it represents, I’m sure you’ll also agree that central government should bear significant responsibility for ensuring that the safety and wellbeing of its care home workers, especially considering their frontline roles being in an overstretched public service; would you agree with that?

Dame Harries: I mean, I think that is a question for the government, the minister, rather than me as a medical professional. To answer. But, having said that, I think – I suspect the statements that I’ve made earlier suggest that I, as a public health professional, am very much in support of ensuring that the care staff are recognised.

Professor Thomas KC: Is that a yes?

Dame Harries: I think – I don’t think it’s a question for me to answer on behalf of government. It feels like it’s a ministerial question. That’s the only reason I’m not commenting.

Professor Thomas KC: Well, the reason why I’m putting this to you is because something that you said in your statement at paragraph 9.38 – and I’ll put my second question to you. Would you accept this: given the critical nature of care home workers’ roles, particularly during these extraordinary times like a global pandemic, it would become imperative for central government to take a more active and central role in overseeing and supporting the safety for carehome workers. Would you accept that?

Dame Harries: I agree and I think they did – they certainly tried to. I also would flag, which is the point I’ve – point in the lessons learned, which is the underlying system for care homes in this country is not one of central – it’s very different to the NHS.

Professor Thomas KC: Well, I’m going to come on to that because that is my final point, which is – because you make this point, and this is again at paragraph 9.38 –

Dame Harries: Is it possible for me to see what I’ve said because I don’t have it in front of me.

Professor Thomas KC: Will, I will come on – is what you say. You say that:

“While recognising the private business model of care homes … “, yes?

Dame Harries: Yep.

Professor Thomas KC: It’s in front of you. You say, “While recognising the private business model of care homes … “

Here’s the point that I wish to put to you: surely we can agree that government decisions and policies during a national emergency can significantly impact the ability of care homes to protect their staff, manage PPE stock and ensure business continuity, thereby necessitating a more engaged from role from central government?

Dame Harries: Yeah. So I would just say I do think this is a question for government, not for a medical adviser. Of course I think the government would say – and, I mean, I’m sort of answering your question indirectly – that they have and that there was clearly a central role in the pandemic. But the point I was trying to make is probably the one which I think you’re getting at, which is the model was not one that was established well enough to ensure that that central control happened effectively, and that I think is one of the points I’ve put in my lessons learned, because it is so critical because of the vulnerability of the population.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Thomas.

Ms Sergides.

Can you see Ms Sergides over there?

Questions From Ms Sergides

Ms Sergides: Do say if you can’t see me.

Dame Harries: I can. Thank you.

Ms Sergides: I represent Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid and I will be asking you questions relating to domestic abuse as a public health matter and key workers.

So my first question is at paragraph 455 of your statement, dated 22 August 2023 – I know you have done a few statements – you say that on 16 March 2022, Public Health England explained that testing was being scaled up to focus on intensive care units, hospital admissions and testing for key workers. Did you have any involvement in defining key workers?

Dame Harries: I presume you mean 2020. I think you said 2022, but I presume this is the change in prioritisation.

Ms Sergides: 2020, I apologise.

Dame Harries: Not directly. I was engaged in discussions over the pandemic with things like testing for key workers, but very much from, at that stage, the technical advisory part of what would work. There were discussions across government but it was – and they were right across all sectors, so I was in the room. I wasn’t a key decider of who was in a key sector.

Ms Sergides: So although you weren’t a key decider, as far as you are aware, were those working in refuge accommodation or domestic abuse charities prioritised for testing and, if so, when was that?

Dame Harries: I can’t answer that one directly. I mean, there are two issues there about key workers and who was a frontline worker and then, sort of, the implementation of the testing programme. There was quite a lot of consideration, I think, in NHS Test and Trace – again, I wasn’t there at the time – about where that risk lay and who needed to be tested. Obviously, there were many different use cases and there was a certain flexibility whilst working with directors of public health that if they wished to – you know, if they could identify groups because it would, as you know, vary in different geographies that they could direct testing in those cases. But I think that’s probably all I can say to help.

Ms Sergides: I’m going to turn to my second and last question. In his evidence to this Inquiry and in response to questions relating to interventions, NPIs. Sir Chris Whitty said that he is entitled, and should, weigh up the negative aspects from a public health view. He gave an example of people who go into shielding before needed and then end up with loneliness and depression and that these are clinical and public health problems.

I appreciate you’ve briefly touched upon this with Mr O’Connor but, given that domestic abuse and its impact on victims are public health issues, what should the government have considered in relation to domestic abuse when deciding social isolation and/or lockdown measures?

Dame Harries: Well, I think I probably have answered the question because in that particular case, to my mind, it is foreseeable and we can imagine what’s going to happen and I think you will probably be representing people who experienced those increases in calls just beforehand.

And therefore I think some of the messaging was not as clear as it could have been to make sure that people understood that they could come out of isolation. There clearly was a course out and I think it was considered within that, I’m not sure that if I was somebody frightened, you know, in a domestic abuse situation and about to go into lockdown, that I would perhaps have clocked that the message that says “for an emergency” actually applied to me.

Ms Sergides: I’m grateful, Professor.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Sergides.

Mr Stanton.

Questions From Mr Stanton

Mr Stanton: Thank you, my Lady.

Good morning, Professor. I’ll be asking a few questions on behalf of the British Medical Association. I’d like to ask your views about the response to the risk of airborne transmission, avoiding any duplication of this area when you were engaging with Mr O’Connor.

At paragraph 521 of your first statement in this module, you indicated that this risk was predictable in February 2020 but took some time to determine and, appreciating that the scientific understanding took some time to play out, can I ask you why a more precautionary approach wasn’t taken to this risk from the outset?

Dame Harries: So I think we heard yesterday, I think, or from a previous witness the – it was treated as an HCID to start with. I mean, that has a whole discussion in itself which I won’t go into. So I think it was treated with a precautionary approach; that was correct.

And when I say it was foreseeable, I think it was because almost any respiratory virus we would expect it would be very difficult to not think through a whole continuum of going from, you know, fomite droplets and airborne. The critical thing here is about the proportionality. So I think the right preventive element was put in to start with and it is a matter of the developing science as we’ve gone through which is very complex.

Mr Stanton: Thank you.

Thinking about the measures in place within healthcare settings, what prevented the provision of FFP3 respirators to healthcare workers who were treating patients with Covid-19?

Dame Harries: So I – the guidance, as you will know, I’m sure, was reviewed multiple times, and continues to be as we have gone through. It’s set by a four nations IPC cell, not by myself, not by Public Health England in those days, now UKHSA, and the operational implementation of that sits with NHS England.

So I can’t – I mean, there’s a very, very complex review through that. It goes back to the risk and the evidence. So FFP3s were provided for aerosol-generating procedures right from the outset. That has always been there and it remains. We are back then to the balance of risks around appropriate PPE.

But I would just like to say that at all times when those reviews have happened they have linked across to see what WHO’s recommending and have stayed consistent, I’m pretty confident on that. So I don’t think – I think one of the interesting things was FFP3s and FFP2s are used differentially in different countries. So, in fact, the FFP3 that was in play right at the start of the pandemic is, if you like, in simplistic terms, a stronger recommendation than in many other countries and I think for some of the WHO guidance.

Mr Stanton: To what extent did cost and availability play a part in their provision?

Dame Harries: So again, as I said yesterday, I wasn’t responsible for PPE. Obviously some of my team now input to the technical side of it. Cost was not an issue at all in any of these events; so that one is right out of the picture. But obviously there was a – there was a global shortage. I mean, I think if every country in the world wants PPE, it’s going to be difficult. So I think at times there was difficulty procuring.

That said, as I discussed yesterday, certainly early on we did have a very good national supply but obviously, as it was pulled on, and I think picking up the care provision, the predominant – the pandemic preparedness PPE was predominantly, I think, originally focused on the healthcare, which goes back to my point about social care.

Mr Stanton: Thank you.

Lastly and very quickly, just picking up on some of the comments you made about the effectiveness of masks used in the general population, can I ask you your view of the effectiveness of fluid-resistant surgical masks for combating aerosol transmission?

Dame Harries: So, I mean, that’s quite a detailed technical question which is probably not for answering here and I’m happy to provide a written one on that. I mean, usually there is – when you’re working in a healthcare environment, often the fluid-resistance is therefore splash protection but obviously if the splash protection is critical, then you will actually have a shield as well. So, you know, that is quite a detailed answer. I’m very happy to provide one in writing.

Mr Stanton: Thank you, Professor.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much indeed, Professor Harries. I wish I could say it’s the last time we’re going to call upon you, but I have a feeling that we’ll be asking you to help us again. Thank you for your help.

The Witness: Thank you.

(The witness withdrew)

Lady Hallett: Right, I shall return at 11.40.

(11.27 am)

(A short break)

(11.40 am)

Ms Cecil: May I call the Right Honourable Sajid Javid, please.

Mr Sajid Javid

MR SAJID JAVID (affirmed).

Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Lady Hallett: Mr Javid, I hope we haven’t kept you waiting for too long.

The Witness: No, not at all.

Ms Cecil: Thank you, Mr Javid, for assisting the Inquiry today. In relation to that, can I ask that you keep your voice up. And, as you may know, a transcript is being made of the hearing, and so it may be that I ask you to slow down, but if you can try to approach that with that in mind in terms of your tempo and speed.

Mr Sajid Javid: Okay.

Counsel Inquiry: If you’re not clear about any of the questions that I ask or need them to be repeated, please just let me know and I will do so. And, again, we anticipate that we will go to the lunchtime adjournment at approximately 1 o’clock in the initial instance.

Mr Sajid Javid: Thank you.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Javid, you provided a witness statement to the Inquiry. That’s dated 18 October of this year. It runs to some 46 pages, and it contains a declaration of truth. Is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Now, if I can just turn briefly, if I may, to your background. In terms of your current role, you’re currently a backbench MP, a Member of Parliament for Bromsgrove?

Mr Sajid Javid: That is correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. You’ve been involved in politics for some time, first being elected back in 2010?

Mr Sajid Javid: That is correct.

And if it’s possible, may I just say a few words at the start before we get into the questions, just for a few seconds, if that’s okay, my Lady.

May I just say that, first of all, I thank you for the opportunity for appearing in front of the Inquiry, I fully support the work of the Inquiry. The impact of the pandemic was, of course, unprecedented in our country and across the world. Sadly, many people lost their lives and there are many of their loved ones that are still grieving. I know some of them are here today as well.

I will perhaps probably never fully understand the scale of their grief, but I sincerely hope that this Inquiry gets to the bottom of what happened in our country at the time and that, as a country, we learn lessons from it so that, if there is another time, we are just so much better prepared. Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Javid.

Ms Cecil: Mr Javid, indeed, we are concerned today with the role that you played, firstly, as Chancellor –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – during the pandemic. That was at the very outset of the pandemic until 13 February of 2020?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And then subsequently when you came back into government as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in June 2021.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: But just to give a little bit of background to that, you’ve occupied a number of Cabinet roles within government?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: First dating from 2014 –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – is that right? That’s when you were Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And it continued through various appointments: Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills; Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government; Home Secretary; and then, as we’ve heard – and then that’s when you moved into your position as Chancellor?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: So is it fair to say that you’ve had significant involvement in Cabinet –

Mr Sajid Javid: That would be fair –

Counsel Inquiry: – the workings of Cabinet?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And indeed, even before you became a Cabinet Minister, you were very closely working alongside other Cabinet ministers occupying great offices of state?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, I had some junior ministerial positions.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

Just dealing to Cabinet and crises, you were in Cabinet under different prime ministers, in fact, including David Cameron and Theresa May?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And indeed a number of crises, including Grenfell and the Salisbury poisonings?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of those periods of decision-making, as opposed to when you were subsequently Secretary of State and, during the pandemic, for health and social care, you explain that that latter period was the most intense of decision-making in your career?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And why do you say that, if I can just ask you to draw upon your previous experience?

Mr Sajid Javid: Well, it’s not to take away from the importance and intensity of other crises or very difficult situations I had to deal with as a minister but I felt when I came in as Health Secretary although we had – the first year the pandemic had elapsed, we were still – you know, there were still a lot of restrictions in place, there was still a huge amount of concern over the pandemic, no one could be truly certain of the next course it might time and there was of course a huge pressure on my department, the Department of Health and Social Care, not just vis-á-vis the pandemic but also with respect to all the other aspects of healthcare, the NHS of course, but also social care.

Counsel Inquiry: You were fairly fortunate in the sense that you had, as I say, experienced crises before in Cabinet roles. You had been a minister by then for some nearly ten years or so, a decade. During that time, had you undertaken yourself any training in crisis management?

Mr Sajid Javid: The – well, first of all, in my experience in government there’s not really any training at all for really any aspect of being a minister and you asked me specifically about crisis training; so, in general, there was no training. But the only time, the only exception I would make to that comment, is that when I was Home Secretary there was some training for particular types of crises that the country might face, which wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go into what those might be, but there was specific training around that for an incoming Home Secretary.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. I believe you note that there is also training potentially in the Ministry of Defence, for example, available to ministers but certainly not within the Department of Health and Social Care?

Mr Sajid Javid: Not within the Department of Health and Social Care.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. If I can now turn to the Cabinet that was in place at the outset of the pandemic, it’s in your witness statement at page 12, paragraph 37, please.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: What you say there about Cabinet, so we’re talking about January/February of 2020, as the UK enters the pandemic, you consider:

“… the Cabinet that went into the pandemic had less experience of being in government or holding offices of state than many previous Cabinets. They were not a team who were well versed in the affairs of government outside the crisis, [you] can imagine that may have … caused difficulties during the pandemic.”

If I can just touch there for a moment, when you say they had less experience of government, how did you see that playing out initially through that January/February period and, more broadly, in terms of the time that you were in Cabinet?

Mr Sajid Javid: Well, the reason I’ve said this in my statement is because I think it’s fair to say when this Cabinet was put in place, and although there was some minor changes, I think, right after the general election, this Cabinet was essentially the Cabinet that was put in place I think, it would have been July 2019 by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. I think the – obviously there was no expectation or even any thought towards a future crisis of these proportions and I think the focus was on the commitment of the new Prime Minister to deliver on the Brexit commitments and to safely – to take the UK out of the European Union.

There had been a lot of problems in Parliament in the previous government before the change in Prime Minister and I think the sort of one of the primary considerations was to have a Cabinet put together that would support the Prime Minister in that process, and that was largely the same Cabinet that was in place at the start of January 1 of 2020.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. And, of course, when it comes to February, later when –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – we’ll deal with that in due course and when you resign, there is also a reshuffle that takes place then, with the new ministers being appointed.

Is it fair to say that you were one of the most experienced ministers at that time in January and February of 2020 within Cabinet?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think that would be fair, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

What you also say in relation to those issues is that the Prime Minister’s Office was not as strong or expert as it could or should have been. You describe the team as being too small.

Again, so this is looking at the Prime Minister’s office, Number 10 –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – why do you make that observation?

Mr Sajid Javid: I would actually make that observation of any Prime Minister’s Office that I’ve – any Prime Minister that I’ve served. So as you alluded to earlier, I’ve served two other prime ministers, and that is because I found certainly from someone sort of especially when I first came from a private secretary into government, quite myself being quite surprised with how small a team a Prime Minister typically has in terms of there’s the political advisers, which is typically, you know, a small group of – I mean, it differs for every Prime Minister, it could be 10 to 20, maybe 25 or 30, but it’s a relatively small group, given the responsibility of the Prime Minister, and the civil service team is also relatively small compared to individual departments, for example.

And that – you will undoubtedly then have an impact of the Prime Minister and his or her team to then be able to deliver on the commitments of the government of the day.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you see that as one of the structural deficits within the set-up of Number 10?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think it’s an issue. Now, it has been said – you know, other people have discussed that this similar situation might say that but then there’s the Cabinet Office, and then, you know, there is a minister, typically the CDL, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will lead the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Office is there to sort of help co-ordinate initiatives across government to support the Prime Minister with his or her priorities.

But then the Cabinet Office is also led by a member of the Cabinet and, whilst it is a very responsive to what a Prime Minister may want them to sort of focus and advise on, that head of the Cabinet Office will also have their own set of priorities. So it’s not the same thing as being an extension of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Counsel Inquiry: There is a distinction to be drawn –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – effectively between the two in the way that they Work and things, policies that they are developing?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can turn now to looking specifically at the Cabinet and Number 10 initially –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – as it existed in January and February of 2020, the outset of the pandemic?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can call up your paragraph 37 again, please, what we see here is that your view was that Cabinet at that time was designed to place Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister as the decision-makers?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The goal was to centralise power in Number 10, with a preference for loyalty over experience.

Now, you talk about the centralisation of power and decision-making. Was that something you that you were privy to at that point in time?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, that’s how I felt things were. They were very centralised.

Counsel Inquiry: And did that result in other ministers, including Cabinet ministers, being excluded from decision-making?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think sometimes it would have, and obviously a lot of – I wouldn’t have been privy to, you know, all those occasions. But the reason I say that is because it was clear that in Mr Cummings the Prime Minister had picked someone that he had decided to, for whatever reason, to trust with a huge amount of responsibility and power, and many times I felt like that the key decisions, many of the key decisions, were being made by Mr Cummings and not the Prime Minister, in a way that I had not seen with any other Prime Minister certainly that I had worked with.

What was different for me in some respects is that because I was the Chancellor, and therefore obviously oversaw the Treasury in its operations, it meant that it was much harder to exclude the Treasury from any key decisions because, even if those decisions are not directly related to the Treasury’s functions, any department, especially if it required resources, or even any kind of regulatory change, it would concern the Treasury and the Treasury, I think it’s probably the only department other than the Prime Minister’s Office, if we see that as a department, that has to sign off on virtually, you know, any sort of policy initiative or any policy change in government in what’s called – there’s a process that’s often referred to as the “write-round process” and the Treasury would be the one department that, other than obviously the lead department, that would get quite involved in most decisions.

So my point being that it was hard to exclude the Treasury. And then what that meant in the context of your question, Ms Cecil, was that if there were situations where, particularly if Mr Cummings wanted something to happen or had a particular view on a policy or an initiative, you know, I would know about it, my team would know about it, and if I had an issue with that or wanted to question it or had a different opinion, it was hard to exclude, but also many times I could block it and stop it from happening or at least delay it until I see the Prime Minister which was not always possible by other Cabinet ministers.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, we will see references to being power struggles between Number 10 and Number 11, the Treasury, during the pandemic in due course – not in relation to your time but later in the period.

But in terms of your role as Chancellor, effectively you had oversight across government –

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: – for each government department, but also, significantly, Number 10 –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and any policies or processes emanating from there that required financial resource or input or indeed regulatory –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – consideration.

We’ve heard some evidence in relation to Gavin Williamson and his – he says that he was excluded from decision-making. Is that something that you would have expected, bearing in mind how you’ve described the centralisation of power?

Mr Sajid Javid: I wouldn’t know the details of any particular sort of occasion that he might be referring to, but it is something, as a sort of part of a decision, the decision-making process at the time that I would recognise, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of decision-making, if I can just call up paragraph 49, please, page 16 of your statement. And you’ve touched upon this already in dealing with who was making those decisions –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – in terms of how you viewed it at the time. Approximately a third of the way through, it refers to Mr Cummings, who was in post at that time. You say:

“I would say that during my time as Chancellor, I considered that he sought to act as the Prime Minister in all but name, and he tried to make all key decisions within Number 10 – not the Prime Minister.”

Now, why do you say that?

Mr Sajid Javid: Because that’s how things seemed to be working at the time. So, for example, my private office, that’s my group of civil servants that are directly serving me as Chancellor on a daily basis, you know, quite often it’s not unusual, first of all, to get a request from the Prime Minister’s Office, Number 10 – it’s not unusual of course – but a lot of those requests, once probed, weren’t actually coming from the Prime Minister. They might be anything from a request for information, a request for detail, but also a policy change or a policy preference.

They, on probing further, would be coming from Mr Cummings and if it was one or two times, just a few times, then I wouldn’t have thought anything sort of unusual of that but it was constantly it seemed so many requests of that nature were coming from Mr Cummings, and on many occasions when I would then eventually meet the Prime Minister to talk with him and it’s worth just – this is relevant to one of your previous questions, because I was Chancellor, because I was literally living in the same building as the Prime Minister, I would not just see him on formal occasions but also informally as well, it might be at the weekend, in the Number 10 garden or somewhere, when I can say, “Look, I heard that you wanted this” or “You wanted that”, and he would sometimes just not even know that that request had come in his name.

And this could be, for example, to do – I was working in early from January to the February – in those two particular months I was working on the budget which was to come very soon in the New Year and, obviously, a budget is an opportunity to make a significant number of policy changes for the government, and I was getting a lot of requests relating to the budget which, on probing, were coming directly from Mr Cummings and not the Prime Minister and it’s not something I would have expected.

Just to add a little bit more to that, if I may, although that was the first time I’d served as Chancellor, I had been in the Treasury as both economic secretary and the financial secretary under George Osborne when he was Chancellor, so I had a bit of a sense about how I would have expected the things to work and this was very unusual.

Counsel Inquiry: An unusual structure –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – structurally in terms of decision-making and communications?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: This paragraph also, and I’m got to go into it in any detail, deals with your resignation. The facts are already in the public domain –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and you’ve spoken on a number of occasions about that.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: But in terms of the evidence that this Inquiry has heard in relation to the dysfunctional nature, all sorts of different words have been used, as I’m sure you’re aware, toxic, dysfunctional, those types of things, feral. With regard to that, were you aware of that at the time in January and February, that that culture was existing within Number 10 or was that something that you were not sighted on?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, broadly. I think it was a widespread feeling amongst a lot of the political advisers working in Number 10, many ministers, that the Number 10 operation collectively was quite dysfunctional. I think many ministers had noticed. We’ve just referred to a moment ago about who really seemed to be making a lot of the decisions. And, you know, you referred to my resignation and, as you say, you know, I’ve talked about that publicly, in Parliament and elsewhere, and unless you want to probe it further I won’t go into it. But one thing I will is if I think back to my resignation day as Chancellor on 13 February 2020, that on that day the Prime Minister had – this is just to demonstrate how widespread the feeling around Mr Cummings was within Number 10 at the time – on that day when the Prime Minister said he wanted to keep me as Chancellor but wanted me to replace all my advisers, which I refused to do, he asked me to take some time out.

He said “Look, just take 10, 15 minutes, you know, you go into a separate room, I’ll go to my study and let’s just – you know, you go and think about this and let’s talk again. I don’t want you to resign”, when I went into that room, I thought I’d sort of be on my own for 10/15 minutes and just think about it – obviously it was a big decision to resign as Chancellor – but while I was in that room I remember distinctly, you know, first Helen MacNamara coming in and then Eddie Lister, who was – Eddie Lister was one of the Prime Minister’s senior advisers, and Ms MacNamara, I think you know who she is from previous evidence – and they both came in to say the same thing, which was that the Prime Minister is only doing this because of Dominic Cummings, he’s asked him to do this, and he, the Prime Minister, doesn’t really know what he’s doing in asking you to do this, and this is all Dominic Cummings, “Don’t fall for it, Sajid”, was their message, that Dominic Cummings will be gone within a few weeks, there’s no way he can survive the way he’s going on. They both essentially – you know, I’m summarising –

Counsel Inquiry: Encouraged you to stay?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, encouraged me to stay because they knew that the problem in Number 10, as they saw it, was Dominic Cummings, and that their view was that he can’t – he, Dominic Cummings, can’t survive in Number 10, in – carry on the way he is and he will be gone very soon –

Counsel Inquiry: If I can just interrupt you there just to bring you back really to the structural issues that faced us at the time, to what extent was that dysfunctionality, as you see it, within the Cabinet Office related to that centralisation of power or was it something that you’d also seen previously under other Cabinets?

Lady Hallett: I think Mr Javid said the dysfunctionality that he saw was in Number 10. I don’t think –

Ms Cecil: I’m terribly sorry, not Cabinet, in Number 10. My apologies, my Lady, you are entirely correct.

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: In Number 10.

Mr Sajid Javid: To what extent – was your question – sorry, could you repeat, please?

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. I was just going to ask, to what extent did you consider that to be related specifically to that Number 10 environment as opposed to other administrations that you’d served under? Was it different or was it very similar to how governments operate generally in Number 10?

Mr Sajid Javid: It was different in my experience, and obviously I can’t speak to, you know, other governments. Certainly in my experience, I think the extent of dysfunctionality was something I had not experienced before in any government.

Counsel Inquiry: Now if I may turn just to the machinery of government in relation to cross-departmental working, cross-government working –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Lady Hallett: I’m sorry to interrupt again, Ms Cecil.

Ms Cecil: Not at all.

Lady Hallett: SPADs obviously – sorry, special advisers – obviously have a very important role and I have been told that they are technically civil servants but don’t, in reality, answer to the permanent secretary, they answer to their minister.

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Lady Hallett: You’ve obviously had them. Is there anything in the set-up or the structure of the role of special advisers that you think might improve the position? You felt that one special adviser had gained too much prominence and too much decision-making power and responsibility. Is there anything you can think of in the structural arrangements that might help alleviate that situation without impinging on the discretion of a prime minister to appoint the special advisers he wants?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think, my Lady, it’s hard to think of something that would make a difference that wouldn’t impinge on the discretion of the Prime Minister or the minister. Technically, I believe that all special advisers are appointed by the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister can appoint them and also, you know, dismiss them. But normally the relevant minister would have a say in who they would like to be their special adviser or not. But because the special adviser, the only members of the minister’s team that can be political, and there I think a minister does need people that are able to be political. I think it becomes then very hard if there was, for example – I mean, I have heard people talking about maybe there should be some kind of vetting process or panel for interviews and things like you would have with civil servants, but I don’t see how that could work with special advisers. I think a lot at the end of the day just comes down to the choices that a prime minister and minister makes –

Lady Hallett: The personalities?

Mr Sajid Javid: The personalities, yes.

Lady Hallett: Someone did suggest making special advisers accountable in the line of responsibility to the permanent secretary.

Mr Sajid Javid: I haven’t thought about that too much but my initial reaction would be that it would probably make the political side of their work harder, given a permanent secretary cannot be or should not be political in any way.

Lady Hallett: Thank you. Sorry to interrupt, Ms Cecil.

Ms Cecil: No, not at all.

Perhaps just rounding that off, what about merit-based, open recruitment based on competencies for those special advisers? Is that something you could see working?

Mr Sajid Javid: Again, Ms Cecil, I’m not sure how that would work in that – I mean, there is – first of all, I think in the process, if it’s done properly, clearly there is a merit part to it in that I think most ministers would clearly want to pick people to be their special advisers that they believe are up to their job and can carry out the role.

But it is – if what you’re getting at is that it is not a process where there is, as I say, a panel or some kind of objective process that’s gone through, then introducing that into the process would take something away as well, which does have value at times and that is the ability for ministers to consider things from a political perspective which, at the end of the day, all ministers are also politicians and they would need to have advice on that.

So, for example, when a minister – if I give you one quick example, in all my ministerial roles I appeared in front of media, you know, at least once a week. Sometimes when I was Health Secretary I’d would be doing five or six days a week. And obviously the media can ask you any question you want and some of those are deliberately political and you need to be well prepared for that and only special advisers can prepare you for that.

Counsel Inquiry: Well, those are still competences, aren’t they, and really what I’m asking about is some sort of open, transparent, fair recruitment process. You say that may take things away but one of the criticisms that has been raised in evidence during this Inquiry is the lack of diversity in terms of both politicians and those in Cabinet, but also those advising and surrounding them. Wouldn’t it also potentially add something in terms of that potential opening up in terms of diversity?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think that if there was more diversity in government and whether that’s ministers, special advisers, civil servants, it’s a good thing, you know – clearly diversity in a broad sense.

But I don’t – first of all, I think diversity, in terms of going into this crisis, was no different, in my opinion, or lack of diversity, with any sort of previous government either one that I’ve been in or others that I’ve known about, and it’s probably no different to many other very senior professions. As I understand it, I think, amongst barristers, I think about 80 per cent come from Oxbridge, so I think it’s probably not too different in many other professions.

Lady Hallett: I think you’ll find the figures are rather different today.

Mr Sajid Javid: Are they?

Lady Hallett: I hope so. I did quite a lot of work.

Mr Sajid Javid: I hope so too, but it’s probably disproportionate, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: That may well be the case.

Ms Cecil: And it’s really just exploring with you whether opening it up in that way would allow for that progression and that change effectively – operate systemic change because, obviously, there are structural issues, as you say, when you have that level of disproportionality?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think if there was more diversity in government decision-making, and again beyond just ministers – ministers are important, of course, in this – I think that’s a good thing. An example of that I may give if it’s relevant go, if it’s okay, I think relevant to this Inquiry is that when I was Health Secretary one of the things that I think I – was very important to me and I took very seriously was the, you know, health disparities, including racial disparities and one of the reasons I took sort of racial disparities and health outcomes, I guess more seriously than perhaps some of my predecessors, was because of my own experiences.

And so I think, you know, there are some clear cases where, you know, having more diversity can only be a benefit.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, and presumably would assist in decision-making?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can move then now to deal with your time as Secretary of State, as I say, and look at some of those decision-making and structural arrangements that were in place then.

You came back into, as I say, a ministerial role in June 2021; so a latter part of the pandemic?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And by that point, a number of decision-making fora had been operating for quite some time. So you had the 8.30 am meetings, Covid-O and Covid-S; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: So at the point when you came back in, there was a rhythm in terms of decision-making and those meetings?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, just dealing if I may with the 8.30 am decision-making meetings, that’s the primary meeting as far as you are concerned which involved decision-making; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: It was the, probably the most important meeting of the day, and as it suggests every morning at 8.30 and certainly when I first became Health Secretary in June 2021 those were daily meetings, including most weekends.

Counsel Inquiry: And just to deal with those individuals that were in the room at that point, that’s the Prime Minister, other relevant ministers as and when needed, heads of the NHS, and the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Adviser, so a broad range of people?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, yes, and a number of the Prime Minister’s advisers.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: Just dealing with decision-making from the centre, can I just take you, please, to paragraph 43 of your witness statement at page 14.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: What you do say in relation to that is that a lot of the decisions made from the centre were made at the last minute because of lots of back and forth between the departments. So the consequences of that are really what I’m interested in.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And what we see there is that that resulted in decisions being made shortly before they needed to be implemented which caused confusion and problems with effective communication to the public and to others.

Can you give us an example of that please?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. So of course, my department, the Department of Health and Social Care, was overall responsible for health like many things with health, but especially during the pandemic, a number of the decisions that were being made, and I think in this paragraph I’ve used an example of travel restrictions, that other departments would have a huge involvement and in some cases they would be the lead on any potential travel restrictions.

And so an example would be when the Department of Health may have a view that, on travel restrictions, we had on testing, or certain countries – for example, there was a colour-coding of countries at the time – then that would be a view of the health department, but it would require a government decision, but in coming to that decision the view of the department transport would be very strong as well and strongly taken into account –

Counsel Inquiry: Ans would that decision be made with you initially and then changed subsequently?

Mr Sajid Javid: No, I wouldn’t go as far as saying the decision would be made with me. It would be the – I would have a view on that, and come – rather than a decision, I would describe it as a view or recommendation for the government, have a clear view, and that would be based on the advice that I was getting, the judgement call that I was making, and I would feed that view in probably formally through the Cabinet Office, there may be some informal discussions or actually at the 8.30 meeting, or maybe at the end of the 8.30 meeting with one or two of the people that were around the room.

And then there would be typically a formal meeting on that decision and that would be either a Covid-O or Covid-S, depending on the type of decision, and that would be led always by the Cabinet Office, and there would be ministers representing the relevant departments round the table or if it’s held virtually in that way, and then a decision would be made based on the discussion and also the paper that was provided for that meeting.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Mr Sajid Javid: And the paper would be provided by the Cabinet Office.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

If I can now take you to Covid-O and Covid-S, you were not an attendee at Covid-O but you did attend Covid-S?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And you set out within your witness statement – I’m not going to take you through them, a number of different decisions and strands of work that you were involved in –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – within Covid-S. A large number of them relate to vaccines and indeed a large part of your mandate at that time related to vaccines. You are aware that that will be the subject of a later module and so we are not going to deal with that today.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: But dealing with Covid-S, and we’ve heard a little bit about that already and the Covid Taskforce that was in place by this stage.

I just want to deal with some of the challenges that were faced within that environment and one of the ones that you raise in your statement is the late delivery of papers for meetings, agendas and supporting papers and submissions documentation.

You provide three reasons for that, the first of which is that it’s time-sensitive, and so unfortunately couldn’t be avoided?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: An issue arose, had to be dealt with.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The second of those is leaks. You raise that as a significant issue.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, you’ve sat on a number of other committees, decision-making fora, including the National Security Council. Has that ever been a problem previously in those situations?

Mr Sajid Javid: Not in the National Security Council apart from one well known instance, but other than that I think of all the – certainly of all the Cabinet committees that I was a member of, the National Security Council was the one again. Notwithstanding the one exception, that never leaked. And I think that would be for, you know, given the nature of the subject, the sensitivity, I think most people understand that, and clearly that was a good outcome that it didn’t leak.

Otherwise within government, if your question is: had I seen, you know, leaks of, you know, so many –

Counsel Inquiry: Had you experienced the same level of leaks before at any other point in your career?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, during the Brexit negotiations and discussions in, when I was, especially when I was Home Secretary.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Then if I can deal with your third, the third reason, you explain – indeed, it’s within paragraph 45, and it’s here and pulled up on the screen –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – in relation to that – that sometimes infrequently papers were only circulated shortly before the meeting in order to ensure that a particular option was chosen and/or to prevent other options being put forward –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – effectively as a fait accompli.

Just dealing with that, can you give a brief example of when that arose in relation to the Covid response?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. Again, I would probably draw on the example of travel restrictions. We had many meetings on which countries, for example, should be on the red list, the amber list, and so forth, or whether we should have, you know, PCR tests for people coming into the country or LFT tests and a discussion of that nature. And with those in particular I felt that there had been some sort of small group meeting excluding my department, you know, in advance and there had been some decision led by the centre on what the outcome should be, and that’s what the Cabinet Office would charge with making sure the outcome was.

And because it’s a collective decision of the committee that’s often the way that it went, because I might have a different view, and many of these meetings Jenny Harries might be presenting the health case or the CMO or other health experts, but I felt sometimes the decision was pre-determined.

Lady Hallett: Was there anything unusual in that, Mr Javid? I’ve chaired a number of committees and I’m often given pre-meeting briefings, and I often used to say, “So what is the advice you’re giving me that you think this committee, what decision do you think the committee should reach?” So there’s nothing unusual in there being a pre-meeting meeting.

Mr Sajid Javid: That there’s nothing unusual about that at all. I think it depends on, you know, what one believes should be the objectives of that meeting. So the pandemic, the issues were very fast-moving, very fast developing, and there may well be very relevant information that my department might have or indeed some other department that is very relevant to that discussion that hasn’t been taken into account because the pre-meeting just doesn’t have that information or perhaps they’ve not –

Lady Hallett: Sorry, that’s not my point. Forgive me, I didn’t make myself clear. I mean, when I was in this position and I’d have a pre-meeting briefing and I’d say, okay, so the advice that you think the decision I ought to take is X or the board out to take is X. And then I would go into the meeting and see what people said, but I relied on the strong members of the board to come up with the kind of information you had, even if I have been told what the preferred option was.

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right. So in the examples that we’re discussing here, in these meetings there were Covid-S meetings, I would typically be at that meeting. I would make the case, you know, strongly on behalf of, you know, what I believe is right, what my department believes based on all the evidence is right, but sometimes I felt that no matter how strongly I made that case it just wasn’t going to – the decision had just already been made and it wasn’t fully going to be taken into account no matter how strongly I made that case.

Ms Cecil: Thank you.

Moving then, if I may, to other meetings and other relationships, you explain that you had a relationship with your counterpart in opposition?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: How would you describe that relationship? Did it work well?

Mr Sajid Javid: Very good and constructive. There were two counterparts I had during my time as Health Secretary and with both I would describe them as good and constructive.

Counsel Inquiry: In dealing with the relationships between your team and you and your department and the devolved administrations –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – with specific respect to the Covid-19 response, you explain that you had weekly meetings. Was that something that you instituted?

Mr Sajid Javid: It was something I instituted as in, in a sense, that there were not weekly meetings planned when I arrived in the department. There were meetings, and I’m not sure how regular they were between the then Health Secretary and his counterparts in the devolved administrations, but I felt from day one that it’s really important to work together, to listen to each other, and not least because obviously, you know, I care about the United Kingdom but I also understood that England as an administration was making a lot of the key decisions that would affect other – the devolved administrations, such as on travel, we talked about, which is not devolved, the vaccine decisions, and I thought it was important to be working well together and where possible to co-ordinate, especially on vaccines, because I thought it was a huge issue of public confidence if we all were seen to work together in tandem and say the same thing.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. Within your – again, as I say, we’re not going to go into the issue of vaccines today, but within your statement you give an example of an occasion where there was potential divergence but worked together to ensure that one single joint message went out?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, and we had all, even before I became Health Secretary, I think there was a general understanding to accept the advice of the JCVI, the expert committee that advise England and Wales on vaccines. So for the other devolved administration, Scotland and Northern Ireland voluntarily agreed to accept that but also to, when decisions were made by the JCVI to make sure that all the CMOs of the devolved administrations were aware of that and that when it went public that we did it at the same time.

Counsel Inquiry: Alongside those formal meetings there were also informal communications. You had a WhatsApp group –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – effectively between the various health ministers?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, and I felt – I did think there was an importance to that because I wanted the health ministers in the devolved administrations to know that they didn’t just have to wait for a sort of Thursday or Friday meeting when I typically had them, that they could contact me both formally through, you know, our respective offices but also if they had a question, they wanted to reach me, because things were so fast-moving, there were developments all the time, that they could contact me whenever they felt it was appropriate any time of the day, 24/7, I didn’t mind.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, you will have heard various things being said about the use of WhatsApp during the pandemic. Did you find that to be a useful tool or were there any disadvantages?

Mr Sajid Javid: I found it to be a useful tool. I mean, for the purposes of that type of communication, yes, obviously there will be other things that, you know, that would be not useful, but in general I found it a useful tool.

Counsel Inquiry: There was a point later in the pandemic in November when the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government called for a COBR and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: You replied to that letter. There is no reference within the letter to a COBR subsequently taking place, but is it right that a COBR was convened as a consequence of those requests?

Mr Sajid Javid: I believe it was convened as a consequence of those requests, that’s correct.

Also, if I remember correctly, I think the First Ministers did not write to me, they wrote to the Prime Minister. I was asked to reply on behalf of the Prime Minister, which is not unusual, a department replying on behalf of the Prime Minister, and very soon a decision was made by the centre, because it’s always a prime ministerial decision to hold a COBR, to go ahead and have a COBR, which I believe, if I remember correctly, I think Michael Gove, the CDL at the time, chaired.

Counsel Inquiry: He did indeed and we will move to that when we look at some of the decision-making. It concerned Omicron.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: But it relation to that, was that the first COBR that had been convened since you took up office in June of 2021?

Mr Sajid Javid: Since I returned to government, I believe so.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, what I’d like to do now, Mr Javid, is turn to your role as Chancellor.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And just have a look at how the situation developed in relation to Covid-19 through January and February from your perspective in the Treasury.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: It’s fair to say that your involvement was relatively limited because of your limited time within that position.

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: But with regard to the COBRs that we’ve already heard about in late January and early February, is it right that you did not attend any of those?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right: I did not attend.

Counsel Inquiry: Can you recall if you were sent any notes of those at all?

Mr Sajid Javid: Notes … I … first of all, I didn’t attend, but that doesn’t mean to say the Treasury didn’t attend.

Counsel Inquiry: The Treasury were represented?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. So if there was a COBR, I would expect there would always be a Treasury representation, and there may well also be a senior Treasury representation. And what I mean by that is that the Treasury is the only department that has two Cabinet ministers. So it could be the Chief Secretary attends, so it’s still very senior representation of the Treasury.

Also, it would be – I can’t think of a single instance, I think, where a Chancellor would attend a COBR that is not chaired by the Prime Minister. So I think those COBRs you are referring to were all chaired by the Health Secretary.

Counsel Inquiry: They were indeed and I’m going to move to that now in terms of why you did not attend.

You refer to, effectively, a convention and an informal rule in relation to COBRs that the more senior the individual in the chair, the more likely it is that other ministers will attend.

Now, at that time it was the Minister for Health and Social Care, and you at that point were the Chancellor. So you occupied one of the four great offices of state, so ranked effectively above him. Would that be the reason that you did not attend on that occasion?

Mr Sajid Javid: I don’t … I’m … it’s not the reason, as in if there was a – if there was still a good reason to attend, I would have attended, but it’s … the COBR when it had been called, typically what would happen is my department would be told, my private office would be told, and we would normally, based on the private office, would give advice based on who’s called – well, all departments would be called by the Prime Minister but who is attending. Basically, who is chairing the COBR. And they would have known it’s being chaired by the Secretary of State for Health, which would indicate that although because it’s a COBR it’s important because, you know, that’s what COBRs are for, that if it was even more important the Prime Minister would have chaired it, or perhaps if there were some particular, you know, unusual reason where the Prime Minister could not chair it – you know, for example, the fact that he’s travelling on some foreign business and the COBR had suddenly called – then there might well be a request for the Chancellor to attend. But there was no such request, as far as I’m aware, for the Chancellor to attend, and that would explain why, you know, other ministers in the Treasury would have attended.

Counsel Inquiry: Just dealing with that point in terms of when the Prime Minister chairs a COBR –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – that in and of itself is a signal, isn’t it, across government?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And COBR is an effective lever in that respect –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – going back to those cross-government issues that you were talking about earlier?

Mr Sajid Javid: That is correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, dealing with the COBR and Covid update, you were provided with a short briefing on coronavirus on 24 January of 2020, and that’s INQ000328748. We see that here.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: It gives details of Professor Sir Chris Whitty’s update at the COBR meeting, effectively nothing really new aside from that that was already being reported in the news at that stage.

It just then goes on to discuss the triggers:

“… it will be the responsibility of the CMO to assess whether those points have been met … thought that the outbreak development will move fairly slowly, and it will take a few weeks before it is an issue here.”

As I say, this is 24 January.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course, things changed much more rapidly than that and the first cases were notified on the 31st, less than a week later?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: It talks then about the other triggers for reassessment.

The next line down reads:

“The risk to the UK is low and is expected to remain low.”

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: What was your understanding of that? Did you understand the risk being low to mean as at that day or did you understand it in terms of the expected to remain low for the immediate future, short-term or intermediate term?

Mr Sajid Javid: I would have understood expected to remain low for the sort of in the sort of next few weeks, next couple of months it’s expected to remain low.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. Then the remainder of the update really deals with the response in terms of ports and what was taking place there, leafleting and so on?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: In respect to the Treasury’s focus at that time in relation to the potential pandemic, is it fair to say it was very much focused on the Chinese economy and any potential overspill in that regard in terms of global economy in the UK?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. I would phrase it slightly differently, if I may.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Sajid Javid: It was considered – the Treasury was concerned about the impact on the UK economy.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Sajid Javid: You know, primarily the UK economy, because of what was happening in China, given the fact that China was the second largest economy in the world, and also as an open trading nation the UK would clearly be impacted by that.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. If I can just bring that up for one moment, it’s INQ000328752. This is a submission that you received on 5 January. It’s a briefing about the impact of Covid.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: As you identify, it predominantly focuses on the Chinese economy but in terms of its potential impact on the UK in that respect.

Bit is it reflective of how the threat was being viewed by government at that point, that any impact would be relatively limited and very much viewed through the impacts or trickle-down consequences of the impact on the Chinese economy?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. So this is 4 February 2020 and, as you can see, this is a note to me from the Treasury team. And, as we’ve just referred, to I think it sort of is very much focused on the economic impact on the UK from a sort of China slowdown, perhaps international travel restrictions.

Your question, is this a fair reflection of the view of government, I think because it’s focused on the economy it’s more a view of the Treasury.

Counsel Inquiry: The Treasury.

Mr Sajid Javid: But the input into this in terms of the pandemic and the pathway – I guess it wasn’t even necessarily referred to as a pandemic then – but this new virus, would have come from the health department notwithstanding the Treasury itself does have scientific advisers as well.

Counsel Inquiry: You then sent a subsequent letter to the Prime Minister regarding the economic impacts of Covid-19.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: That again was sent in February of 2020?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Setting out how effectively Her Majesty’s Treasury, as it was then, saw the key risk to the UK economy. At that stage we see here on the first page it’s a risk to global economy. If we can go to page 3, please, it sets out the potential risks to the UK economy.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Effectively, if the impact – it deals firstly with:

“… the economic impact would be largely from a slowdown in China and could be in the range of 0.1-0.2 [percentage points]. However, the impact of an outbreak of Covid-19 on the UK economy is highly uncertain …”

It then goes on to explain it’s really – as you can see here, it predominantly focuses on supply chains and employment –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and timing work. Those are the areas on which it focuses. It then continues to set out the initial Treasury analysis and it bases it on a:

“… reasonable worst-case scenario of a UK pandemic flu outbreak [it explains] 50% of the UK workforce are infected … 2.5% mortality rate and a duration of four months … “

So, as I say, this is based –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – so this is based very much on the UK pandemic in terms of a flu pandemic?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: It’s starkly different to what was eventually to eventuate?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Sorry … with references to gross outputs and GDP, falling of 1.5 to 2% and of course as we know it was much more significant than that?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And the pandemic lasting significantly longer than four months. Did you receive a response to this letter?

Mr Sajid Javid: I don’t recall a response to this letter.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of the Treasury, at this point, and until your resignation –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – is it right that you did not receive any advice about the impact of NPIs or a pandemic upon the UK economy in that respect – no modelling, no advice?

Mr Sajid Javid: Well, as you, Ms Cecil, you just referred to in this note, and this is on – I think this note would have been on the back of the advice which was on the piece of evidence you showed just before this, I think this is a repetition of those numbers that were in that note that was given to you by the Treasury, I think the assumption the Treasury made at the time was on a pandemic but based on flu.

So in terms of your question regarding NPIs, I don’t recall at this time, which was – would have been early February –

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

Mr Sajid Javid: – as I had left by the 13th, receiving or indeed asking for, to be fair, any kind of advice on, you know, NPIs, non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Counsel Inquiry: And indeed you do make that clear in your witness statement – it’s at paragraph 18 and 26 – that you didn’t see any modelling in respect of NPIs?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Any economic plans in respect of the response or any discussion about vulnerable or at-risk groups or financial packages during your time as Chancellor?

Mr Sajid Javid: No.

Lady Hallett: Going back to you didn’t recall a response to this letter. Have I got it wrong, Mr Javid? It looks to me like a briefing by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Prime Minister.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Lady Hallett: And you weren’t expecting a response, you were providing information.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. This would be possibly an unsolicited sort of note from me to the Prime Minister. I think that’s the most likely – I don’t think the Prime Minister had asked me for this. It was me, you know, setting it out to him. But I would – you’re right, my Lady, I would not necessarily have expected a response to that, certainly in writing. The most I might mention it to me at our next meeting but I wouldn’t have expected a formal response.

Lady Hallett: Or your private offices may have acknowledged it between them.

Mr Sajid Javid: That will certainly have happened.

Ms Cecil: And if that had happened you would never have been presumably any the wiser.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, but I don’t think – I would need to be told that because there’s, you know, my private – one of the jobs of my private office was to try and keep me informed of what they thought was necessary.

Counsel Inquiry: Moving to another issue during this period, and that’s one of border controls, that was a particular concern of yours –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and continued to be a concern of yours throughout the pandemic, including later when you returned as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: With respect to that, you had had a number of conversations starting from 31 January with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Foreign Secretary – so Matthew Hancock, Dominic Raab – about your concerns; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You were told at that point that it was not an effective barrier, in short, unless other countries were doing the same?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah. If I may, just to expand on that a little bit.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Sajid Javid: What had happened was that – you can see from the evidence that you’ve shown, the kind of advice I was getting from the Treasury which, you know, by necessity was obviously economic focused and, you know, understandably.

I was also, you know, in terms of the broader sort of issues around the virus, the spread of the virus in China, to some other countries, just getting concerns, outside of my responsibility as Chancellor but just more as a member of the government, not just thinking as the Chancellor and I distinctly remember the weekend, and it would have been around the time, you showed me a piece of evidence there, I think it was 24 January which, if I’m not mistaken, was a Friday, so that weekend I had dinner with friends and – they had nothing to do with government, they were just friends but they were, obviously – you know, in government, as ministers, you’re constantly, you know, you know, you’re not interacting with the real world in the ways that you might want to. You’re constantly busy, I was walking, I was in my ministerial car.

So I was getting this information, really for the first time, from friends that were very concerned about the virus in China. One of them did a lot of business in China, and also one of them had a friend that was an epidemiologist, and he was expressing the concerns that had been expressed to him. So it just made me much more concerned that weekend.

That is why a few days later, I think on 31 January, when there was a Cabinet meeting – I believe a regional Cabinet meeting, so outside London – I got hold of Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock, brought them together at the sidelines of the Cabinet meeting and expressed my concern and said I’m really concerned about this virus what more can you tell me but especially I’m concerned about why are we not doing anything about our borders, and flights, in particular from China, because obviously we had so many flights.

I remember Dominic Raab quite rightly saying to me – at first he shared the concern, both of them did, but he also said, “That’s an unusual concern for a Chancellor to have, because I thought your team would be telling you not to stop flights” and I said, “Well, this isn’t about my team, this is just about what might be the right thing to do”. And then I said I wanted a meeting with the CMO. Up until that point, I’d never spoken to the CMO or anyone in the Health Department.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can bring you to that. You did receive advice, I’ll take that very shortly, if I may, from your department.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And that advice was not to stop flights, partly because of the impact economically?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And you described that as your officials were thinking it was also odd that you were asking about stopping flights?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And could not understand why you were pushing it?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And in respect of that, just stepping back for a moment and looking at the role of the Treasury –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – you identify that you do have concerns in that respect with regard to how the Treasury sees that, because they are very much focused purely on the economics and the economy?

Mr Sajid Javid: That would be their primary concern, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, of course.

One observation, and criticism that’s been made of the Treasury, is that it produced economic analysis when it suited their policy objectives and would not necessarily produce the counter-analysis or the counterargument or more broad analysis, economic in terms of the economy.

Is that something that accorded with your time there within Treasury?

Mr Sajid Javid: During my time at the Treasury, including my time as a junior minister in the Treasury as well, my view was if you wanted a sort of counter-analysis, a counter_narrative, you had to ask for it as a minister it would not be something that would automatically be presented to you if you’re faced with a policy decision.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. In terms of the way that it operates across government and feeds in those analyses, would it only do so when it was advancing a policy objective?

Mr Sajid Javid: When you say “it” do you mean the Treasury to government?

Counsel Inquiry: The Treasury, yes.

Mr Sajid Javid: Generally, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, just going back to the chronology, you were explaining that you met then with the CMO, Professor Sir Chris Whitty. You had a conversation in relation to him but, again, you were provided with the same advice, that it was of limited use or utility in relation to stopping the pandemic; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. I demanded a meeting with the health department and the key officials after I’d spoken to Matt Hancock and Dominic Raab. And that meeting, I wanted it asap, and I believe it took place then on 3 February. The ministers all of us and our civil servants we were physically in the meeting. It was in the Foreign Office –

Counsel Inquiry: If I can just draw you back to the specific advice that you were being provided with at that time.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: As I say, I just want to summarise it, if I may.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The scientific advice was that it was not of great benefit effectively.

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right. Sir Chris Whitty was on the phone and the advice was that having border restriction – having flight restrictions with China would have, you know, very little impact and so it wasn’t worth it.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, and you ultimately accepted that advice?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You later were to raise concerns within the Treasury about possible wider economic impact of Covid-19 beyond the Chinese economy and import/export; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, I believe so.

Counsel Inquiry: Then we come to a stage where on 13 February you resigned and that ceased your involvement then –

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: – with regards to the Covid-19 response?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: At that stage, just taking again that part very briefly, if I may, you went to the backbenches?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You very much took, and you explained with your statement, that you took the decision not to get involved with any of the groups that were being set up or in lobbying or anything of that nature.

Mr Sajid Javid: Ys.

Counsel Inquiry: And so was not involved with the government response until the following June of 2021?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: There was some communication between you and Matt Hancock in relation to borders in January of 2021. Do you recall that in terms of a WhatsApp conversation?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, I think I do.

Counsel Inquiry: Again raising: why haven’t we closed the borders?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You explain: it should be for all travellers, the benefits outweigh the costs. And the response that you get is: have you raised that with the boss, ie, the Prime Minister. You explain that you are doing lots of research on the pandemic generally.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Did you ever raise that with the Prime Minister at that time?

Mr Sajid Javid: I don’t recall raising that with him, and I wasn’t in government.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course. Turning now –

Mr Sajid Javid: I’m sorry, if I may just add that I think it was to do with the Delta variant which was, I think, at that time very prevalent in South East Asia and we had a lot of flights in and out of South East Asia, that’s why I raised it. And also you slightly alluded to it, but I think it’s important is that although I was on the backbenches and not in government, one of the things I did take upon myself at that time was I became a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy school and to do a research project and the reserve project was on the pandemic and broadly how countries in general at that time were responding to it and how they were taking different approaches, and I was trying to understand that and trying to think about that in the context of what the UK was doing.

So during that process I was doing a lot of research; I talked to a lot of people; I talked to ministers in other countries; I talked to, you know, epidemiologists and stuff. So my knowledge was based on that independent research that I was doing.

Counsel Inquiry: I now want to go on and deal with your time as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if I may.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: In June of 2021.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, just so that we can just fix that in terms of the timing, the roadmap had been published earlier that year out of lockdown. Step 4 was due to take place on 14 June but had been delayed until 19 July. So it was within that period?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: Subsequent to that, on 14 September plan B was announced and then implemented on 8 December, and then face masks and so on came in on 10 December. So it’s that period that I’m now focusing on, if I may, and then moving into Omicron, the new variant that emerged in November of 2021.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You came in, as I say, in June 2021, part-way through that roadmap. Your initial involvement, was it in discussions concerning the lifting of restrictions that were to come as part of –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, when I arrived in the department, which I believe was 26 June 2021, the main discussion that was going on with respect to the pandemic within government was what’s the right time to move to step 4, you know, so the lifting of some of the restrictions.

Counsel Inquiry: At that point it had already been pushed back?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And 19 July, was that a date that had been alighted upon?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, and also another date that had been alighted upon was 12 July as a decision day.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you recall communications referring to it as “Freedom Day”?

Mr Sajid Javid: When you say communications, what do you mean, please?

Counsel Inquiry: Government communications, how it was being packaged.

Mr Sajid Javid: No, I do recall hearing references to July 19 as “Freedom Day”, but if your question is within sort of government documents and/or … no, I don’t.

Counsel Inquiry: Was it a government strategy in terms of outward-facing communications to your knowledge either within the DHSC or within Number 10?

Mr Sajid Javid: Not to call it “Freedom Day”. In fact, to the contrary, I recall it saying very clearly during the lead-up to July 19 that we must – we as in government – we must be clear that it is not “Freedom Day”. So it’s really important that whilst we remove some of the, you know, statutory, you know, restrictions, that people in general don’t feel that the pandemic’s over, everything’s back to normal, because far from it, the pandemic was still – you know, the virus was still very much around, and also there’s a bunch of other measures and restrictions that will stay in place: for example, around, you know, border control; the test, trace and isolate policy.

So it was really important, I think, to the contrary of “Freedom Day”, it was anything but “Freedom Day”.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of your position and restrictions, at that point were you advocating for a loosening of restrictions?

Mr Sajid Javid: I was keen to see a loosening of restrictions if the evidence allowed it.

Counsel Inquiry: Did you consider that the evidence did allow it in summer 2021?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, I did.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you recall – if I may just call up Patrick Vallance’s notes, please, INQ00273901, this relates to 30 June 2021, a meeting with Covid Dashboard. Page 613, thank you.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: “ONS shows big increase in numbers since last week, nearly a doubling. Rates are very clearly up in children.”

It continues on and we can see that Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education is in the room, you’re also in the room. It records Gavin Williamson saying children shouldn’t be asked to do things adults aren’t but then has no knowledge of the ongoing study – that presumably is a study into transmission. It then continues:

“The Saj comes in.”

Is that a reference to you?

Mr Sajid Javid: I believe so.

Counsel Inquiry: “The study will only determine the policy for next term.”

So that’s school term, is it, that’s referenced there?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. I believe so. I mean, obviously this is someone else’s diary entry but –

Counsel Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Sajid Javid: – I believe that’s what –

Counsel Inquiry: It records that you started to make policy on the hoof with you and the Saj and Williamson jostling for dominance and air time. Do you recall what this related to?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think it – so clearly this is Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary entries, as you said. It’s a sort of personal reflection by him about how he felt from this meeting. But I think what he’s referring to is a very live discussion at the time which was around the restrictions on school children and especially around, you know, the policy at the time of if one child got Covid in a class, the whole class was sent home –

Counsel Inquiry: Isolate.

Mr Sajid Javid: – and that was having a huge impact on schooling and ultimately the life chances of children. So it was a discussion about that.

The other thing, if I point out about this discussion, just I do get is relevant, it’s dated 30 June: I’d only been in position for four days.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Sajid Javid: So whatever information I had at the time, I’d had, you know, four days to sort of learn that, as it were, and obviously I’d learned a lot more in the coming days and weeks.

Counsel Inquiry: Can I just ask you about the last line. We see that Michael Gove also comes in and gets involved in the discussion?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: It appears that no decision as a consequence was made. I’m afraid we don’t know who says this, but somebody says afterwards they are “very worried about their new Secretary of State, never wants to learn before a decision, will rush into macho right-wing decisions playing to the audience.”

Does that characterisation from your perspective fit what you were doing at that point?

Mr Sajid Javid: No.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

If I can then take you, please, to the discussions that were then going on in July – so again you’re very new in the job?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: 2 July 2021: it’s page 614, the same document, please. It’s a further meeting, and what we see in this meeting is a difference of views between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and Michael Gove and you in relation to what should you be doing and the return to work. Mask wearing, effectively what NPIs should be put in place.

We see a more cautious approach –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – being recorded in relation to yours and Michael Gove’s views and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor against that.

What we see here is in terms of the situation update: cases are up, hospital admissions are up, the Prime Minister is downbeat, talks of grim predictions. You say we are going to have to learn to live with it, and die with it says Prime Minister. Do you recall that conversation?

Mr Sajid Javid: I can recall me saying that, we are going to have to live with it. I – I don’t specifically recall the Prime Minister saying, “And die with it” but it’s possible.

Counsel Inquiry: Are they the type of words that the Prime Minister did use?

Mr Sajid Javid: It’s possible, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You see then the Chancellor –

Mr Sajid Javid: It doesn’t mean – just if I may just on that, is that the Prime Minister in these meetings he often, you know, said things that it’s sometimes hard to tell between what he actually thought versus, you know, a joke or something, even when you’re discussing something as important as this, something to lighten the mood.

Counsel Inquiry: We see here the Chancellor is pushing very hard for the faster opening up and fuller opening up. At this point, the living with Covid strategy was still under development?

Lady Hallett: Pausing there, before that gets misreported, it’s not necessarily a reference by the then Prime Minister to lighten the mood; it could be taken in many ways. So I think we need to say that if it was said, which you don’t necessarily remember, it doesn’t mean it had that kind of intention.Things have got misreported, as you will appreciate, so I just want to make point. Sorry to interrupt.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, thank you.

Ms Cecil: I just want to continue down, if I may.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And it continues to record some further discussion about making masks voluntary; what will ministers say; they will do sometimes: I will, sometimes I won’t wear one?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And we see later references to that also?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: “Are we going to encourage people to wear masks? Are we going to continue with this bollocks? It says he wants everyone back at work. We can’t have the bollocks of consulting with employees and trade unions. They all need to come back to work, all the malingering, work-shy people.”

And then goes on to ask or say:

“How much of the CS [presumably Civil Service] is back? How would you be able to tell?”

In terms of the consulting with employees and trade unions, was that something that the government was open to doing or did this, or was this the general attitude towards government in relation to trade unions?

Mr Sajid Javid: Other than the health trade unions, I wasn’t dealing with the trade unions, and I think this is probably a reference to the wider sort of group of trade unions, so I wouldn’t have been involved in that.

Counsel Inquiry: By the end of the meeting, what we have here is it ends by joking:

“Please record you’ve overcome my natural caution and bullied me into opening up.”

At that point it’s also recorded that the CMO and indeed Professor Sir Patrick Vallance have made the risks very clear. That’s in relation to rising numbers; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think that’s right, yes. And it also says here, if I may point out, it says basically it’s the PM and Chancellor against the more cautious Saj in that –

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

Mr Sajid Javid: I think the cautious point refers to something you you touched on earlier, Ms Cecil, which is that it wasn’t “Freedom Day” and restrictions were going to stay in place and it’s really important to get that message across.

Counsel Inquiry: Is it fair to say that at various points in thw autumn, so we move through that, you were also more cautious in terms of your advice?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. Generally, that would be fair.

Counsel Inquiry: And lessening of restrictions in general terms, althoug there are some exceptions.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes?

Mr Sajid Javid: We move to 5 July, if I may, page 615. We see there it’s a Covid-O reference. Cases are still going up but Prime Minister wants a considerable package of freedoms. We see references to Gavin Williamson and schools. You come in to say the message is the pandemic is far from over. The link between cases and hospitalisation is weakened but not broken?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: What were your concerns at that point?

Mr Sajid Javid: Well, firstly, it’s something we referred to, my Lady, which is the pandemic was far from over, that it wasn’t “Freedom Day”. We still are in a pandemic and, yes, I felt that maybe for reasons we might come on to later that July, sort of leading into the summer, was the better time – there’s no perfect time – but was the better time to try opening up. So I strongly felt that and at the end I think we made the right set of decisions around opening up in the summer.

But what I wanted to get across was that people shouldn’t get this message that it’s over and we (must all remain cautious. Even if there’s no government restrictions, people should be advised to remain cautious. For example, if they’re meeting vulnerable people, if they’re meeting elderly relatives, going into a care home, things like that.

Also, there’s this point here about the link between cases in hospitalisation is weakened but not broken, I did say that a number of times around this time because, well, I meant it. There was some sort of sense amongst some people, I felt, within, you know, decision-making that the vaccines meant that hospitalisation won’t happen or there will be a lot less of it, and my fear was that, yes, the link is weaker, which is good in that there’s less of a link between infection and hospitalisation, but there was still a link and, as I say here, it wasn’t – we mustn’t pretend or think that there is no link any more. Clearly there was.

Counsel Inquiry: We see here that the Prime Minister refers to the decision to postpone – that’s step 4 presumably?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – of the plan and it was postponed from June into July, so the right one because it gave us more time to vaccinate those that’s broken the link between cases and hospitalisations so is it fair to say that you had. Different views on that link at that point between –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, I think I was very concerned about that link and I felt on the point – you, Ms Cecil, you just made about vaccination is at that time even a coule of weeks made a big difference in the the pace that vaccinations were going in terms of people are either getting their first vaccination or their second.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

If I may just deal with one discrete point –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – please the luncheon adjournment and it just deal with DHSC and the background to all of this. There were preparations, or certainly discussion about the winter, planning for winter of 2021; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: As I say, I appreciate this is still very much within the infancy of your time as the minister.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Were you aware of the Academy for Medical Sciences: Preparing for a Challenging Winter report that had been commissioned and circulated?

Mr Sajid Javid: You mean by 5 –

Counsel Inquiry: In July?

Mr Sajid Javid: I don’t recall it specifically, I don’t.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you recall whether or not DHSC were gearing up their plans for the winter?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, they were.

Counsel Inquiry: They were. And when you say they were, do you know what they had done at that point?

Mr Sajid Javid: I would have probably – I think this would have been less than two weeks into my new job, but I’m sure I would have had a briefing already on where they had got to with their plans.

I do remember some concern around flu and the fact that the previous winter, you know, just gone in 2020 there was a lot more – less prevalence of flu because of the NPIs and I recall being told that there could be a real resurgence in flu around the winter because there was just less natural immunity around, and having a number of discussions around flu vaccinations in particular around that.

Counsel Inquiry: Were you aware of concerns from other people that DHSC weren’t gearing up in that way in terms of operational accountability and with regard to a clear strategic plan?

Mr Sajid Javid: No, I can’t say I was.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can just call up, please, page 489, the same document. What we have here is a note from Sir Patrick Vallance again, in relation to DHSC, so the actual department:

“It is clear once again DHSC has done nothing, goes on to have a meeting with Gove, policy meeting trying to look at risks for winter. No one had looked at the AMS report [that’s the Academy for Medical Sciences: Preparing for a Challenging Winter report or another report} it was just with people just lobbing in. No clear operational accountability.”

Was that your experience of DHSC when you entered it from that June/July period?

Mr Sajid Javid: No, not at all.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of the performance of DHSC, how would you assess that at that period in time?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. So obviously I can only assess it for the time I was there –

Counsel Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Sajid Javid: – but in my experience I felt the organisation, the key people obviously that I was dealing with on a daily basis within it were very professional, very committed, incredibly hard-working, and I would actually go as far as to say amongst some of the best civil servants that I’ve worked with, including the expert advisers.

I think – I thought at the time, I still do, that the permanent secretary at the DHSC was exceptional in his abilities and were most civil servants htat I dealt with, including a UKHSA. I mean, I was impressed and I can – I think that means more when you’ve got, when one has more to compare it to and I had worked in or ran five departments before I arrived at DHSC and I can make a proper comparison to other departments, and I think it was very professionally run, but they had a lot on their plate.

Ms Cecil: Thank you.

My Lady, now may be an appropriate moment.

Lady Hallett: Certainly.

I’m sorry that we can’t finish you before lunch, Mr Javid.

The Witness: No, not at all.

Lady Hallett: But we will definitely finish you today, because we have another witness coming this afternoon.

Mr Sajid Javid: Thank you.

The President: I shall return at2 o’clock.

The Witness: Thank you.

(1.03 pm)

(The short adjournment)

(2.00 pm)

Lady Hallett: Sorry if everyone is getting very hot, I’m afraid it’s my fault, I was getting very cold.

Ms Cecil: It’s warmer now.

Mr Javid, we were dealing with the position in summer of 2021. I just want to ask you about a discrete topic that arose at that time. At that stage a high prevalence strategy, high prevalence of Covid-19 infection, was being considered and pursued; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: I’m not sure exactly what you mean by a “high prevalence strategy”.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can assist, on 20 July a paper –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – was presented to the Covid-O group, that’s entitled “High prevalence planning: summer response”, and that sets out effectively moving through the major cross-departmental risks of high prevalence. So this is the policy that’s in place in the summer. NPIs have been relaxed at this stage, plan B yet to come, and so it’s effectively living with a higher incidence of Covid-19.

My question in relation to that aspect is that various patient representative groups, Long Covid SOS, Long Covid Support, Long Covid Kids, had written letters to you outlining concern about the move to step 4 at that point, slightly earlier in the pandemic. They complained and made representations to you that Long Covid was being ignored in those policy-making decisions in relation to high prevalence strategy moving forward, it was barely mentioned in the roadmap out of lockdown, and they asked that that be considered in policy. You may recall also that they were participants in Cabinet Office discussions and cross-Whitehall groups at the time, there were roundtables, and we’ve heard a little bit about those already, so I’m not going to go there in any detail.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: But given at that stage that there were no pharmaceutical interventions, indeed to a large extent remains the position now, to treat Long Covid, was there a conscious decision to accept the increased incidence of cases of Long Covid arising from that corresponding increase in infection from Covid-19?

Mr Sajid Javid: I think that the – it was well understood that, as we start removing the NPIs, albeit keep some of them in place, but start removing a large number of the NPIs, that I think what the words “high prevalence” then referred to is there would be at least for some period an increase in the number of infections. I think that was understood.

And then to the – addressing your point, Ms Cecil, round Long Covid, it would mean – you know, given the – you know, to get Long Covid you have to be infected in the first place – that as infections rise there would be a rise – no one I think at the time knew to what extent perhaps, but there would be a rise in Long Covid, at least had to be considered.

Counsel Inquiry: To what extent was that factor taken into account when reaching those policies?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Relaxing restrictions, not maintaining testing and various other –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, my view is that I think overall it was taken into account in – for a couple of reasons.

First I’d say that it was well understood, certainly by me and, I think, you know, the key people making the decisions, including the Prime Minister and his office, that having NPIs in place were not a risk-free option. Within – there were costs that come with NPIs.

So, for example, obviously I was concerned about health more than anything else, and obviously top of that list for me was the virus and the pandemic, but there were also associated health factors linked directly to the pandemic in terms of, for example, you know, mental health issues, the fact that people were not able to go to the NHS, for instance, in the normal way to see other sort of – other health challenges dealt with. So I had broader health concerns.

But also within Cabinet, so more broadly within government, there were understandably, you know, you referred to, in our earlier session, for example, some of the concerns around education and children, there were concerns around people being able to sort of go to work in the normal way, there were concerns with other departments, in fact every department would have some issue, we were talking about the transport department. So what the government was trying to do was to take a balanced approach to all of this, but on the basis that the NPIs couldn’t exist – should not exist a moment longer than they are necessary, and if the evidence supported it we had to find a time to remove the NPIs.

If I may add, one thing I distinctly remember at the time, and it came up in a number of discussions with the advice that I was receiving and I’m sure the Prime Minister was receiving from the CMO, the CSA and others, was that when we asked about, you know, the timing of removing these NPIs, and does it – what do they think and does it make sense, one thing that was said a number of times is that there’s no perfect time to remove NPIs, there never will be, but if you are going to do this and consider it, it’s much better to do it in the summer, because the virus likes the winter, people are more likely indoors in winter, you know, new variants have typically appeared in the winter, although, you know, we couldn’t be sure about it of course, and children were off school in the summer. So summer was a better time versus winter to do it. And if you don’t do it in the summer, remove some of the NPIs, then you are likely left with those NPIs going into the winter, then it’s too late, and therefore you have this really extended period of NPIs, and then all the costs that come with that as well.

So those are all the sort of factors – in a sense the factors that went into making that decision in July 2021.

Counsel Inquiry: Just picking up on that, that was when the vaccine roll-out was also going to be taking –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – was continuing to be –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah –

Counsel Inquiry: – throughout that period –

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Mr Sajid Javid: – at a very strong pace.

Counsel Inquiry: Yeah. So in terms of a policy decision, was it considered that that was a trade-off worth making when taking into account those other issues that you’ve identified, whether it be schools, mental health and so on?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, it – yes, in that – I would just add, broaden that a bit, you know, to govern is to choose, and ministers are always making trade-offs. Every decision pretty much I ever made as a minister is a trade-off, and this is a decision that was made for the reasons I just articulated, but it’s important that we had – obviously the – what we had then were the – unlike the previous summer, the year before, we had a vaccine, millions of people were getting vaccinated, many of them now turning up for their second vaccine, we had a lot more treatments, because – I understand what you said, and you were quite right, Ms Cecil, about treatment, I think you said specifically for Long Covid, it was still very much early days of the virus then in it, so I think it was hard to make a determination around the long-term impact of infection when we were – only had the sort of short-term experience at that time. But there was a lot more testing, there was a lateral flow testing, there were the test, trace and isolate rules and the international border rules, so it was, yes, a number of NPIs being removed but also a number of sort of protections and precautions were being kept in place as well.

Counsel Inquiry: May I ask you one final question in relation to Long Covid, and given that that was the choice taken –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – why was there not at the same time a public awareness campaign warning people of the specific risks specifically of Long Covid, so that people were aware that albeit they may not have a severe reaction to the infection, for example people in low-risk groups for the actual Covid infection itself, may nonetheless still contract Long Covid?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, I think that – I mean, certainly from the – the Health Department and also, if I recall, many of the things I was saying at the time, including on – but not just in Parliament, but in media appearances, Long Covid was something I was very much aware of and very concerned about. So, for example, during that summer or round about that summer there were a number of decisions that I made around Long Covid to, for example, to increase the funding available for research, I think it was £30 million, I increased it to £50 million –

Counsel Inquiry: If I can just pause you there, though. The question I’m asking is specifically about a public health communications strategy, a campaign so that people were aware of the potential risks of contracting Long Covid and so that they could take their own precautions if they so chose to.

Was any thought given to that, to a public campaign?

Mr Sajid Javid: I don’t – so if you ask me do I recall specifically a discussion around a campaign on Long Covid, I don’t. I recall many discussions that included issues and concerns around Long Covid, you know, specifically, and that is why, you know, for example I increased the research spending, I increased the number of –

Counsel Inquiry: As I say, I understand that, Mr Javid.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: My question really is very much focused, and I think

you’ve answered it, the short answer is no.

Mr Sajid Javid: Not a – I don’t remember thought being given to

a specific campaign.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Then if I can move on through the time, obviously

there came a time when the Omicron variant was


Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: First identified in November 2021, South Africa, and then of course you were updated in your role by the Chief Medical Officer and others?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Just dealing with that for a moment and moving through that, at that stage, the advice was that it was highly infectious?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: It was unclear if the vaccines would work for this particular variant?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: But at that stage severity was unknown –

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: – in terms of morbidity and mortality?

If I can just call up Sir Patrick Vallance’s notes at page 529 for a moment, please, I just want to deal with some of the discussions that were taking place in late November 2021.

NERVTAG and SAGE have met and discussed the position, this is 26 November, he records:

“How bad is this? We don’t know. JVT [Jonathan Van-Tam] says he has never seen NERVTAG so rattled. We need a policy …”

Continues onwards:

“… No 10 meeting PM very down about new Variant. Exasperated. Afterwards, No 10 says they are at war with No 11 …”

If I can just ask you about that very briefly. Were you aware of any concerns at that point, issues between Number 10 and Number 11 with regard to Covid?

Mr Sajid Javid: Not specifically. On most things my experience was that Number 10 and Number 11 at that time moved together.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Separately, if we carry on:

“… [and] that anything Javid says they assume is wrong.”

What was your relationship like at that point with Number 10?

Mr Sajid Javid: It was getting testy, because of Omicron. And that – as you say, this is dated – so 26 November. My first – so things were moving very fast. My first

briefing I received on Omicron, full briefing, was on

24 November, and I was very concerned by what I had

heard and what the experts had told me.

Just to pick up a point, Ms Cecil, you said on the

vaccines, it wasn’t – so, as you said, they said it was

much, much more infectious, from the evidence they had

at the time, and clearly that turned out to be the case,

so much more infectious. And also what was in my mind

then was that I knew that each new variant had – you know, so when we had Alpha, Beta, Delta, they had been much more infectious than the other, and now this was much more infectious than Delta, which was already highly infectious, I was deeply concerned about that.

But also, with regard to the vaccines, what I was told was that – not that the vaccines didn’t work, they may not work, because they’re – they may well be much less effective – ##: Effective.

Mr Sajid Javid: Right? So their effectiveness would be much less. And even a sort of a 5 percentage point decline would be significant if you’ve got a lot more infections. And then the point about severity is that we couldn’t be sure on the severity – is it less, more? – at the time there was no data. So I was deeply concerned, especially about the infectiousness, and I wanted us to take action and – some action, and take it ASAP. And – and I did start to take action straightaway: I think the next day I started – I announced some travel restrictions, I made a statement in Parliament on the 26th, and –

Counsel Inquiry: I’m just going to interrupt you there, Mr Javid, because we are going to move through some key moments.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: But there are some structural issues that I just want to deal with in relation to Omicron, and of course we have your witness statement which sets out the chronology.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: So just to very quickly summarise, throughout that November, December period, SAGE’s advice was that the infection rate was rising rapidly?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And with regard to that they were advising that certain actions potentially be considered to be taken.

You were, as I understand it from your witness statement, in terms of some of those frictions that were arising, were certainly more on the cautious side and wanted some additional restrictions put into place because of your concerns about Omicron; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, if I can just go through, so on 8 December plan B is announced –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – is implemented, comes into force I think on 10 December?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: If I can just call up some meetings very quickly now, at page 555, please, of Patrick Vallance’s dairies, there is a meeting on 18 December of 2021, and that records that you were not invited to the meeting yesterday – I’m afraid it must be a subsequent …

But at any event, what it records is that you were not invited, and indeed what we see again on 31 December of 2021 is a similar meeting taking place with discussions about plan B, discussions about what to do, in fact – and indeed in relation to your advice also. But again it’s recorded it’s “bizarre to have this meeting without [the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care]”.

Were you aware of these meetings taking place at the time?

Mr Sajid Javid: No.

Counsel Inquiry: No. When did you first find out about them?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yesterday, when I saw this extract.

Counsel Inquiry: Why do you consider that you were not invited and present at that –

Mr Sajid Javid: Well, look, I – I can’t be sure, because obviously – you know, there was decisions for others. One thing I can tell you, it would be odd to – you know, these – obviously I don’t know about this meeting, I wasn’t there, but it sounds like just from this extract, and I can only go on that, it sounds like it’s an important meeting, there’s very senior people there, and they’re obviously discussing Omicron, the Omicron crisis, and my central job and role was to respond to that, and that was – so I was spending basically every minute of the day doing around that time, and not to have my input and therefore the input of my department, and that includes obviously not just obviously the UKHSA, the CMO, but the NHS. The NHS was huge factor in this, we would not want to see our hospitals overwhelmed. So I don’t know why I would – I wasn’t included. You’d have to ask the former Prime Minister.

Counsel Inquiry: Again, at the same time –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – the advice that you are giving, your views at the time, certainly on 24 December, for example, is “We need to prepare for a massive increase in cases but hope it doesn’t happen”?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Obviously. So planning and preparation.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The Prime Minister is then recorded as concluding that there is no overwhelming case for doing anything.

In relation to planning and preparation, in the event that there was a subsequent wave, aside from vaccines and your role in terms of the NHS, were you aware of any other planning taking place at that point?

Mr Sajid Javid: You mean, what, outside my department?

Counsel Inquiry: Outside of your department and considering the use of NPIs or any other measures?

Mr Sajid Javid: I was not aware, no. I mean, I had – I wasn’t aware of any other planning taking place, to answer your question specifically but in a bit more detail on the – you know, we had already – so I know you – we started with a plan B, which was implemented, I think, on November 8th, but on 29 November, so that’s within days of me learning about Omicron, I’d already announced in Parliament a set of, you know, NPIs around, you know, PRC tests coming in, ten-day isolation rules for contacts and that – face masks in shops and –

Counsel Inquiry: I appreciate that, Mr Javid.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: We’re talking about what you were advising on

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, and by then – by then, having learnt a lot more

about Omicron, my advice was to look at further –

taking further measures, the advice that had come from

me and my department based on the expert advice I was

getting. And there was a Cabinet meeting, I can’t be

sure, I want to say 20 December, where there was a –

the Prime Minister – aware that I wanted to go

further – wanted to seek the Cabinet’s view, and when

we had that meeting, I recall the only people in the

Cabinet that were supporting what I was saying about

going further were Michael Gove and Simon Clarke.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

I want to turn to another topic, which really is

coming out the other side, effectively, and dealing with

the Living with Covid strategy.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: So going into now 2022 –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – just very briefly, you set out within your statement

in some detail that there was a disagreement with

Treasury in relation to and funding an apparatus,

effectively the tools, as you see them, in relation to

a pandemic, particularly in respect of infrastructure December – 24 and testing, scientific research and so on. And you

considered that funding ought to be maintained.

What you state in your statement is that the – is that as a consequence of that, they – the Prime Minister required further cuts to the Health budget if that infrastructure was to take place, to stay in place; is that right?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Did any of that infrastructure ultimately end up staying in place?

Mr Sajid Javid: Not to the extent I wanted it, so, you know, I was, I was – you know, like the Prime Minister, I was keen that we find, clearly, a way to live with Covid. We had, you know, we were – Omicron wasn’t over but I think that by the time we were putting together the Living with Covid strategy, clearly, you know, both infections, hospitalisations and – and deaths, that had all started significantly falling. The booster campaign, which I spent a lot of my time on, I know we’re not talking about vaccines but it made a huge difference by that time, so it is significant in this decision-making in that I think within six, seven weeks we had something like 30 million people boosted which was faster than any other country of comparable size. But on this specific issue I felt that as we now remove a lot of the restrictions, which I was keen to do, that we must have a capability in place for – to detect any future variant or perhaps even a future virus with a new pandemic, but to have better surveillance and also to be able to surge, you know, support and protection very quickly.

So I wanted a thing – I wanted more lab capacity, more scientific capability, some random testing, to keep some of the mobile testing units, I wanted to continue some of the waste water testing, and a stockpile of lateral flow tests, for example. So these were the kind of things I wanted.

I was only able, in the end, to secure a small portion of all of that, and also, for example, I wanted to keep the government’s commitment to the centre for pandemic preparedness –

Counsel Inquiry: I was going to come on to that in due course. That was announced, there would be this centre for pandemic preparedness?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And what happened to that, in short?

Mr Sajid Javid: That was announced before I was Health Secretary, I believe it was when the UK was hosting the G7 in Cornwall, so I think that would have been December 2020, if I’m not mistaken, but around then, and – and the UK had made this commitment, rightly to have this, you know, as it sounds, a centre for pandemic preparedness, where it would just focus on nothing but pandemic preparedness, working with UKHSA and others, and I thought it was vital for in terms of lessons learned.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

Mr Sajid Javid: And I pointed out to the Prime Minister at the time and his team that we are not going to be able to have this because there is no funding for it. Indeed, the funding that was offered for UKHSA was the same as what it was funded per annum pre-pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. If I can just take you back, though, to the centre for pandemic preparedness.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of that –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – did the Prime Minister continue with that plan or did he abandon it?

Mr Sajid Javid: No, he dropped the plan, and he decided we’re not going to have it, let’s drop it, and – but he asked me not to say anything about it publicly and – you know, “Let’s just wait and see if people notice”, was his attitude.

Counsel Inquiry: So, “Let’s stay quiet and hope it disappears”?

Mr Sajid Javid: Well, “Let’s stay quiet about dropping the centre for pandemic preparedness”.

Counsel Inquiry: Final topic, Mr Javid, very briefly, you’ve covered it in quite some detail in your witness statement –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – and that’s why I say I’m going to touch upon it very briefly, if I may, and that’s that of inequalities and health disparities, and within your statement it speaks of a number of different initiatives that you undertook in your role as Secretary of State throughout that pandemic period –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – one of which was a review into inequalities in respect of the efficacy of medical equipment on the grounds of race, looking particularly at oximetry, the use of oximeters and so on and so forth.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: That consultation ran between August 2022 and October 2022, has that been published?

Mr Sajid Javid: My understanding, it has not been published.

Counsel Inquiry: Just dealing, again very briefly, in terms of future recommendations, what do you think could and should be implemented to improve equity for future pandemics in respect of health?

Mr Sajid Javid: So by – could I just being clear, when you say equity, do you mean sort of –

Counsel Inquiry: To address –

Mr Sajid Javid: – of disparities –

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, to address those disparities that arise in a pandemic.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah. I think a lot – a lot can be done, and the pandemic clearly, sadly, hit people from deprived communities more. It was very unequal in how it affected people. You know, by and large, people that were sort of working people were hurt a lot harder than middle class people that could put themselves in their homes and order their food and things like that in lockdowns. And I – and that is, not surprisingly – my opinion, that’s not unique in terms of health disparities. Typically people living in deprived areas and neighbourhoods and things are hit a lot harder.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard a lot of evidence about that, Mr Javid, already.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah. And so – so that was – so you’ve – answered your question what could be done. I thought it required – the whole approach required a cross-government strategy, because it’s not just the Health Department that can deal with these issues, and that is why I, within months of arriving at the department – because this issue was so important to me, I commissioned a White Paper to – development of a White Paper on health disparities, and I even took the – one part of PHE that was split was the – was called OHP, the Office for Health Improvement, and I changed it’s remit to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, but the White Paper was a cross-government piece of work that my department did. And it’s an extensive piece of work. We talked to every other department in government, a lot of arm’s lengths bodies, civil society bodies, put together really detailed analysis of what could be done to combat health disparities. And by the time I left the department I would say it was 99.9% done, it was virtually done, we were just looking for a slot for publication, but it was never published.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Just one, and hopefully this can be answered very briefly –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – in short, one potential possibility or solution as has been suggested is the creation of an Equality Department with a Secretary of State for Equalities, leading on that cross-governmentally. Is that something you could see working or not?

Mr Sajid Javid: No, I don’t know whether it requires its own department. There is of course as a – an Equalities Minister, I was for a short time the Equalities Minister as well, but I do think it needs a specific focus and a dedicated minister. So when I was Equalities Minister I was also the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I think it would have been better to have a dedicated minister to that role.

If there is one more thing I may say, Ms Cecil, just on equalities, is – health equalities generally but specifically in pandemics, you referred to the pulse oximeters and that is something I’d read about, I knew about before I was Health Secretary. I was deeply concerned about it, that’s why I commissioned the independent review by Dame Margaret Whitehead, the one that still hasn’t been published for some reason, into looking into medical instruments and their – and how they work on people of all races, and actually in both genders as well, all genders. And one thing I wanted to pursue, that I discussed with my counterpart in the United States at the time, was that I felt that if the UK and the US had a new set of rules for procurement of any medical instrument, to require that it must be demonstrated that it works for all races and it has been something the manufacturer has actually thought about. Then between the UK and US, with the US’s purchasing power, our procurement power as well, all – effectively all manufacturers of this equipment globally would start to follow this new standard. So I was – but before I could do that I wanted this independent inquiry to see if the evidence backed all this up.

And so I do think there are things like that that could be done that would make a huge difference, because I was really taken back by some of the things I learned as Health Secretary. For example, that I think around a third of people in ICU units in 2020 with Covid, so the most affected, the most seriously ill, were from ethnic minority backgrounds, which was hugely disproportionate to the – you know, people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the general population. And I think that medical instruments, amongst many other things, had a big issue – role to play in that.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you, Mr Javid. And as you will be aware, there will be a further module that, no doubt, will be looking at those matters in due course.

Mr Sajid Javid: Thank you.

Ms Cecil: My Lady, that concludes my questions.

Questions From the Chair

Lady Hallett: Just before we go to Ms Heaven, could I just ask: by the sounds of it, Mr Javid, one of the lessons to be learned is to resurrect your idea of a centre for pandemic preparedness?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. Well, it wasn’t my idea, it was the Prime Minister’s idea, I happened to agree with it.

Lady Hallett: Right. Any other lessons to be learned?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes. I think there will be many lessons to be learned. I think that in terms of cross-government working, I think there can definitely be improvements in that. We touched on it in this evidence session, I hope, in a couple of examples. But I think there needs to be, you know, better systems put in place to get all government departments working for – when you have a single goal.

And I’ve seen where it can work. You know, when I was the Communities Secretary, I was determined to do something about rough sleeping. We had a cross-government group and it was – it had Prime Ministerial involvement and it could get done. So I think that can happen.

And then one final point I’d make – when, my Lady, you asked me that question it comes to mind – is NHS capacity and NHS capability. As you know, my Lady, a number of countries they took different approaches, there were a lot of similarities, but I think in responding to a pandemic that your available health capacity has a big – you know, is a big determinant of how you respond to the pandemic.

We don’t have many beds per head in the UK, in England, for example, it’s less than – it’s around 100,000. If you look at countries like Germany, France, other comparable countries, you know, they have more than double, triple, sometimes quadruple the number of beds that we have got. Similar for ventilator units, ICU units, doctors and nurses per head.

And I think capacity of the NHS is an issue, and this has been a long-running issue under successive governments, and I think the NHS model needs to be looked at, and I’ve talked publicly about this, and I think we should have a Royal commission on it and try to get, you know, government’s political agreement object a new way to provide the NHS with the resources it needs but I think NHS capacity is absolutely key to dealing with the next pandemic.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much.

Ms Heaven.

I don’t know if you can see Ms Heaven round the pillar? Can you –

The Witness: Yes, I can.

Questions From Ms Heaven

Ms Heaven: Good afternoon, Mr Javid, I’m over here.

Mr Sajid Javid: Hello.

Ms Heaven: I represent the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, and I have three very short topics.

So the first topic is going back to those weekly meetings that you set up when you came into post in June 2021, and it’s a very discrete issue.

Can I ask: was advance notice given for these meetings by way of an agenda, do you recall? And if so, how long in advance?

Mr Sajid Javid: May I just ask, which weekly meeting are you referring to?

Ms Heaven: This is your witness statement, paragraph 77 –

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Lady Hallett: With the devolved nations.

Mr Sajid Javid: Oh, with the devolved nations?

Ms Heaven: Yes, sorry. I thought it was obvious. Just to be clear, I represent the Welsh Bereaved, so I am asking now about issues touching on the devolved administrations.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: There was a weekly meeting, with the DAs, you said this was not something your predecessor did on a regular basis.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: And what I would like to know is: do you recollect whether there was advance notice in the form of an agenda for these meetings, regularly, and if so how long in advance would that have been provided?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, there was – generally there was advance notice, and I think at my very first meeting I said to my counterparts that we would have meetings on a weekly basis, and I’d said that I’d try to do those every Friday around 5 o’clock, if I can’t do it on a Friday I’d do it at the same time on a Thursday. But we did agree that because things were very fast-moving something might come up that doesn’t allow the meeting to take place at the exact time, so during the week leading up to that, you know, the Thursday/Friday, the timing of it would be confirmed.

For these meetings we would have an agenda and I would – I would obviously – my department would input into that agenda but so would the devolved administrations and they would give me, you know, very sensibly advance notice of things that they may wish to raise in that meeting. And then also, finally, in every meeting we would have, basically, “any other business” and so if there’s something that someone wanted to bring up, again because things were fast-moving, we could discuss those towards the end of the meeting.

Ms Heaven: Thank you very much.

Second topic is public health messaging and concerns around the unified approach with the devolved administrations.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Ms Heaven: And it’s just really to say to what extent you might be able to assist with this, appreciating when you came into post.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Ms Heaven: You have explained this morning that you recognised the importance, where possible, of co-ordinating with the devolved administrations, and I think as you said, in your words, you’d recognised at least that there were huge issues of public confidence, if we can all be seen to be working together?

Mr Sajid Javid: That’s right.

Ms Heaven: You may be aware that there have been concerns raised before this Inquiry, in part in writing, by the First Ministers for the devolved administrations, and one of the concerns relates to a lack of clarity in public health messaging by the UK Government about the geographical application of their decisions. And I think it’s probably fair to say that lots of these concerns were largely being raised during the time of your predecessor, but there is one document I would like to ask you about.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Ms Heaven: If we can pull it up, it’s a COBR meeting of 10 December 2021.

And it’s INQ000083854 – and there we have it on screen.

Can you see it there?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: So we can see 10 December 2021, 3 o’clock, and you’re present there, and you can see also, can’t you, Mr Drakeford, Nicola Sturgeon and Michelle O’Neill from the devolved administrations?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: I want to ask you about page 5, please, so if we scroll down, and it’s paragraph 17 onwards. I’ll read it out. Here we have a contribution from the director of communications, and:

“[They] said they were adopting an aligned approach where possible to ensure messaging across the UK responded to the emerging picture. That communications teams across the UK needed to accurately reflect policy changes by each nation.”

Then it goes on about the cross autumn UK issues?

Then just for completeness, at paragraph 18, over the page, you see an intervention from yourself where you are stating:

“… it was important to work together on the response to Omicron … consistency across the four nations was important …”

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Ms Heaven: What I want you to focus on though is paragraph 17 and those words in the middle:

“That communications teams across the UK needed to accurately reflect policy changes by each nation.”

Just thinking about that now, do you understand that to be a reference to this issue that I just asked you about a moment ago, so the territorial scope of policies not always being adequately explained in government communications from UK Government, and that being there a reminder, certainly in December 2021, that that needed to be improved?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes, I think this is really calling for it to be improved, and I think what that is getting at, at least my understanding of it, is that many of the responses to the pandemic, particularly the NPIs, were devolved. And, you know, whether it was Wales or Scotland for that matter, I think they might have a different set of NPIs, and that certainly was the case during Omicron, certainly for most of that period, and it was important, I think, to respect that there might be differences of approach but that they were – there was co-ordination in communicating that because otherwise it might be very confusing to the public.

Ms Heaven: And do you recognise that concern that I’ve just suggested to you about –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: – the geographical reach of decisions not always being made clear –

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: – by UK Government?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yes.

Ms Heaven: Final topic, then, I’m moving forward to the end of 2021, and here we – early 2022 and it’s discussions on international travel with the devolved administrations. I’m not so much interested in your views on this topic, it’s more really the process for engaging the DAs on this important issue.

So the context is, there came a point when we see differences emerging between the nations in relation to international travel, for example Mr Drakeford, First Minister for Wales and on behalf of Wales, was advocating at this time, we understand, a more precautionary approach to the UK Government opening up borders, and we have, I won’t bring them up, a series of letters Mr Drakeford writes to the Prime Minister and it’s responded to by Grant Shapps, and this is early January 2022, and I think you’re copied in but you’re not the one responding to be clear.

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah.

Ms Heaven: So here we have very sensitive discussions and indeed disagreement between the UK Government and the Welsh Government about the important matter of international travel and control of borders and it’s taking place in writing.

Now, it might be suggested that it’s surprising to see such important matters being discussed in this way in writing, and of course we know at this time the JMC system wasn’t operating, we know that there were significant periods of time, I think perhaps before you came into post, that COBR hadn’t met, and we know that concerns were being expressed by First Ministers about a lack of a formal structure for them to communicate regularly with the Prime Minister.

So my question is this: are you able to offer any perspective on whether, certainly from your time in office, you considered there was in fact suitable machinery or a workable system in place for conducting regular, high-level, intergovernmental meetings between the First Ministers of the devolved administrations and the Prime Minister?

Mr Sajid Javid: Yeah, it’s … I can obviously certainly talk about what my department did at my level with my counterparts in the devolved administrations. And as we referred to, I had sort of regular formal meetings, irregular contact in the sense that they were free to contact me any time, I could contact – so I felt that those relationships at my level were very constructive, they worked well, and I certainly value – I learned from my counterparts well. But I think your question was more at the Executive level –

Ms Heaven: Focusing at the higher level. And did you have any sense –

Mr Sajid Javid: – First Minister, Prime Minister level, if that’s what you’re asking me –

Ms Heaven: Yes.

Mr Sajid Javid: – it’s – I mean, I wouldn’t really fully know. I don’t think I would be able to fully answer that question, because what was going on at that level I really wasn’t involved in, and because I was dealing with things at my level, my departmental level, I – if there was an issue at the sort of leader of government level, I wouldn’t necessarily have been involved.

Other than – what I will say is that when I had my weekly meetings the issue that you just referred to, which was the issue around the sort of border controls in – I think in January you said – January 2022 – that certainly that would have been brought up in my own – in the meetings that I have – I had and at that time they would have been brought up by the Health Minister in Scotland, which was – no, sorry, in Wales, which was Eluned Morgan –

Ms Heaven: As I said, I’m not asking you about that in particular. If we can just finish, then, that topic and then I’ll be out of time.

So is it your evidence then that these concerns that the Inquiry has heard about, this lack of a regular forum for communicating at that very high level with the devolved administrations, was not something that you were aware of being communicated, certainly during the time that you were in post?

Mr Sajid Javid: No, I wouldn’t – no, there was – there were – I can think of letters that I might be copied on, so, for example, I think when you asked me about that Covid meeting in December – whatever the date, just now, the Covid meeting with the First Ministers that Michael Gove had chaired, I believe that came about because of a letter that was sent to the Prime Minister, I think by the First Minister of Scotland, if I’m not mistaken, and then the Prime Minister asked me to respond to that letter, which I did, and then this Covid meeting was held. And I can sort of sense from the fact that the letter went to the Prime Minister, I had to respond, and then Michael Gove chairs the meeting not the Prime Minister, that there’s probably some tension at that level, but – so I could – when you say “not aware”, I could sense some tension but it was not something that I regularly came into contact with.

Ms Heaven: Okay. Thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Heaven.

Ms Heaven: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Does that complete the questioning –

(unclear: multiple speakers)

Ms Cecil: It does, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Javid. I’m afraid I can’t give you a guarantee we won’t ask you to help us again, but thank you for your help today.

The Witness: I would be very happy to come back. Thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

The Witness: Thank you.

(The witness withdrew)

Mr Dominic Raab


Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Lady Hallett: I hope we haven’t kept you waiting too long, Mr Raab.

The Witness: Fine, thank you.

Mr O’Connor: Could you give the Inquiry your full name, please.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, Mr O’Connor, it’s Dominic Rennie Raab.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, you have kindly prepared for the Inquiry a witness statement, which is on the screen now. We can see it bears your name, it’s dated both in the top right-hand corner of the first page and at the last page, we don’t need to go to it, 8 September, and on the last page there is your signature, beneath a statement indicating that you believe the contents of the statement to be true. Is that right?

Mr Dominic Raab: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, you were elected the MP for Esher and Walton in the 2010 general election, I think it’s right to say?

Mr Dominic Raab: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And you have of course been an MP ever since. You held a series of junior ministerial roles between 2015 and 2018; is that right?

Mr Dominic Raab: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: It was in July 2018 that you were appointed as the Secretary of State for exiting the European Union, a post you held until November of that year?

Mr Dominic Raab: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Then in July 2019 you were appointed as both First Secretary of State and also Foreign Secretary, and those two posts you held for a two-year period until September 2021; is that right?

Mr Dominic Raab: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And perhaps it goes without saying that that is the period with which we will be most concerned in the questions you have to answer this afternoon.

But just for completeness, first of all, we should bear in mind that midway through that period the Foreign Office was merged with the Department for International Development, so you took on that extra aspect of its responsibilities whilst Foreign Secretary.

Then, secondly, you were in September 2021 appointed as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor and also Deputy Prime Minister, and those posts you held for about a year, until September 2022, and then again, under the current Prime Minister, between October 2022 and April this year?

Mr Dominic Raab: All of that is correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

As I say, of course the questions we have for you this afternoon will focus on the period of the pandemic, and in very broad summary, would it be right to say that for a period of about a month in April 2020, because, as we’ll come to hear, of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s illness, you had a very particular role, you stepped up and essentially took his place for a period of about four weeks at that time?

Then both before that, from January to April 2020, and in the period afterwards, you had a rather different role, principally as Foreign Secretary, but also supporting the Prime Minister as First Secretary?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, and I mean, I should say, I still tried to do the Foreign Secretary role at the time I was covering for the PM when he was ill – disposed, shall I put it like that, so the Foreign Secretary role didn’t drop away.

Counsel Inquiry: No. Well, perhaps the role of Foreign Secretary is one that’s reasonably familiar, and of course we’ll come to some of the detail in a moment, but I’d like to ask you just a little bit more about the role of First Secretary, which is perhaps less well known.

To do that can we look, please, at paragraphs 19 and 20 of your witness statement on page 6.

You make the point there, Mr Raab, first of all, and perhaps this is worth bearing in mind, that the role of First Secretary is not one that is always filled, and indeed, as you note, it hadn’t been occupied prior to your appointment, as I’ve mentioned, in July 2019.

Is that right?

Mr Dominic Raab: Correct, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Just help us, you go on to talk about the role of Deputy Prime Minister a couple of paragraphs further down. I think you would say that both roles are somewhat hazy and depend rather on who is filling them and what the wishes of those who have appointed them to that post are. But are they, in one sense, fairly similar and another way, asking the same question, would there normally be a First Secretary and a Deputy Prime Minister or not?

Mr Dominic Raab: I don’t think I’ve ever known of a situation where you would have a First Secretary and a Deputy Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister role is more formalised, but as you said it all depends on the wishes of the Prime Minister and frankly the structure that he and the occupant of the role wishes to put around it, whether it’s – and normally the lead will come from the Prime Minister.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Dominic Raab: The most obvious recent example, other than myself doing it or the subsequent holders of the office, is when we were in coalition and Mr Clegg was Deputy Prime Minister. I mean, I know others have done it before. But there, in the context of a coalition agreement, you can see how the structure would be formalised. But there aren’t – there’s not a sort of detailed manual.

Counsel Inquiry: No. And certainly I think it’s apparent from paragraph 20 of your witness statement that that rather formal and well understood role that Nick Clegg held was rather different from your role as First Minister – sorry, First Secretary during this earlier period. As you say here, you understood the role to be, your words, “a sort of gap filling ‘fixer’”, being asked to do certain roles that perhaps fell outside the portfolios of other Cabinet ministers, supporting the Prime Minister when you could, and of course, as we’ll come to, stepping in for him when necessary.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes. I mean, there are different ways of doing it, and I think that’s basically right.

The reality is the demands on any modern Prime Minister are several times what he or she could realistically do, and therefore a need to prioritise to the extent that a First Secretary or a DPM can lighten the load I think it’s a smart thing to do. And what I would try to find is the serious, earnest, but perhaps not either as politically imperative stuff for the PM to be spending his precious minutes on, and just try to shift a little bit of that off the plate, and I’ve done that for two Prime Ministers.

Counsel Inquiry: Just before we leave this, in imagining your role during this period, 2020 and into 2021, it would be wrong, wouldn’t it, for us to imagine that you were fulfilling a role that meant you being by the Prime Minister’s side all the time?

Mr Dominic Raab: Oh, in fact I would say it was quite important to – in discharging that role, to – precisely to allow the Prime Minister to go and do other things. So sitting there – I mean, that’s what a chief of staff is for, you know, a member of his private office to man mark the Prime Minister, whoever that would be. That’s not the role of the First Secretary.

Counsel Inquiry: And just to put some focus on that, this Inquiry has heard a lot of evidence about the regular – the daily meetings that the Prime Minister undertook, 9.15 meeting, the Quads, the informal meetings with the Chief Medical Officer and so on. We will see that you attended those meetings occasionally, but certainly it was no part of your role as First Secretary to be a regular attender of those meetings.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, I mean, my experience of government meetings is you can have over-attendance, if I can put it like that, but you need the right balance between diversity of views, in its broadest sense, and then be able to cut to the chase and make decisions. You don’t need everyone there otherwise it becomes, if you like, a climbing frame with everyone trying to crawl over it without actually being able to chart a way forward. I think that’s actually a mistake.

So, for sure, I wouldn’t have actually to be there in the room with the PM all the time, holding his hand. He didn’t need that. Neither Prime Minister I’ve worked for have, neither have any of the predecessors.

Counsel Inquiry: I’d like to ask you just a couple of points about more general governance issues before we turn to the detail of the chronology. The first relates to the role of the Cabinet in decision-making during this period, 2020/2021.

The Inquiry has heard evidence from a variety of witnesses, I think initially from Helen MacNamara, but then from others, including Mr Javid today, about, if you like, the marginalisation of Cabinet during this period, the idea being of whereas Cabinet may have previously been an area where policy was debated and formed, if you like, a practice developed, no doubt not uniform but nonetheless it became more frequent, for policies to be decided in smaller groups and then presented to Cabinet for decision-making or even perhaps one might describe it as rubber stamping.

Counsel Inquiry: Is that a description that you’re familiar with from this period?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, I probably wouldn’t agree with framing it in quite those terms. I think Cabinet can be used for a scalable range of business, from an open discussion to tease out views, to decision-making with some rapidity, and all the points along the spectrum in between. That’s been the case for every Prime Minister I’ve served, including David Cameron.

So, for example, just in the context of Brexit, of course Cabinet was incredibly important but you had a – then, as you did under Covid, you had the Covid – the Brexit – the XS, as it was called and XO, like we had Covid-S and Covid-O, and you also had other COBR meetings. You would expect to distill decisions down with the right cast, then to put it to Cabinet, but Cabinet doesn’t need to duplicate discussions that have been held at length. And where the decision has been considered at length, I mean, I think that would be, frankly, poor use of ministers’ and government’s time. But it depends what the issue is.

I think what is important is that Cabinet can and anyone in Cabinet who hasn’t been privy to some of those earlier discussions, either because, in honest terms, they are peripheral to them in terms of their brief or because something may have been missed, in good faith, I think it’s always the opportunity to raise a hand and question and test, and that happened right the way through the period.

But Cabinet was a tier on top of all of these other tiers of government put in place to deal with the emergency.

Counsel Inquiry: Just picking up on that last point, Mr Raab, one of the suggestions that’s been made is that as a consequence of Cabinet decision-making being drawn back, something of a variety of input and understanding, a broad understanding of real life may have been lost. Do you agree with that or not?

Mr Dominic Raab: No, I don’t think I do, not in those terms. I mean, whether any Cabinet, whatever the composition, is going to be a perfect ecumenical reflection of society, I just – I’m not sure that’s what actually it’s there for, but certainly the combination of Cabinet, wider government and Parliament should mean that we’re as sensitive as we possibly can be to all of the strains of information, the views, the sensitivities that are going on.

Look, you – I think Tony Blair said you pay your money and you takes your choice, you can have endless conversation, in which case you’ll never make decisions, or you can try to strike the right balance between getting a proper diversity of views, I mean in the sense of variety of views and test and challenge them, but then be very clear when you need to move forward, which of course, in an emergency like Covid, you do, and make decisions.

The conversation and the discussion cannot go on endlessly, as fascinating and useful as it might be at an academic level. In the same way – and I think I found it informative and learned a lot from the two major scientific officers, so Patrick Vallance and Professor Whitty, about how SAGE operated.

I mean, you could debate, as scientists, just as I’m sure lawyers – and I say this as a recovering lawyer – could debate the themes, the evidence endlessly, at some point you’ve got to decide and take an actionable way forward, and that’s where Cabinet comes in. And to be honest with you, wherever along the spectrum you are with that, someone will criticise you either for not canvassing a broad enough opinion or for not being decisive enough. And as I think Tony Blair said, you pays your money you takes your choice.

I actually found – I’ll let you ask the questions but overall, within the limits of what you could do in an emergency of this nature, as unprecedented as it was, with Cabinet such as it is and the Whitehall infrastructure such as it is, I think we about struck the right balance between testing and canvassing views but making sure we took action.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Let me ask you about a different matter, and that is the role, the influence of Dominic Cummings in Downing Street during 2020.

Again, the Inquiry has heard a lot of evidence about what he did, we’ve heard from him himself, of course. Various people have described his influence, his decisions. What was your impression of him and what’s your understanding of the role he played in decision-making in the early months of the pandemic?

Mr Dominic Raab: You may need to break this – unpack this into slightly more closed questions, otherwise I’ll end up rambling on, but let me give you my headline view.

First of all, I think the big challenge in Number 10 is having a chief of staff who does the organisational structural role, which is – if you think how precious every minute of a Prime Minister’s time, and we all accept that it is finite – how you organise that time authoritatively. Because everyone – you know, you could – there’s ten times as many people want to see the Prime Minister or want that part of his or her time than is physically possible.

That’s a really important role. I think under Boris Johnson, you know, Eddie Lister wasn’t in there as a chief of staff but as a sort of éminence grise, a wise pair of hands. I thought he had the right skillset for that. In terms of Dominic Cummings, that’s not why he was there, whatever the title. His – he was there, was to drive forward delivery and also I think – and he was certainly well disposed to this and I think well suited to this – try and, amidst the daily hustle and bustle of events brought up by the media or whatever was the issue of the day, take a half step back and try and work strategically, and I think that was the intention of his role. And I also thought – you’ll come on to this, you’ll need to ask – but in terms of diagnosis, I mean, quite a few of the things that he diagnosed that were wrong I think he was right about, and actually the pandemic was a proving ground for some of those things: like data in Whitehall, for example, like accountability in relation to the brilliant civil servants that we have. I won’t delve in too much to that until you lead me there, but equally – you know, I was six years a civil servant as a Foreign Office lawyer and have very fond memories, not only of my time as a civil servant but also the professionalism there, so you’re not talking to someone who is down on the civil service by design. And what you’re looking for, in my view, and I think SPADs, including the most senior ones like Dominic Cummings, were looking to try and form this synergy between the role the civil servants play, the candour advice, sense checking and fundamentally executing policy and ministerial accountability to the public for those decisions. I don’t think any government gets this perfectly, but what you’re looking for is that synthesis. SPADs and Dom Cummings in particular are there for that, and I think that is critical.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, that’s an answer about what they might have been there for in principle. Can you help us with your experience of Mr Cummings in practice. Let me read you one sentence of Mr Javid’s witness statement. He said this:

“I felt that the elected Prime Minister was not in charge of what was happening in his name and was largely content with Mr Cummings running the government.”

Do you agree with that?

Mr Dominic Raab: No, I don’t, but let me just say at the outset, and I don’t say this as any disparagement on this committee or this Inquiry, but there is a whole circus that can be built up in the media and elsewhere around the internal battles between individuals, and some of that is natural and healthy, you know, you have tensions between civil servants, between civil servants and SPADs, between all of those and ministers, and of course between ministers. But – I, by the way, worked very closely with Sajid Javid, in fact I worked for him when I was Housing Minister, I like him, I respect him, I think he is a great operator and decision-maker in the way you were just describing, so I’ve got no beef with Mr Javid.

But equally I don’t think that’s quite right. I think Dominic Cummings, certainly on diagnosis but also trying to galvanise direction of travel, was much needed, some grit in the oyster. I think if you look at some of the things he said – and we may come on to this – but the obvious one I think of is the osmosis between professions from outside government in government.

Funnily enough Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance are great examples of this. I mean, when we came on to the vaccine trials and all the rest of it, having someone who has not only been a scientist, who knows how government works, but also been in a major multinational, taking a drug from trials to commercialisation, I mean, it’s just gold dust. I think Chris Whitty was superb as well. And one of the things I think Dom Cummings had noted and observed is sometimes Whitehall can feel a bit like a closed shop.

So I want to give you a sense of which I think he correctly identified some of the structural challenges without getting into the “he said, she said”, frankly soap opera of Westminster bubble politics.

The broader question you raise about whether he took – that Boris Johnson was a puppet, I’m afraid I don’t find that a serious allegation. I think Boris Johnson certainly relied on his key advisers. By the way I think you have to if you’re going to get through the work, particularly in a pandemic. I don’t think, looking back at prime ministers past or present, if I look at Theresa May or if I look at Tony Blair and the role of his chief of staff, his director of communications, it is natural. And if you present me with something, a specific scenario, I’m happy to comment on it.

But – and Boris, just like anyone else who occupies that incredible role – and I feel some empathy with anyone who has done the job of Prime Minister, because I covered it for a month and I think that made me a better Secretary of State because I could see what the pressures were that the Prime Minister has to deal with – but you have constantly got this challenge of wanting to control the levers that affect government policy but also knowing that to run an effective government you need to delegate. And, of course, you should delegate fundamentally through your secretaries of state and your ministers, but you also delegate with advice and reliance on your special advisers, just as you do through senior members of the civil servants. That is natural and proper. And I don’t think – I just don’t accept the characterisation that there was some sort of puppet regime.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, let’s move on and look at the early months of the pandemic.

Lady Hallett: Before we do, can I just issue another assurance, as I did yesterday.

Mr Raab, when we’re looking at whether or not there was a toxic at – it’s not from some prurient interest that we want to hear rude words or anything, it is to see whether or not there was anything wrong in the decision-making process, and that’s why we’re asking the questions.

Mr Dominic Raab: I understand why you are asking the questions, Chair. I totally respect it. I’m not suggesting – but we also know that there is, if you like, a parallel soap opera in the media that will play out these things and magnify –

Lady Hallett: I understand.

Mr Dominic Raab: And I just – you know, I want to give you honest answers, candid examples. I want to give the best evidence I can for the bereaved. And fundamentally, this is a lessons learned exercise, I want us to understand where we’ve just got political noise and where we’ve got substantive issues. And let me try and assist the Inquiry as best I can.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr O’Connor: Let’s turn to the chronology, Mr Raab, your witness statement sets out in detail what you were being told, what you were doing in the first few weeks of 2020, I’m really talking about January and very early February here. We may come back to some of this detail, but is it fair to say that at least two of the things you were principally concerned with in that time regarding the pandemic were, first of all, amendments to the UK travel advice for China, considering whether or not to make amendments and, over time, making those amendments, and also dealing with various issues regarding the repatriation of British nationals?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, to the extent that my job and role covered the pandemic, there is a whole string of other things, every crisis in the – you can imagine what I was like then compared to now –

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and I think I was clear in my question that I was just asking you about those matters.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes. And I think the other thing, If I may just say, on travel advice, trying to explain throughout government, which may be helpful just to echo here, the difference between travel advice and changes that are made to it compared to, for example, border restrictions, and that these are different decisions for different purposes and actually we’re legally constrained, I’m sure we’ll flesh this out, in the way that that takes place. But yes, of course, looking at that very carefully and ultimately taking advice from the CMO and others on that.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. You also detail, Mr Raab, that of the two COBR meetings that took place during January that we have heard some detail about, you didn’t attend the first meeting, you sent one of your MPS to attend that meeting, but you did attend the second meeting on 29 January.

Now I want to move just a week or so forward in the chronology, because the Inquiry has heard evidence about a meeting that took place on 4 February between the Prime Minister and Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer. This wasn’t a meeting as far as we know that you were at, you may not have heard anything about it, that’s one of the questions I’m going to ask you, but what we’ve heard, first of all, this was the first time that Chris Whitty briefed the Prime Minister relating to Covid, and that in summary what Chris Whitty told the Prime Minister was that there was a reasonable chance that there would be a pandemic in this country involving between 100,000 and 300,000 deaths if the Covid-19, which was then in China, spread internationally and became a pandemic.

We’ve heard from Chris Whitty that that range, the 100,000 to 300,000, was not intended, nor was it presented, to the Prime Minister as a sort of formal reasonable worst-case scenario, they were intended as an indication of the seriousness of the situation if a pandemic of this new infection were to emerge.

Now, I’m sure you’ll agree with me, first of all, that that was a very grave piece of advice that Chris Whitty was giving to the Prime Minister?

Mr Dominic Raab: Of course it is, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: May I ask whether you were aware of that meeting or what it was that Chris Whitty had conveyed to the Prime Minister at it?

Mr Dominic Raab: I can’t recollect, but it’s not remotely unusual that I wouldn’t have been at that meeting.

Counsel Inquiry: No, I’m not suggesting it was. I simply want to understand –

Mr Dominic Raab: No.

Counsel Inquiry: – whether you were or whether you had understood it at the time.

Mr Dominic Raab: No.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s go, if we may, to paragraph 58 of your witness statement on page 18.

You describe there that in fact on the day of that meeting you went on a pre-arranged trip, undertaking your official duties as Foreign Secretary, to Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, and you were gone for about a week, as we can see there.

I think it’s also right to say that later in February, after your return from that trip, you went on a family holiday or a personal trip skiing; is that right?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, I mean, that is correct. I mean, in fairness, if you’re taking the whole chronology, I mean, you know – and this is the life of any modern Foreign Secretary – I was in Brussels the first week of January, in the US and Canada the second, third week or around the same time I’m in Paris –

Counsel Inquiry: I’m just going to interrupt you, Mr Raab, because we have got limited time.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, but I think it’s important, because I think I know where you’re going with this. The – if I may, just to very briefly say, I went to Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, vital countries for the UK’s foreign policy and, as it turned out, the relationships we needed to service during Covid. And again, first week of March I was back on the road to Oman, Istanbul and Saudi. That is the job of any modern Foreign Secretary.

Lady Hallett: Don’t worry, I don’t think Mr O’Connor is going to suggest you were on jollies, Mr Raab.

Mr Dominic Raab: Glad to hear it.

Lady Hallett: Just wait for the question and then he’ll make it clear.

Mr O’Connor: The question I want to ask you, Mr Raab, focuses on this time in February where, as we have seen, first of all, you did this official tour to Australia and to those other countries, and secondly, after you got back, I think you have agreed, you went on a family holiday. What we can read into that, alongside the fact that at the beginning of that month the Prime Minister had been told of this grave news about the Covid pandemic, which one might have thought, and certainly with hindsight now we can perhaps see, demanded a considerable upgrading of the government’s response.

Were you aware at that time of anyone suggesting to you either that it might not have been a good idea for you to leave the country, that you were needed perhaps in your role as First Secretary to be involved in work towards preparing for the pandemic, or that it wouldn’t be advisable for you to take holiday during that period?

Mr Dominic Raab: So three points. First of all, of course the advice that you cite from Mr – from Professor Whitty to the Prime Minister was hedged with all sorts of caveats and uncertainty, and as a common theme of the pandemic we had potential scenarios with evidence which was hedged. And I think at a range of moments and quite – you’ll have to ask the Prime Minister, former Prime Minister, I’m sure you will – where you’ve got formative evidence coming through, which is still being tested – and at what point you make a go/no go decision, whatever decision that may be. So – and I think when I’ve looked at the minutes from the meeting that you referred to with the Prime Minister, I think it’s hedged with, again, all those caveats and uncertainties. So I think, first of all, we need to understand that you take the decision when you’ve got sufficient evidence, and indeed when the CMO advises sufficient evidence to take actionable decisions.

In terms of my travel, just to be really clear, of course right the way through the pandemic, if it was either unwise, unsafe, for Covid reasons, to leave, I would have been umbilically linked to the CMO in terms of chains of communication and we would have been advised. I was not advised not to go. Indeed, I think it was very important both for relations with all of these countries and relations that we would have to tap, whether it was for PPE, whether it was on vaccine discussions or whatever it may be, that we did have those relations. Particularly, as I say, with the likes of Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, but also frankly all of them.

In relation to the week away, as you can I think see from the chronology, being Foreign Secretary is a pretty gruelling agenda, and that comes with the territory, but equally you will have noticed – and I’m sure you’ve got and seen and digested the FCDO corporate chronology that was sent on 23 December 2022 which details, and I’m very happy to go through it in laborious detail if it’s helpful, but tell me if it isn’t – all of the decisions, the communications and the meetings that I conducted during the February half term, which you referred to, when I was away.

Again, whether you’re away on very rare leave that you get as Foreign Secretary or whether it’s because you’re travelling on business and you need to stay in touch with what’s going on in Westminster, I mean, that’s just bread and butter, but at all moments when I was needed I was there and certainly directing what my department needed to do – if it wasn’t easily delegated, which, again, you need to do during a pandemic and, actually, in terms of business as usual.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, one of the questions that this Inquiry will have to consider is whether that month of February was spent properly by the government not on business as usual but on understanding and preparing its response to the Covid pandemic.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, do you think that enough was done during February, both by you and others, or not?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes. But, look, as you say, it’s with the benefit of hindsight.

The reality is at all moments we’re looking for enough evidence. And credible decisive persuasive overwhelming evidence, not just strands of evidence here and there, not just theses which haven’t properly been tested but conclusive evidence on which you can act. It’s actionable evidence. And ultimately we had to rely on the advisers for that.

Now, we – a whole range of contingency planning was under way but one of the things that was important was that the government didn’t seize up, paralysed, because we could see evolving a pandemic or an emergency, whether it was limited to China, engulfing the world, to the extent that it affected the UK. We needed to try to function as best we could whilst preparing for that. But again you come back to the same point, contingency planning without knowing with sufficient evidence what the threat was, you just end up rewriting it or … and I think one of the things that I learnt during this process is that when it comes to plans during a crisis, this is probably true in war time, but that’s not my experience, in terms of direct war time for the UK, and certainly in an emergency like the pandemic, is you need to try and stay in what I call perpetual beta. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the phrase, but if you’re testing a drug or technology, the last test you do before you put it to market is with real-time users. So you have your plan but you are constantly testing and reiterating and refining the prototype.

I think we and Whitehall needs to get much, much better at that. And curiously one of the people that warned most about that, and I don’t need to be the apologist for Dominic Cummings, was Mr Cummings.

I think your broader point, though, was: in retrospect, was February a decisive month? I think it was. But you can see that in hindsight – and it was the tipping point where we really learnt more sufficiently about the pandemic to tip the balance into, okay, well, now we’ve at least got enough evidence to take some actionable decision. And I think that’s the conclusion I came to.

Counsel Inquiry: Well, Mr Raab, we can all think of our own management speak to describe these indications, but –

Mr Dominic Raab: Sorry, with the greatest of respect, it’s not management speak, it’s science, and the people that have looked at, for example, forecasting, people have looked at why decisions get made that are wrong, both in government and outside, people like Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel prize – so not just “management speak” in the pejorative terms – people like Philip Tetlock, who have looked at how you improve, would say you need to strike this balance between moving forward and making decisions and, if you like, digesting the evidence.

So I think it’s – and by the way, if it comes to a piece of learning for this Inquiry about how government works, I think it is probably the single most important thing, and I don’t think you should be quite so dismissive, if I may say so with respect, as “management speak”. I’m trying to give you a thoughtful, considered answer about how government works.

Counsel Inquiry: Can I ask you a direct question, Mr Raab: are you telling the Inquiry that at the beginning of February the government had inadequate evidence with which to take further steps that it could and should have taken?

Mr Dominic Raab: So when I – we constantly peppered Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance with these kind of questions, and then there was frustration with the science itself, not just the evidence we were getting or the propositions we were getting, but – and I think the – I had a long conversation with both Chris and Patrick, who I think very usefully said, you know, you can’t think of the science as something which is decisive and then set in stone – which is why I come on to the perpetual beta point – it is something constantly being tested. And the point I’m making is I don’t think we have definitive – a definitive enough answer about what the pandemic was doing, the rate at which it was spreading, what it would mean for the UK, let alone the other knock-on questions that inevitably need to be asked, which is: what does that mean for the NHS, in particular ventilator beds in ICU? And also another big question: how long can you credibly stay in lockdown in a liberal democracy like the UK?

So I think what I’m trying to help you with is that I’m sure with the benefit of hindsight if we took a decision on, you know, whatever date it was, you can always ask: weren’t you versed enough the day before to take that decision? That’s the luxury of hindsight. I think we genuinely tried to move decisively at the point at which the evidence was compelling and we wouldn’t then just be buffeted between competing evidence that would show up the next day or the next week. And that’s the balance.

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor, we’re going to pause there.

Mr O’Connor: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: 3.35.

Mr Raab, we will complete your evidence today, I guarantee, but we do take a break.

(3.20 pm)

(A short break)

(3.35 pm)

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor: Mr Raab, I would like to ask you a few questions about the first lockdown decision that was taken towards the end of March 2020.

May we go to paragraph 106 of your statement, please, on page 32. The second sentence of that paragraph, Mr Raab, you state that you cannot remember exactly when you found out that the lockdown was going to be imposed but that it didn’t come as a surprise. May we take it, therefore, that you weren’t sort of minutely involved in all of the discussions and meetings and so on that led up to it?

Mr Dominic Raab: Well, it depends what you mean by “minutely”.

I think the point I was trying to convey is that there are a series of incremental steps by which it became predictable or at least foreseeable that we would have to lock down, as a necessity, and therefore it didn’t take me by surprise. Equally, I’m not quite sure of the decisive moment where someone said to me, “By the way, you know this is going to mean a full-blown lockdown”, so – but I think it was an – I think it was more an incremental moving towards rather than – although I’m sure to the public it appeared like a cliff-edge decision, it felt from the inside like an incremental series of steps that we inevitably ended up taking.

Counsel Inquiry: I wanted to ask that, because if we look at the sentence before it and the sentence after it, you say that by 23 March, which was of course the date that the lockdown was announced, the Prime Minister had already tested out the various components of a lockdown with Cabinet and with Cabinet subcommittees. And then the sentence two further on you say:

“The various elements had been the subject of technical discussions in COBR or subcommittee meetings already.”

The evidence the Inquiry has heard is that the period of, let’s say, ten days leading up to the lockdown decision was a little bit less mechanical than that, there were crisis meetings, disagreements, meetings with the Prime Minister where he gave different people different understandings of what he was going to do, saying that he wanted to be the mayor from Jaws, discussions with Sadiq Khan over the weekend just before saying he couldn’t decide whether to have a lockdown or not, worrying about the economic aspects.

No doubt a very serious decision, very serious trade-offs, but not quite the sort of cool, calm, everything had been carefully thought through, all the aspects had been looked at in different subcommittees running up to that decision.

Can you tell us that something different happened, or were you not as close to the decision-making as others?

Mr Dominic Raab: I’m not sure that – well, I was close to the bits that I was personally involved in, for example, the global travel advisory was in place on 17 March, just by way of example.

I’m not sure taking an incremental approach is inconsistent with a Prime Minister who, if that was your reflection, took a rather Hegelian approach to making decisions (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), and that was actually very commonly what he did, both in meetings and I suppose in his thought processes, and I don’t think – I mean, people will have different ways of doing that, they can be inductive, deductive, but I think testing viewpoints and possible outcomes actually is quite a healthy thing to do.

And I think one of the things misunderstood about Boris Johnson, and we all have failings for sure, is he was much more open to hearing contrary views than some other prime ministers that either I’ve worked for or – you can think back over time.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, thank you, Mr Raab.

Mr Dominic Raab: Therefore, if he wanted to test something, he would often want to hear a counterpoint. That doesn’t mean he was wavering or vacillating. I mean, it might have done, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it. It means he wanted to stress test, kick the tyres.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, several of the witnesses who were involved in this decision-making have expressed the view to the Inquiry, with hindsight, that that first lockdown decision should have been made earlier than it was, perhaps by a period of a week or a little more. What’s your view about that?

Mr Dominic Raab: So I’ve heard it and I’ve listened to it and we thought about this at the time. One of the big challenges was working out how long you could realistically credibly lock down for, because you need to do so with the overarching goodwill of the country and the stamina of the country for a full-blown lockdown, and we asked Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance about this, that’s a huge variable. And the challenge, as I think you’ll have heard and everyone will be familiar with, the issue with lockdown was to try to protect the NHS, particularly the ICU, flatten the peak of the virus, and protect the NHS being from overwhelmed. There were all sorts of other considerations but that was a critical one.

If you go too early with your lockdown, the risk is you end up having to come out too early or it frays. And I’ve heard people say we should have gone down earlier, and it’s an easy thing to say with retrospect. But do they also answer the question: does that mean we’ll come out of lockdown early? And if not, does – can they answer the question – I’m just, it’s a rhetorical question, really – about – all the other consequential questions about compliance and what that would have meant.

Actually during the lockdown compliance of the British people, I think because they understood why, compliance was extremely high, particularly for a liberal democracy which is used to exerting its freedoms. And I think that was partly because the case was clear and that was partly because we could present the case as clear.

So I’m not being dismissive about other viewpoints about this, I just think you have got to answer other questions about stamina of the British people for a lockdown of that nature.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. And all the factors you’ve just listed which were in play at the time have all been considered by the witnesses who the Inquiry have heard from, scientists, decision-makers. Several of them, Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty, have expressed the view, carefully reasoned, that, knowing what they know now, the lockdown should have been earlier. I’m interested to know your view on that.

Mr Dominic Raab: Knowing what we know now, look, possibly. I’d need to look at all the data and the evidence.

What Chris and Patrick did, which I think was very useful, is they often had, if you like, a matrix of, what we’ve got to think about is four things above all – there’s always other, but four things – Covid impact, non-Covid health impact, economic impact and social impact. And we would often test – and I certainly would try to test with them – those four things. And the risk of course, in an emergency, is all of your mind is on the Covid impact, and that’s understandable given it was – given the huge loss of life, but you’ve also got to think about the opportunity cost or the opportunity losses, including human loss of life, of those other three areas of the matrix.

So, with retrospect, that’s for the committee to decide and the Inquiry to decide.

For my – I think the most important thing I can say is at the time there was just so much that was fluid in terms of the evidence and too many questions, and you can’t wait for perfect knowledge. So in that, to that – and I’m all for making a decision, which is why that point about perpetual beta, sometimes you’ll need to go with your, let’s say, 90% formed view but just recognise that you’re going to have to iterate around it.

But I actually think that if you look at the consequences of the timing you could probably – and I know a columnist would make the argument and others would make the argument – that actually, you know, we locked down too much. I’m not saying this is my view. But because of the cost to the economy, because of the languishing effects of the non-Covid NHS backlogs, because of the impacts on our children of shutting schools, which I was very mindful of. So I’m just saying, you know, when I look back, I’m very conscious that we made the best decisions with the science as fluid as it was at that point in time, and I think that’s the best that you can in good faith do.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s move, Mr Raab, to the slightly later period when, as we’ve said, Boris Johnson became ill and you stood in for him.

In summary, the chronology was that Mr Johnson announced that he’d tested positive on 27 March, he went into hospital a week or so later on 5 April, and went into intensive care on the 6th. That was a Monday. And is it right that it was that Monday that you commenced deputising for him and that went on until he was discharged on 12 April, and then for a couple of weeks after while he recuperated until 25 April?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Are those the dates?

Mr Dominic Raab: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, if we look at paragraph 125 of your statement, Mr Raab, on page 38, you describe the circumstances in which, as it were, it was you who deputised for him and not someone else.

You say – I’m looking towards the bottom of that paragraph:

“… I had had a conversation with the Prime Minister in which it was made clear that if he was to be indisposed, I [that is you] would step in and deputise for him.”

I’m going to ask you some sort of questions about the constitutional situation –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – and how developed the planning was.

Are you able to help us with whether it was routine for prime ministers to have someone identified who would deputise for them if they were indisposed, or as far as you’re aware was that unusual?

Mr Dominic Raab: No, I think it was unusual. But for completeness, there are all sorts of security and national security scenarios which, forgive me, because of the propriety and sensitivity, I won’t to go into detail, but just to give you a flavour, where whether it’s because of indisposition or lack of availability you make sure you’ve got cover.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. But you at any event had had that conversation.

Was that – I won’t press you on the detail for obvious reasons, but was that discussion limited to that sort of national security situation or was it a broader conversation?

Mr Dominic Raab: So I can’t remember all the details of it, but the truth is when I was appointed Foreign Secretary and First Secretary, the PM was very clear: “I’m appointing you First Secretary so that you’ve got my back and that if ever it’s required you can cover for me.”

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Dominic Raab: There are some regular routine things, like PMQs, that just, you know – but – I mean, that’s not at the most acute end of the seriousness that we’re talking about now. But it just logically follows from that.

In terms of contingency planning around that eventuality, no, I think it was pretty sparse.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Dominic Raab: I was effectively told on – really told on five minutes’ notice.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s move, Mr Raab, because that was going to be my next question, if we look on to the next page, paragraphs 126 and 127, there you discuss meetings that you had with Helen MacNamara, the Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and Mark Sedwill about how this was to work.

We have heard from Helen MacNamara that, to use your words, the planning was sparse. I mean, to use others of her words, “they were making it up as they went along”. You raise questions as to, well, is it appropriate for you to chair Cabinet.

Give us an idea from your perspective as to how clear or unclear it was as to how you were to do this job?

Mr Dominic Raab: Well, the first thing, not clear at all. There’s no manual, there’s no guidance. I was told on five minutes’ notice. In fact I’d given, I think, the press conference – you know we had those daily press conferences where the scientists would speak, a senior minister would speak, you take questions and tweets from the public, and then I think I was informed literally as I came out of that.

I think there were a number of things that were on my mind. One, just steady the ship. It’s a big deal. I also noticed at a human level, just as we all had experience of this awful pandemic, I knew a lot of people would be – in the Cabinet would be personally very worried about what this meant for the personal condition of the Prime Minister. I know it’s easy to discount that if you’re in the public at large or, you know, with the media and what have you, but I think there’s a lot of that. You want the government to respond in the right way and the Cabinet to respond in the right way. I think there’s an element of reassurance to give the public, so there is that, so I think I did a clip to camera and we basically emphasised that message.

I thought – and then there’s all the work that’s going on, from the strategic preparation for the – I think it was the five tests for how we come out of lockdown., I knew that the PM wanted all of that work being done for when we would be able to do that.

So there was that strategic work.

There was all the minutiae, operational minutiae of stuff going on in every department. You know, we had a good Cabinet, we good secretaries of state, I wanted to trust them to do that job. They would certainly not have welcomed an overly micromanaging step-in First Secretary, I was very conscious of that, but I did think it was important, for example, to get them together, to get the team together, and just say, “Come on, we’ve got this, PM is going to be fine” – fingers crossed, which was all we knew at that time – “let’s make sure when he comes back conscious we’ve all done a good job, both individually and as a team”.

I think there was some nervousness. I was told no – no one who wasn’t a Prime Minister had chaired a Cabinet before. I’ve got to say, I thought that’s not really the thing that matters right now, although I understood and respect – by the way, Helen and Mark – Helen MacNamara and Mark Sedwill – good colleagues, I respected them I – you know – but I thought the right thing to do for morale, both of Cabinet and the government, was say – just to get everyone together and have a bit of a team talk, and also just to check who was worried about whatever, and there may be other things we hadn’t thought about, because there hadn’t been a huge amount of contingency planning.

We ended up having a Cabinet discussion or a Cabinet meeting. Fine, I think we had couple of those in relatively short order. And I think it was, just at that human level, important.

But the most important thing was to make sure that you could show government was working, that there was a government functioning, that there was a First Secretary that was in charge. And I suppose, again, at another human level, I didn’t want anyone saying, well, Dom Raab is enjoying this too much, because (a) I wasn’t and (b), you know, I was there to do a job, and I felt very loyal, as I have done to every Prime Minister I have served, to make sure it was done as professionally as possible.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of learning lessons, Mr Raab, and particularly in the context of pandemic preparedness, what happened in 2020 is perhaps, it wasn’t unforeseeable, if a pandemic sweeps the country, that one of those affected may be the Prime Minister. Do you think there ought to be clearer guidance in place in time for the next pandemic in case the same thing happens again?

Mr Dominic Raab: I think it – again, I think it probably would be worth doing. Although – so I’d say two things. One, surely you should have some discussion and some principles and you should avail the current Prime Minister and whoever there is – whoever their nominated deputy is, whether it’s his First Secretary or Deputy Prime Minister, there ought to be some kind of conversation about what’s expected if the Prime Minister becomes indisposed other than for travel.

Having said that – again, it’s not for me to say it, but I listened to some of the evidence, whether it’s political evidence from SPADs like Mr Cummings or Fiona – we actually did a reasonable job during that four, five weeks. I think all the things that needed to happen, did happen. We were well advanced on the readiness with the five tests about how eventually we would come out of lockdown. And I’m not – again, I don’t want to overstate this, I think with a pandemic and a crisis, it’s useful to have some handrails, so yes, a bit more lessons learned and a bit more contingency planning would be useful, but actually our system worked and, as was often the case, this was British pragmatism and the – if you like, the informal conventions that inform how we make decisions actually did see us through.

So yes, a bit more codification, probably, but actually, I don’t think we did too bad a job, given the circumstances.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. Just briefly, if we look at the bottom of this page, we will see just at the bottom of paragraph 129 you refer there to “the Easter review”, I think you’ve mentioned it just in passing a few minutes ago.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: This was one of the features, wasn’t it, of the four or five weeks that you were at the helm. Just briefly expand on what that was all about and –

Mr Dominic Raab: We had five tests for – so the Easter review was, having gone into lockdown, you want to make sure that people feel like there’s some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, and, therefore, the Easter review would be that moment. And it would be judged against five criteria, which included everything from the state of the NHS, in particular ICU, the R level, so the transmission rate, through to the impact on the economy.

So I think trying to make sure you’ve got some good, clear benchmarks. And frankly, and this is a common theme, I don’t know whether you’ll get a chance to come on to it, but the data to inform those benchmarks so that that Easter review could be meaningful.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look at another document, if we may, please, Mr Raab. It’s INQ000136763.

This was a review of the culture in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office that was undertaken. If we can look at the whole page, we can see the date there, May 2020. It was undertaken by Helen MacNamara and Martin Reynolds.

We’ve heard evidence about both this review and the issue that prompted it, Mr Raab. In summary, problems with working both in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office, division between the two, unhappiness amongst at least some of those working there.

If we look at page 3 of the document, paragraph 2 of the review, a paragraph we’ve looked at before, problems listed there, not enough grip in the Cabinet Office, plans not being drawn together, not enough scrutiny, Number 10 is strong but not pulling in the same direction, sometimes the systems got flooded with unprioritised demands, culture isn’t getting the best from people. A couple of lines down there is a particular issue with junior women being talked over or ignored.

As we saw, one of the phrases that was used in the preparation of this document, although it didn’t find its way into the final draft, was describing what was going on as a so-called “superhero bunfight”.

This review was done in early May, so a week or two after Mr Johnson had come back, but one infers that these problems must have been evidencing themselves during the time that you were deputising for Mr Johnson. Were you aware of them at the time?

Mr Dominic Raab: Oh, I mean, look, I don’t necessarily agree with all of this, and I don’t propose going through it line by line but I think they’ve lifted out quite a few really salient themes around roles and responsibilities particularly, and accountability. The feeling often, whether it’s in normal times or in a crisis, is you yank a lever, whether it’s from Number 10 or the Cabinet Office, and you’re sort of waiting for something actually to happen. That nexus between authority and accountability I think is a very good example.

I’m not sure I agree with all of it, in the sense that – and by the way, I don’t think that those who conducted this review came and talked to me, which is I think itself quite telling, not that I would have disagreed with some of these issues. But I think the one thing I would say is, in any crisis, it’s not going to be a manicured operation. I mean, you know, in the Foreign Office we had the Thomas Cook insolvency, and we had the repatriation efforts, I mean, and all – you know, the Foreign Office deals with crisis management – it is never perfectly manicured, and there will be certainly people who feel bruised by the pressure of it, and sometimes that will be because someone has behaved inappropriately, I get that, but there is also emergency conditions which create a tension and a combustibility, which I think we need to acknowledge as a given, however perfect the structure is.

So – but I think the bit that I would alight on is endless meetings without a clear enough agenda, with papers focused on the agenda, with an exam question which leads to delivery, with a clear enough SRO, a senior reporting officer, who is actually going to say, if it doesn’t happen, why not. And preferably to give you an early heads-up.

I think there is a delivery function challenge in Whitehall more generally but I think it shows up during a crisis. One thing I’ve always noticed is how often the CFO role and the COO role, so the chief financial officer and the chief operating officer, are often merged. Which to me – as the Secretary of State in a big department, I think having a freestanding chief operating officer to deal with both long-term strategic plans but also the firefighting, why is something going wrong, can we fix it, I – again – and that’s even before you get into what you do in crisis mode.

Counsel Inquiry: Just a very practical question relating to this, those four or five weeks that you were deputising, were you actually based in the Cabinet Office or Number 10 or were you still working from the Foreign Office?

Mr Dominic Raab: I would come into Number 10 first thing and do the equivalent of the early morning meetings, stay on for any imperative business, but then I went back to the Foreign Office, partly because it was just as easy to work from there, it’s literally a stone’s throw because there’s a back entrance from the Foreign Office to Number 10, but also because – I was very mindful of this per se – if it didn’t make any difference to the effectiveness of what I did, I was very mindful of not looking like I was camping out in Number 10 while my Prime Minister was ill disposed.

Counsel Inquiry: Let me move on, Mr Raab, and ask you about a slightly different matter. For these purposes could we go to page 63 of your witness statement, please, paragraph 215. Do you have it?

Mr Dominic Raab: 215?

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, this is a paragraph where you’re discussing the scientific evidence, you’ve already mentioned your discussions with Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, I want to ask you about a sentence about six or seven leans down, you said:

“I never felt that anything was missing and I am confident that we received a range of perspectives throughout.”

One of the issues the Inquiry has been addressing is whether sufficient economic advice, economic modelling for example, was provided to decision-makers, and it may or may not be that that was one of the things that you had in mind when you wrote that sentence.

Let me give you an example of the evidence the Inquiry has heard. Ben Warner, who in fact you mention in that paragraph, you were obviously – he was obviously known to you, he said in his witness statement:

“The biggest absence throughout the pandemic was the lack of economic modelling in decision-making.”

So can we ask you for your view, please. As it were, let’s park the advice that came through Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance and SAGE and so on.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The question is whether that was sufficiently balanced or added to by economic advice. Mr Warner expresses a strong view that it wasn’t. What was your experience?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, look, I think it’s a very good point. I mean, just on the narrow point you’re making that I said I never felt anything was missing and I’m confident we received a range of perspectives throughout, I’m talking about the distillation of SAGE’s view –

Counsel Inquiry: I understand that –

Mr Dominic Raab: – on the pandemic, just to be clear.

Counsel Inquiry: – which is why I –

Mr Dominic Raab: I get it. But I wasn’t talking about the whole piece.

Look, I think we’ve got this four-point matrix, impact of Covid, non-Covid health impacts, economic and social. It is certainly true to say that in the lion’s share of meetings which were either Covid-O or S or Cabinet, that there’s disproportionate emphasis on the Covid health implications, and that’s natural in a crisis, and that’s the purpose of what Chris and Patrick were doing and SAGE.

I think it is also – and, by the way, I’ve read Ben’s evidence, his written evidence, I agree with – I think I’d struggle to disagree with anything he said certainly at the point of principle, about not having enough groupthink – not having enough challenges to groupthink. And particularly if all of the Covid perspective is crowding out some of those other things, and you’ve had a sense of my concern around – I was very concerned about closing schools. I was very concerned that if we locked down too early we wouldn’t have the stamina to see it through and flatten the curve and protect the NHS. Did we always get those perspectives? I think one of the challenges ever since – well, it’s probably been true for all prime ministers since World War II, but you’ve always got this challenge or this tension between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor – under Blair it was called the TB-GBs, and we all know what went – and it’s true, the tension is there, because the Treasury is such an authoritative place. I suspect quite a lot of the analysis of the economic impact, so in that matrix the economic implications, was discussed bilaterally probably at length, with lots of advisers from Number 10 and the Treasury there, and the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Was it filtered through properly enough to Cabinet to me to – I’m not sure. Certainly, one of the things the way government operates and Whitehall operates, it doesn’t – part of it, of course, is the – how convincing the evidence and analysis is but also it’s frankly, if you like, the fact you regurgitate over like cud certain consistent themes, and that becomes the benchmark or the bench point that you work to.

I think that the concern with all of the direct Covid impacts, as serious as they were, was like that a little bit, in the sense that we just eclipsed the group discussion of some of the wider economic implications.

I also can see the challenge, we wouldn’t have been able to do both to the same degree, so, you know, you choose how you prioritise the time. I also see that the PM and the Chancellor – and I think this is true successively, learning the lessons from the TB-GBs – we’re trying to make sure they would go into that room with a common view, is it is awful if you have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor disagree. And I think the other thing you wanted to try and avoid is it just being the Chancellor and the Health Secretary constantly at odds.

So I think the comments are well made, I think we probably would have wanted some more buttressing economic data sifted and filtered through in a meaningful way in which – you know, on two sides of A4, three sides of A4, not just further volumes.

But I also understand that trying to get the right balance between discussion that’s helpful and that doesn’t just create, if you like, systematic tensions which stop you making decisions.

So I’m trying to give you a full answer. I’m not disagreeing with what you say and what Ben is saying on this.

Counsel Inquiry: On a practical level, and this is something Mr Warner and others have said, there was a disparity between the SAGE advice, epidemiological advice, going through a particular process and generating SAGE consensus statements which were available to you and your colleagues –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – I’m not talking for the moment being published, more generally –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – and an absence of similar economic analysis as you say being made available on a two or three-page statement to allow those trade-offs to be understood when it came to NPI decision-making, and that is perhaps why some have suggested in a future pandemic some idea of an economic SAGE to do a similar job in a different field. Is that –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, SAGE did elicit quite a lot of controversy, the Inquiry will have noted, and therefore I think an economic version might just risk amplifying to new levels of consternation.

But the truth is I think you probably would want something as a counterbalance, if you like a ballast, to the SAGE advice. Whether it needs to be a whole new structure, I don’t know.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Let’s move, Mr Raab, to the second lockdown, if we may. For these purposes, let’s look at page 49 of your witness statement.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: In the top two paragraphs, you will see there 156 and 157, you describe the Cabinet meeting on Saturday 31 October. We’ve heard a lot of evidence, again, about the days running up to that meeting and the advice that the Prime Minister had received.

You describe then the meeting, we see at 157 you say the Prime Minister proposed second national lockdown and regret about the tiers not having had time to prove whether they were effective, and, as you say, the fact that the Prime Minister announced the second lockdown later that day.

If we can go on to paragraph 158, you say:

“In respect of the decision to implement the second national lockdown, the CMO’s advice was not binary but reflected a full spectrum of SAGE opinion for this decision, as for other decisions throughout the pandemic.”

The evidence the Inquiry has heard, Mr Raab, is that, for some time before this period, so at least for the whole of October, in fact going back to early September, the SAGE consensus advice had in fact been that there needed to be some sort of lockdown.

So what do you mean by saying the CMO’s advice was not binary?

Mr Dominic Raab: So I don’t remember ever Chris Whitty giving binary advice to the extent there was only really one option and they don’t admit of points along a spectrum. I don’t have the advice with me and I can’t recall the precise contours of SAGE on the second national lockdown, but there was – I mean, we lived in an operational world where there was always competing arguments. And even if there weren’t competing arguments on the science, the policy options of what you might do which would be effective as a result of the science would – and normally you had both, and you probably also had one or other scientist finding their views – their views finding their way into the media. So it certainly always felt like there were options.

And, in fairness, I think the point I’m trying to make about Chris Whitty is even when he made a strong recommendation, I think he was intellectually and professionally honest enough to say, “I’m not saying there is one set view, I’m saying that, whether it’s the consensus view” – and there’s a difference between consensus and unanimity – “my recommended view is this” – he might say it more or less strongly – “these are the implications, but I’m also conscious that there would be costs as well”. I mean, I thought we had good rounded conversations.

And Chris got the, I think, balance right between giving clear advice but not for closing the idea that there weren’t alternatives that could be meaningfully considered.

Counsel Inquiry: Can I ask you about a sentence one or two lines further down?

Mr Dominic Raab: Sure.

Counsel Inquiry: You say:

“There had been positive developments in relation to the vaccine and there seemed to be grounds to hope it was coming soon.”

Just remembering we’re at 31 October here, you’re not suggesting, are you, that the vaccine could somehow have made a difference as to whether a lockdown was needed in October/November 2020?

Mr Dominic Raab: I don’t think I’m suggesting – I don’t think I was suggesting that. But, again, I’d need to look again at what we were being told.

I mean, the minute that – the truth is the only way through the pandemic, as it became clear as we – as it evolved, was going to be either a test and trace system, of a markedly different quality and efficacy of the one we had, or a vaccine. And so we were constantly trying to see, as well as deal with the short and medium term, what was coming down the line. And, again, given this point about national stamina, when the vaccine was incredibly likely to come – or plausibly likely to come in, and therefore Chris and others and Patrick would update us on how the trials were going, and that itself is – was fascinating and I learnt a huge amount from them on that and indeed that process, and I think sometimes we wanted some good news, and progress on the trials was clearly of that order.

I don’t think I was saying that it would come quickly enough to prevent the December restrictions.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. If we look a little bit further down in the same paragraph you say this:

“There was a strong view that we could not get into a series of rolling lockdowns but rather had to wait and impose any further lockdown, not in order to stop the virus, but to flatten the curve when that became necessary to protect the NHS again …”

And again you say:

“… in order for the vaccines to become available.”

Well, we’ve heard that there were certainly, putting it at that level, two options. One was to have a series of what would be smaller lockdowns which would keep incidence in the population low, the other was to wait until you had to have a lockdown in order to save the NHS. But that would mean various things, one thing would mean that the lockdown when it came would have to be more severe and longer, and the other of course would be that incidence in the population would rise in the meantime, which would mean more people dying, more people contracting Long Covid and so on.

So, looking down at paragraph 159, you say the idea of a circuit breaker was “politically expedient and easy to communicate but we did not consider it was likely to be the best timing or most effective”.

So one understands that there were trade-offs –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – of course, as in any political decision, but what was the trade-off then between a circuit breaker and waiting until your hand was forced in order to save the NHS?

Mr Dominic Raab: I think the thing I had on my mind is the fatigue that was setting in with lockdowns, or analogous restrictions to lockdowns, and being in and out, I think, as well as being physically, logistically, emotionally exhausting for the country, plus the impact on business. So I’m looking at it in the round. And I’m – you know, whatever the – and I think my view was based on the evidence that we were getting.

I think at that point it was really about just trying to protect the NHS, because the lockdowns aren’t going to make Covid go away, the thing we need is the vaccine, and we’ve discussed that there were signs but obviously nowhere near fruition yet of that coming in a positive way. And just trying to deal with the national exhaustion of lockdown and what it was meaning.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Raab, you talk about national exhaustion, there is also the question of mortality and the national number of people who are dying.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: The circuit breaker, we have heard plenty of scientific evidence, would have kept the incidence of Covid at a lower level, which would have meant fewer people dying. Was that something that was considered at the time?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, absolutely. And again we relied on the evidence as we had it at the time. But of course we were mindful of that, but you’ve got your four key things which we were constantly focused on, the Covid deaths, the non-Covid health impacts – people would also have their lives and their health at risk if we can’t get the NHS working – we’ve got the social impact, the economic impact as well. Social impact isn’t sort of some fluffy abstract amorphous thing out there, it’s the impact on – mental health impact and all the other impacts of those restrictions.

And the challenge is to look at those in the round and take a balanced decision. So, you know, the idea of going in and out of these circuit breakers I think was actually – even if you could make a rational argument for it, I think, bearing in mind the likely compliance, and if it was tiered measures in particular, the difficulty of policing and enforcing that, coupled with the fact that people’s stamina for it is fraying, I think that’s why I took the view, on balance, that I did.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve seen evidence of all the briefings the Prime Minister had in the days running up to this decision. There is actually very little in your witness statement covering that period. Can you help us, were you involved in those sort of daily meetings for the week or two before 31 August or not?

Mr Dominic Raab: From recollection I can’t remember. I mean, obviously the most intensive period was during the Prime Minister’s absence. There was then periods after that where I was brought in to do deep dives, and I think partly because of the experience and the trust that I had with the Prime Minister after that situation, the development of the First Secretary role developed further, but I can’t remember off the top of my head quite how involved I was in some of those detailed meetings.

Mr O’Connor: Thank you very much, Mr Raab, those are all my questions for you.

Mr Dominic Raab: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr O’Connor.

Ms Heaven.

Ms Heaven is over there. If you look to the right of the pillar, Mr Raab, she will wave at you in a second.

Questions From Ms Heaven

Ms Heaven: Good afternoon, Mr Raab.

Mr Dominic Raab: Good afternoon.

Ms Heaven: I ask questions on behalf of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, so it’s a slightly Welsh perspective now, please.

I just have a very few questions for you. It really starts with paragraph 228 of your witness statement, and it’s no criticism of you but I think that’s really the brief explanation you give that touches on DAs. So I’ll just read it out just to remind. I think you’ve got it there on screen:

“In my experience, the arrangements for interaction and joint decision-making between the UK Government and the [devolved administrations] worked reasonably well. I did find that it became irritating as the pandemic went on that Scotland and Wales wanted to do things slightly differently or with different timings for what appeared to be political reasons, but we had regular meetings for the DAs and they were included in the COBR process. Generally speaking, we did take the DAs with us on key decisions. In any event, the differences were fairly minor in the end – staying in lockdown slightly longer, for instance.”

So before I come on to my question, just in terms of your involvement with the DAs, clearly you’ve got lots of other things that you’re doing at various points. I think you were attending some COBRs but clearly not all COBRs; is that fair?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes.

Ms Heaven: Are you attending the four nations meetings with Mr Gove? I don’t think we see you really in those meetings; is that fair?

Mr Dominic Raab: Not – not all of them.

Ms Heaven: No, okay.

So just focusing on what you say about this joint decision-making, and it working reasonably well, and obviously you’ve referenced there COBR, you may be aware the evidence given to the Inquiry by the First Minister for Wales, Mr Drakeford, and indeed by some of the other First Ministers in writing, is that, in their view, there was in fact no joint decision-making forum involving the devolved administrations, and what they say from their perspective is COBR was not really a forum in which the DAs could feed into UK decision-making, not least because they had no control over it, when it met they didn’t get the papers until the last minute, and of course as we know COBR didn’t meet I think between 10 May and 22 September for 2021.

So just thinking about it now, is that not a fair comment, then, from the First Ministers on this issue of joint decision-making, certainly in respect of what was happening in 2021?

Mr Dominic Raab: So first of all may I just say how my heart goes out to all the bereaved of Wales, as it does all the other parts of the UK.

In terms of paragraph 228, I mean, actually I think the operation both of the devolved administrations and the relationship, how they interacted with the UK Government, worked tolerably well. There will always be different views about how much should be centralised and how much should be decentralised. I think that the DAs were fully locked in. I think Michael Gove was tasked with that, I thought he did it very adeptly, and we – I mean, I remember countless meetings where we were all there, not just with the devolved administrations but also the Mayor of London, and they all had the opportunity to feed in, and they did.

So I can understand where I missed all of the focus on the operational function of getting through the pandemic, whether it’s from a Wales perspective, a Scottish perspective or a whole UK perspective. Most of the time I think was, I think in good faith, spent on that. I think’s there’s always an element of politics between the DAs and Westminster; I think it was kept to a tolerable limit.

I think the one thing it really showed up, though, if I may say so, is the value of the United Kingdom when it comes together, whether it’s PPE procurement, whether it’s test and trace, whether it’s the roll-out of the vaccine, how we perform as a team, and I think that was the most important lesson for the United Kingdom and for all the DAs.

Ms Heaven: Well, I’m going to try and keep you on topic, because it is joint decision-making. But just briefly, though, I did reference COBR not meeting 10 May to 22 September. Not having a COBR for four months, that can’t possibly have helped integrate UK decision-making at that high level, thinking of Prime Minister meeting the First Ministers; it can’t possibly have helped, can it?

Mr Dominic Raab: Well, as I said, the – Michael Gove, I think, what I would describe at a working and operation level was constantly locked in. I don’t know whether there were requests made for a COBR that were denied. I wasn’t aware of any. But in any event, often when at operational level things are working smooth, you do need fewer of the very higher level meetings. Why? Because actually you’ve got a good working relationship and some of the creases are being ironed out in a constructive way.

Ms Heaven: I’ll come on, then, to the next topic which is, as you’ve just raised it there, whether there was a concern about high level meetings. Again, just to put it to you to get your perspective, Mr Drakeford has again raised in his evidence – and of course we do see it in the documents before this Inquiry – that he had concerns, and I think there were also concerns from the other First Ministers, about an absence of regular meetings between the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and indeed he says, in his perspective, it did undermine the four nations approach to the response to Covid-19.

So just in terms of your state of knowledge then at the time, were you aware that these concerns were held and being expressed by the First Ministers, that they were unhappy about the level of regular access they had to the Prime Minister? So were you aware at the time that this was a concern being raised?

Mr Dominic Raab: No, I don’t think so, not in – not in those terms, no.

Ms Heaven: Okay. Well, indeed in any terms, is this something that you had heard about?

Mr Dominic Raab: Because the natural order of things in terms of the relationship between Westminster, Whitehall and the DAs that there will be various offers and asks and gripes and groans both ways, so there’s not sort of perfect harmony, particularly not during crisis, but actually I think beneath that and beneath the political dimension of that, actually the working-level relationship I think was very resilient. And as I said – and I’m not trying to circumvent, I’m trying to address squarely – the whole point about the teamwork that’s required is that the combination of what the DAs do, what the UK does and what we do together was actually pretty effective, and I’ve given you three concrete examples of where I think that’s borne out in the evidence.

Ms Heaven: I’ll move on then to the next topic, and this is the other issue you raise in that paragraph that I’ve read out to you from your witness statement, and it’s the bit where you say you found it irritating that as the pandemic went on Scotland and Wales wanted to do things slightly differently or with different timings for what appeared to be political reasons.

Obviously I’m not asking you about Scotland, I’ll let others do that, I’m just focusing on Wales.

So in terms of lockdowns, you will be aware that the Welsh autumn firebreak started on 23 October 2020, whereas England’s second national lockdown started on 5 November 2020. So is the fact that Wales went into that autumn lockdown sooner in 2020 something that irritated yourself and the Welsh Government at the time, so that they got in there quicker effectively?

Mr Dominic Raab: No, I don’t think I would give that as the particular example.

Ms Heaven: Okay, that’s not the example.

Okay, so can you identify then what is the example that you’re alluding to there in the paragraph of Welsh Government decision-making which diverged from the UK decision-making which you found irritating?

Mr Dominic Raab: I think, in general, my sense was – and I’d need to go back over the various different meetings and try and decipher the particular – is that there was perfectly good arguments sometimes why they might go a bit slower or a bit quicker or why they wanted something that they hadn’t yet had. Again, I thought Michael Gove and the Prime Minister were very good at trying to reconcile whatever the barrier to that happening was. Sometimes it just felt like, for the sake of doing something out of kilter with the UK Government, that there was a political gain in doing so. But, as I said, the differences were fairly minor and I didn’t attach huge importance to it.

But, look, I think if you think that the Plaid Cymru or the SNP or whoever else were totally absent of political thinking during that process, I think there would be an element of naivety, if I may say.

Ms Heaven: But if I can just press you a bit more, though, is it the case then that you’re not able now to give us a single example?

Mr Dominic Raab: I didn’t in the statement. I was asked for my view about how things worked. I’m not trying to stir up those tensions, I’m just giving you my impression holistically that there were at times a sense that one or other of the DAs wanted to get the jump for political purposes rather than because actually there was a particularly compelling case.

Ms Heaven: Okay.

Well, thank you very much, my Lady, those are my questions.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Heaven, very grateful.

Mr Dayle. Mr Dayle is over there. Are you going to come – are you going to stay there, Mr Dayle?

Don’t worry, he’s used to backs, I’m afraid, Mr Dayle.

The Witness: I will turn and give my evidence to the Inquiry.

Questions From Mr Dayle

Mr Dayle: Very well, thank you, my Lady.

Mr Raab, I ask questions on behalf of the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations, or FEHMO, and I have a handful of questions largely related to the period in April 2020 when you deputised as Prime Minister while Mr Johnson was hospitalised with Covid.

Let me begin hopefully some useful context. The period of 2 to 10 April 2020 is considered by those I represent as an inflection point for addressing disproportionate Covid-19 deaths in black, Asian and minority ethnic community, for two reasons: one, on 2 April Professor Khunti, whom this Inquiry has already heard from, made an intervention to the CMO, Sir Chris Whitty, about what he referred to as signals of disproportionate impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic community for which Sir Chris responded by email on 4 April.

Secondly, a Guardian article of 10 April noted that the first ten doctors to die from Covid-19 were of black, Asian and minority ethnic origin. In your own witness statement you say at paragraph 212, found at page 62:

“We did not have much learning at the early stage on the variable impact of Covid on ethnic minorities.”

So with this contextual background, here are my questions.

Firstly, in the absence of the Prime Minister between 5 and 25 April during his hospitalisation, were you specifically called on to address the matter of disproportionate death rates within black, Asian and minority ethnic community?

Mr Dominic Raab: Specifically by … by who?

Mr Dayle: By your advisers or anyone.

Mr Dominic Raab: No, not specifically in that way. I was, as I’m sure everyone in Cabinet and in government was mindful of some of this data and evidence coming through. The reality was when – and we had quite a few conversations with the chief scientific officers and Chris Whitty and others, and I think even by that point it just – the data and the evidence was too fluid for us to be able to come to any definitive conclusions, let alone actionable policy making, and therefore we were mindful that there was some clearly more examination of this that was required, and I remember asking – being involved in those discussions. But we just didn’t have enough firm enough conclusions, and the science wasn’t firm enough to be able to take it forward.

Mr Dayle: If I could just push you a little bit for a simple clarification on that, and my question would be this: how did this issue come to your attention in real time?

Mr Dominic Raab: Well, I think we could read things like the news reporting. I think because of some of the emerging data it would have either been raised proactively by the CMO or the CSA, or by ministers in any one of the meetings that we were involved in.

Mr Dayle: And you might have adverted to it in your earlier answer, but can I ask you: what was your understanding of this particular phenomenon? What, for example, was your view of what was driving these outcomes?

Mr Dominic Raab: It wasn’t clear. I think the one thing I was mindful of is the importance of being able to disaggregate data in a way which doesn’t lead you up a – down a – it doesn’t give you a false lead. And … but to be honest with you, what I thought my role – and I often do this, particularly outside the area of being Foreign Secretary at that time, which is obviously my portfolio – is to try and test and challenge. I think we did do quite a lot of that on this. So it wasn’t the absence of asking the question, I just don’t think that the evidence had firmed up with the kind of – to use the Inquiry’s terminology – consensus view of SAGE or otherwise. So, sure, there were evidential leads that were emerging, all of which required proper examination, but did that lead to clear consensus? Well, not to my knowledge from the CMO or SAGE.

Mr Dayle: And from that answer, I presume that there were conversations that were ongoing about this issue. Who were you speaking to? And I perhaps mean that in the sense of whether you were speaking to people who were scientific or public health experts or political experts or both.

Mr Dominic Raab: All of the above, and it would typically arise – it was a classic issue that came up in the context of the Covid meetings, the COBR meetings or indeed in Cabinet where people – we were conscious that there was this issue there on which we had incomplete knowledge but we felt was very salient and clearly very serious, and that’s the way it tended to emerge. Someone would ask the question, “But what about this?”, and inevitably the evidence would come back from the scientists that, “Well, we’re not clear yet on the firmness of the evidence”, and therefore it’s difficult to decide what your political or policy answer is going to be.

Until you’ve got the evidence about what exactly is happening, why the disproportionate outcomes to one or other element of your society, I think it is difficult to come up with a definitive policy which doesn’t risk being counterproductive. And I think quite a lot of us – we’d talked about with our four core priorities, there is an element of nervousness about the negative implications of one or other course of action. When the evidence base is not that firm, or hasn’t firmed up yet enough, I think those concerns and that uncertainty is even greater.

Mr Dayle: Can I ask: what, if any, contemporaneous strategic response was pursued regarding this issue?

Mr Dominic Raab: With respect, sir, I think I’ve answered that, which is that I think it was very difficult to come up with a strategic response in the absence of firm evidence, and the risk would have been you would have got your strategy wrong, if your evidence base wasn’t firm enough.

Mr Dayle: So I take it that that is a wait and see?

Mr Dominic Raab: We’re always desperate to get more evidence and then respond to it as it firmed up, and as we had a clearer idea of what the implications were, and indeed the implications of the various policy options.

Mr Dayle: You state at paragraph 212 of your witness statement, which I referred to earlier, that:

“What was clear was that schooling would be impacted by lockdown and particularly significant effects on poorer children and those from ethnic minorities.”

Why was it clear to you that there would be a significant impact on poorer children and those from ethnic minority backgrounds?

Mr Dominic Raab: You’re citing from 211?

Mr Dayle: 212.

Mr Dominic Raab: 212. (Pause). Yeah, but, look, I think in all of this – and I at various points questioned, in this kind of scenario, a box tick exercise I think is very difficult to decipher what I think ought to be the overriding issue, which is vulnerability. I felt, and I think I still feel – though, again, always happy to reassess the evidence that we have today – that the two bits of our, sections of our, cohorts of our society most dramatically affected by lockdown were children if we locked down schools, and the impact on the elderly from the measures that we were taking, whether it was to lock down or not to lock down, and if we did lock down then you’ve got safeguarding and the perennial issues around that.

In relation to children, the more disproportionate impact will be on children from deprived backgrounds, and it’s just, I think, a fact, a sad fact, that that will include disproportionate number of black and ethnic minority children. And so that’s the – that’s not based on some standalone evidence in relation to black or ethnic minority children, it’s in relation to children, middle class or well off children, I think it’s fair to say, and with families that can deal with the home schooling or the schooling by Zoom or by Teams, I think would be – would lose out less, although everyone lost out, than those from more deprived backgrounds where dealing with those kind of remote learning challenges would be less easy.

That’s the reflection I have.

Mr Dayle: This Inquiry has heard a fair amount of expert evidence, including from Sir Patrick Vallance, that disparities in health outcomes from the pandemic were “entirely foreseeable”. This would tend to support your observations about the impact of lockdown on poorer children and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. How, then, do you reconcile this understanding with what you say earlier in the same paragraph, that is paragraph 212, where you say that you did not have much learning on the variable impact of Covid on those from ethnic minority backgrounds?

Mr Dominic Raab: At the time we didn’t. So, Patrick may say we do now, of course that’s the point of this Inquiry, and I think learning lessons and as the evidence evolves, because of course a huge evidence base is coming out of the pandemic, but at the material time at which these decisions were making, I think that’s correct.

Mr Dayle: Very well. Those are my questions. Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Dayle.

Ms Davies. Again I understand you’re going to cover one point that you thought Counsel to the Inquiry was going to cover.

Ms Davies: My Lady, you’ve given permission for that, so thank you very much and I will do it within the time allocated.

Questions From Ms Davies KC

Ms Davies: Mr Raab, I’m asking questions on – can you see and hear me?

Mr Dominic Raab: I can.

Ms Davies KC: Yes. I’m asking questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: – Solace Women’s Aid, who you will know are part of the violence against women and girls sector and concerned with domestic abuse.

So I have three topics, as my Lady has kindly said. The first is about equality impact assessments. You say at paragraph 210 that those were carried out by the civil service, but you thought they were a fairly blunt tool. You’re not a huge fan?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, that’s probably a reasonable – I mean, I think it’s an important objective, of course, to see the disproportionate impact on members of our society, or specific communities, of measures we’re taking or indeed the pandemic as a whole. Whether the EIAs discharge that effectively I think is a moot point.

Ms Davies KC: So a useful tool but maybe not carried out effectively?

Mr Dominic Raab: Well, whether it’s the –

Ms Davies KC: A useful function, I should have said.

Mr Dominic Raab: I think a useful aim. Whether the EIA is the right tool, as currently focused, I don’t know.

Ms Davies KC: Just to take one example – and you may say, well, you have no recollection of this – but in your witness statement you’re talking about one meeting that you chaired, which was a deep dive on 29 April, it’s paragraph 188, and it’s looking forward to the end of lockdown and possible measures to be introduced at the border to reduce risk of imported cases coming in. Four recommendations emerge, and the fourth one is a requirement for arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days, either at home or in hotels.

Can you remember whether that deep dive was accompanied by an equality impact assessment, and whether there was any consideration of the possibility of domestic abuse emerging if couples are self-isolating for 14 days?

Mr Dominic Raab: I can’t, in relation to that particular deep dive. We were certainly – I certainly remember reflected on the fact that the lockdowns had a varying effect on, if I can put it this way, family harmony.

You had quite a few people, if I could say this, typically middle class families – and I heard a lot of this in my own constituency – for whom lockdown was an epiphany moment because they spent more time as a family. Now, there were all sorts of challenges and hardships, of course, but there was something rather positive about that.

I think there were also, we were very conscious, would be other communities and households in other parts of the country where the experience was that actually the combustible nature of what was going on in the home, whether it was because of mental health challenges or whether it was because of domestic tensions and domestic abuse, where that was very different.

Quite whether an EIA would have picked that up and what would it have told us that we could have done about it, I think is another question.

But I don’t remember, and forgive me, on that specific deep dive of 29 April quite what the EIA said, or indeed if it was conducted.

Ms Davies KC: Thank you. And of course, I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply this, but domestic abuse happens in middle class families as well as non-middle class families, of course.

Mr Dominic Raab: Oh, sure.

Ms Davies KC: Of course.

Mr Dominic Raab: And just look – and in fact in Surrey we’ve got very, very high levels of domestic abuse. So I don’t think it follows class or even wealth. My reflection is just that I think intuitively and impressionistically, but I suspect the data backs it up, there are two diverse experiences of lockdown, both of which were quite salient. Some families where there was a very positive dynamic, for whatever reason, people took a moment to think, “Well, actually, I want to spend more time with the family and maybe I was working too hard”.

We can see this, by the way, in –

Ms Davies KC: If you don’t mind, I’ve got very limited time.

Mr Dominic Raab: Well, you did put it to me that I was somehow –

Lady Hallett: It’s because of me, Mr Raab, I’m afraid I’ve imposed strict time limits.

Mr Dominic Raab: Okay. But –

Ms Davies: We have the point that families have different experiences in lockdown.

Mr Dominic Raab: Very good.

Ms Davies KC: Thank you.

Moving on to my next topic, and that’s about non-shielding vulnerable groups, and you had quite some involvement in considering what was called non-shielding vulnerable groups, so they’re not clinically vulnerable.

You chaired a meeting on 24 April, three days before the Prime Minister returned to work, and that was a Covid MIG on the non-shielded vulnerable groups.

I don’t need to take – I can see you’re looking for papers – you to the papers.

Simon Case presented on non-shielding vulnerable groups, and one of those groups was those experiencing domestic abuse, and he said that that was amongst the highest risk of government failing to meet needs, and described that risk as acute.

So the MIG took that very seriously.

We know that MIGs were abolished and replaced with Covid-O and Covid-S. Are you able to say whether or not that workstream headed up by Simon Case on domestic abuse moved over to the Covid-O/Covid-S structure, or whether it was lost or disrupted in some way?

Mr Dominic Raab: No, forgive me, I’ve no idea, it wasn’t either a direct personal responsibility – and of course Simon Case was very professional, so I think I would have assumed that that would have been continued through.

Ms Davies KC: My third additional question is this, and again it’s about the period when you’re acting Prime Minister, and it is – forgive me, I just have to get this on my screen – 16 April and you are addressing the nation in very sombre terms, and your address to the nation is about the decision that had been made, I think earlier that day, that the lockdown would continue for another three weeks, in other words it wouldn’t end early, and you make it very clear what a significant decision that was.

You end your speech with “Please stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS”, the government slogan.

Some five days earlier, 11 April, the Home Office had launched its “You Are Not Alone” campaign, Dame Priti Patel had done the daily press briefing and she had made a point of encouraging domestic abuse victims to know that they could leave home under the regulations if they needed to escape risk of injury, risk of harm.

Your speech doesn’t contain that information that those who were suffering domestic abuse or think they’re going to suffer domestic abuse or any other sort of injury could leave home. Do you think that it should have included that message?

Mr Dominic Raab: Was this at the press conference?

Ms Davies KC: It was the, I think, address to the nation, the daily press conference, yes, but it was one of the very significant ones because you’re saying –

Mr Dominic Raab: Yes, I understand.

Ms Davies KC: – lockdown will continue for three weeks.

Mr Dominic Raab: Look, inevitably, you have a very limited period of time because actually those press conferences were also supposed to be about taking questions, not just talking to the public, so inevitably we couldn’t contain every caveat to the headline advice; it just wasn’t manageable. I thought the Home Secretary had really spelt it out very clearly, we felt we’d landed that message. Of course you would always want to reinforce it, but there was probably a whole range of things where if I’d have gone down and itemised every element of the advice, we would have been there for a disproportionate period of time, and that wouldn’t have served the purpose of the press conference and landing the messages because I think people would have drifted off, frankly, and that was our experience if those became too unwieldy. So it wasn’t – I think we did land that message and I think we continued it in our comms more generally, and it certainly – because it wasn’t in every press conference or indeed that particular one didn’t – I don’t think it’s fair to read into that a deprioritisation or it being a lower level of importance.

Ms Davies KC: In hindsight, do you think that might have been an immensely welcome message for someone sitting at home watching you who was experiencing domestic abuse, or thought that she might soon, and was hearing that there would be another three weeks of lockdown?

Mr Dominic Raab: Look, I think with all of those groups that suffered disproportionately you can always look back and think, “Well, I wish I’d have done – said a bit more”, but in the end we only had a limited space within which to craft our message and deliver it, and that was true at a whole range of points. You know, you inevitably have to editorialise your message. But certainly we were very mindful throughout that there was this, if you like, simmering issue of domestic abuse and that lockdown was clearly making it worse, and we wanted to try and make sure that the lines of communication practically were there for anyone that needed that critical help.

Ms Davies: Thank you very much.

My Lady, thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Davies.

If you look straight ahead, Mr Raab, last furlong, Ms Mitchell.

Questions From Ms Mitchell KC

Ms Mitchell: Mr Raab, I appear as instructed by Aamer Anwar & Company on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved.

I would like to take you back to the paragraph that my learned friend from Wales has already taken you to, that being paragraph 228 of your statement, and that’s coming up on screen for you now.

My learned friend covered, at least from Wales’ perspective, the issue of your irritation, and I have you noted as explaining in your response that there were perfectly good arguments sometimes why they – presumably the devolved administrations – might go a bit slower or a bit quicker, or why they wanted something that they hadn’t yet had. But you also say “sometimes it just felt like for the sake of doing something out of kilter with the UK Government, that there was a political gain in doing so”. Then you go on to say that you thought the differences were relatively minor in any event.

Now, I would like to ask you about that, and particularly focusing on the issue of your irritation. You have described yourself as a recovering lawyer, and you’ll know the benefit of basing your views on concrete evidence. So my question to you is this: why are you irritated on the basis that sometimes you just felt like it was political when you don’t actually have evidence to support that, but you do, by your own words, have evidence to support the idea that perfectly good arguments have been made as to why things could go faster or slower in Scotland or Wales?

Mr Dominic Raab: So, look, if I’d have had advance notice, I would have pored over the documents and come with a good example for Wales and a good example for Scotland. Forgive me, but we’re talking about matters that were a long time ago, and also I’m not trying to needle either Plaid Cymru or the SNP, but the truth is what I’m – the answer to your question is there was often a combination of reasons, some were more compelling or persuasive on the facts than others.

Ms Mitchell KC: Indeed, but you weren’t present at, for example, meetings with Scottish CMO when decisions were being taken in Scotland. So my question is: why are you ascribing the idea that it was political, instead of the idea that it might simply be, as you’ve said, a reasonable decision to take? Why –

Mr Dominic Raab: Because I was in a whole range of meetings with First Ministers or other ministers from the devolved administrations, whether it was Welsh or Scottish, and I also could see the ground or the reasons, whether it was on the papers or as explained by them, for the decisions and that was the view I took.

Ms Mitchell KC: I’d like to move on to paragraph 229, if we can have that up on the screen, please. You described what you’ve already mentioned about the benefits of matters being centralised and reserved to Westminster. What you’ve said, three lines down, is:

“However, any taking back of powers would be politically controversial, so there should be a very high threshold for doing so and I would need to be persuaded that there was a demonstrably significant gain in efficacy. As a result of my experience during Covid, I was not so persuaded.”

So I would like to ask you two questions on that, interrelated, the first being: why were you not so persuaded? And the second being: what do you consider the threshold for Westminster taking back powers from the devolved administrations to be?

So I wonder if I can ask for your comment on the first question, please.

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, I mean, to be clear, I’m making the case that on balance I don’t – for those that think we should become more centralised, I’m not persuaded of the case. I think if you did want to do that and you wanted to make that case and you wanted to pass it with the consent of the devolved administrations, or one or other of them, I think the bar would have to be quite high, given (a) the legislative requirements for doing so, and (b) frankly just political common sense.

My overriding experience is that actually team UK work very well together and because of the United Kingdom-wide government working with the devolved administrations on those three critical areas, test and trace, PPE procurement and vaccine roll-out, actually we worked very effectively together and it was a good example of the UK delivering for the people of Scotland or indeed the people of Wales.

Ms Mitchell KC: Mr Raab, we’ve heard therefore that you weren’t persuaded that, as a result of your experience during Covid, that the threshold had been reached for, as you’ve described it, taking back – any taking back of powers. The second part of my question, and I shall remind you of it, is: what do you consider the threshold for Westminster taking back powers to be?

Mr Dominic Raab: High.

Ms Mitchell KC: Is that your only –

Mr Dominic Raab: Given that I’m not in favour of it, I’m just making the point that for those that are making the case, I think the basis would be pretty high, whether it was because the legislative or the political common sense would be – that, frankly, I think that most people with a political antennae would know, you’d want to have the Scottish people with you, you’d want to be able to make the overwhelming case that they would be better. I’m not – you know, I’m not sure, for such a controversial step, that that case has been made and, as I said, quite how I’d define high … I haven’t dwelt on this at any great length, but I think the case for unpicking the current devolved settlement – I think you’ve got to be very careful what you wish for, and I think the case for re-centralising power has not been made.

Ms Mitchell KC: I wonder if we can move on to page 230 of your statement. I don’t need to that to be brought up online, but you said there that:

“There were benefits to the devolved approach as it meant Scotland and Wales were required to face up to the same difficult decisions those of us in Westminster had to and work with Westminster on them.”

Other than political considerations, do you consider there to be any benefits to the devolved approach in the pandemic?

Mr Dominic Raab: Yeah, I think the critical one is accountability. So to the – I mean, in an emergency, and you look at, for example, other countries around the world, and people would comment that for example test and trace or whatever else was done more effectively in some of the East Asian countries, but however much more centralised – frankly more authoritarian approach often – I’m not for a second suggesting – indeed I think you have to take that into account as to why, in a western liberal democracy and a European one, you wouldn’t be able to do that.

I think that there are obviously areas where, if you can devolve things locally, that’s valued, and that’s in normal times. In a crisis it’s slightly different because you want more decisive action, but actually I think what I’m saying is overall, net of all of those considerations, I think it worked out quite well. And one of the positives – if, for example, there is any naked politicking, there’s going to have to be accountability for it, and that’s the natural course of a devolved settlement. There will be local accountability for local decision-making.

Ms Mitchell KC: So you’ve identified accountability, but what I’m asking is: was there any actual benefit in respect of what happened during the pandemic?

Mr Dominic Raab: I’m not averse to that thesis, that argument. I’d need to reflect on it, I haven’t thought about whether or how the devolved settlements actually helped the Scottish or Welsh administrations deal more effectively than it all being centralised. I would – but I can see how that could be the case, particularly, for example, where you’re dealing with local authorities or potentially care homes. Although, again, it depends whether you’re talking about judging it by results or judging it by theoretical powers. But, you know, I’m not in the business of criticising the DAs, I’m in the business of working with them as effectively as possible.

Ms Mitchell: My Lady, those are my questions.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Mitchell.

I should just say, Mr Raab, before I have Mr Drakeford on the phone, that I think you twice referred to Plaid Cymru as being the government in Wales. It’s a Labour government, I think.

The Witness: Of course, of course.

Lady Hallett: I just didn’t want anyone getting upset that we didn’t understand.

Is that it?

Mr O’Connor: My Lady, I have nothing further.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Raab. I’m sorry we’ve kept you here for so long –

The Witness: That’s fine.

Lady Hallett: – but we have now completed your evidence, and I’m very grateful for your help.

The Witness: Very good, thank you.

(The witness withdrew)

Lady Hallett: And it’s 10 o’clock tomorrow, please.

(4.57 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10 am on Thursday, 30 November 2023)