Transcript of Module 2 Public Hearing on 07 December 2023

(10.00 am)

Mr Boris Johnson

MR BORIS JOHNSON (continued).

Questions From Lead Counsel to the Inquiry (continued)

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: Mr Johnson, good morning.

Mr Boris Johnson: Good morning, Mr Keith. Good morning.

Lead Inquiry: May we start, please, on the topic of the reduction in the distancing rule from 2 metres to 1 metre?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: You’ll recall that, in the summer of 2020, on 23 June, in fact, you announced the adoption of the 1-metre plus rule. It is obvious from the material that – and you refer to this in a Cabinet meeting – or in a meeting in the Cabinet Office on 2 June – that the underlying scientific advice was that staying 2 metres away from other people remained the best way of reducing coronavirus transmission, but it is equally apparent that there was clear economic pressure upon you to reduce the 2-metre rule in order to make business viable.

Was the 2-metre/1-metre rule issue a particularly acute example of that balance between public health epidemiological considerations and economic?

Mr Boris Johnson: In a way, it certainly was, but I think I would just – it wasn’t quite as simple as that, because the 2-metre – your observation that the scientists were recommending 2 metres is of course correct, or some – many scientists were recommending 2 metres, some were not, some were saying 1 metre was all right, but it was also true that 3 metres would have been better, or 4 metres, 5 metres, would have been epidemiologically more effective than 2 metres. It was a question of where to draw the line.

And the – there was plenty of evidence from around the world that other countries had gone from – down to 1 metre, there were other international comparators that had done it safely, and so although you’re quite correct that hospitality and other sectors were desperate to be able to operate, because it was very, very difficult under the 2-metre rule, it did not seem to me, on balance, to be epidemiologically unsound to do it. And I of course had to balance the very considerable hardship that was being caused to people by the effective closure of hospitality as a result of the 2-metre rule.

Lead Inquiry: I posed the question the way that I did because I’ve actually quoted your own words from the summing-up of that Cabinet Office meeting on 2 June:

“Summing up, THE PRIME MINISTER said … The underlying scientific advice [so obviously the combination of the various views that you’d received] was that staying two metres away from … people remained the best way of reducing coronavirus transmission.”

There was no doubt about –

Mr Boris Johnson: 3 metres would have been even better.

Lead Inquiry: Indeed, but there was no doubt at all that, epidemiologically, the existing, the pre-existing 2-metre rule was the best way to proceed epidemiologically. But you were, understandably, under intense economic pressure to try to take a different path in order to be able to alleviate the economic burden?

Mr Boris Johnson: And there were plenty of other countries that had done the same.

Lead Inquiry: That debate took place, of course, in advance of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which was put into place in August in those midweek days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of the four weeks of August.

In your statement, you make plain that you and the Chancellor thought that there was a sound policy rationale for the introduction of the scheme. Were the policy rationales firstly the obvious economic support for the hospitality sector, but secondly to influence social behaviour by incentivising the public to engage, more generally, indoors hospitality, that was the thinking?

Mr Boris Johnson: The thinking was that the country had made a huge effort, that we’d got the R down below 1, that the disease was no longer spreading in the way that it had been, and that within the budget of risk it was now possible to open up hospitality.

That being so, logically, if we were going to take advantage of that, if we were going to allow people to take advantage of – allow the hospitality sector to take advantage of the freedom that our collective efforts had won them, then it seemed to me to make sense to make sure that they actually had some – some customers. That was my thinking. And it seemed to me that if it was safe to open hospitality, then it must be safe for people to go to hospitality.

Lead Inquiry: Do you accept, as Professor Edmunds said in his evidence to this Inquiry, it’s one thing to take your foot off the brake, which is of course what had been done in terms of easing the restrictions in June and July, but to put your foot on the accelerator is, by implication, quite different? He in fact used the word “perverse”, but I’m just going to suggest to you that it’s a different thing to do.

Mr Boris Johnson: Utmost respect for Professor Edmunds. All I would say is that at the time that the Eat Out to Help Out policy was being aired with me for the first time, it did not seem – it was not presented to me as an acceleration, simply something to make sense of the freedoms that we were already – we were already giving. And it was not – I’m – I must emphasise, it was not at the time presented to me as something that would add to the budget of risk.

Lead Inquiry: But it wasn’t being presented to you by the scientists, was it? It was being presented to you by the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The material makes quite plain that they were the ones who proposed the scheme. The paperwork makes that absolutely plain. And at the same time your Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, in particular at a Covid-S meeting on 22 June, was saying that, in general terms, the proposed easing of restrictions, in relation to indoor hospitality, was at the top end of the risk boundary.

So you knew that there was an element of risk in this, there had to be a degree of epidemiological gamble, that’s logical and fair?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t – I don’t think that I thought that that scheme in itself was a particular gamble at the time, and it wasn’t – it certainly wasn’t presented to me as such, nor am I confident that there is very substantial evidence that it did indeed add to the R, though, you know, I defer to what your Inquiry has discovered. But I can’t see anything that conclusively shows that it made a big difference. At the time, it wasn’t presented to me as something that would.

Lead Inquiry: Could we have INQ000232086, pages 1 and then 2. We’ll stick with 1 for the moment.

This is just to demonstrate, Mr Johnson, that there was considerable debate between the Treasury and Number 10 in relation to a voucher scheme which became the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. This is an email from the Treasury dated 22 May. It refers to, at the bottom of the page, the Chancellor asking her to thank all the teams as the meeting with you went very well, you’d complimented him on doing a great job.

Then if we just go over the page to the middle, we can see a reference to presenting a plan for July. And then right at the bottom of the screen:

“[Chancellor] clear that should not do options in box at bottom of the page, eg IT cut – people save not spend. PM very keen on vouchers idea.”

So there was a general debate going on, obviously and sensibly, for some time before August, and you expressed your optimism, as it’s been described, that the scheme was a good idea.

The material does indeed seem to indicate that there wasn’t a significant increase in infection after the scheme, although there is in the material some suggestion it may have gone up to some degree in different parts of the country, as you might expect.

But you knew that the Treasury and HMRC had not in fact sought scientific advice on the epidemiological consequences of the scheme; that must have been apparent to you?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I say in my statement that I thought that Chris and Patrick must have known or did know about the – about Eat Out to Help Out, and I said that because it wasn’t a very secret thing, it was a – I thought, a pretty well publicised scheme, and I’m fairly confident that it was discussed several times in meetings at which I believe they must have been present.

You know, I understand that they don’t feel that they were properly consulted, and I remember being – but I don’t quite understand how that can have happened, to be honest. I remember being surprised later, I think it was in September, when Chris says, “This is Eat Out to help the virus”, and I thought – you know, I thought that’s funny, because I didn’t – you know, I didn’t remember any previous controversy about it.

Lead Inquiry: Mr Johnson, in June and July you had a number of bilateral meetings with the Treasury and the Chancellor –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – at which the scheme was debated.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: There were no scientists present at any of those meetings, were there?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, but it would have been normal for a project like that, a scheme like that to have gone through the Covid-19 Taskforce and, you know, it seemed to me odd that the scientists hadn’t been made aware of it.

Lead Inquiry: So you knew they hadn’t been made aware of it, you knew that –

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, I don’t think I said that.

Lady Hallett: It’s not what I understood.

Mr Keith: It seemed to me odd that the scientists – oh, I see, sorry. Do you mean now it appears –

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, I thought it was –

Lead Inquiry: I apologise. I thought you meant at the time it –

Mr Boris Johnson: So, yeah, no, so my surprise was in, I think it was, something like September 16th or thereabouts, it’s quite a long time afterwards, when I heard Chris in a Covid-S say “It’s Eat Out to help the virus”, and he looked at me meaningfully, and I thought, well, that’s funny, because I didn’t remember this being something that had previously seemed to attract objection or controversy.

Lead Inquiry: But, please may we be clear about this: no scientists had been present at any of the bilateral discussions –

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: – about the voucher or what became the Eat Out to Help Out scheme?

Mr Boris Johnson: Certainly not so far as I can remember.

Lead Inquiry: No. The paperwork, and you’ve obviously received a number of papers, made no reference, did it, to this scheme being supported or proposed by the epidemiological experts?

Mr Boris Johnson: It wouldn’t – it didn’t say that, but on the other hand I wouldn’t necessarily have drawn the conclusion from that that it was – that it had either been opposed or it had not been discussed with them.

Lead Inquiry: In your statement you do say in terms the scheme was, to use your words, “properly discussed, including with Chris and Patrick”, so –

Mr Boris Johnson: I did say that, and that was my belief, and I don’t understand how that – I don’t understand how something as well publicised as that could have been smuggled past the … the scientific advice. I don’t – I don’t see how that could have happened.

Lead Inquiry: So that we’re entirely clear about this, your statement appears to positively suggest that it was properly discussed, including with Chris and Patrick; you’re the one who suggests in your statement that the persons with whom it was discussed included the CMO and the –

Mr Boris Johnson: I –

Lead Inquiry: Excuse me.

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry.

Lead Inquiry: – included the CMO and the GCSA, but now today you’re saying you’re not sure whether it was discussed with them, and you’re surprised that it wasn’t; is that the position?

Mr Boris Johnson: I – the reason I said that in my statement is because I frankly assumed that it must have been discussed with them, and I’m perplexed as to how something as significant as that can have got through … there was – there must have been several meetings of Covid-S and Covid-O at which it was discussed, so I’m …

Lead Inquiry: You understand that you make a positive averral, “it was properly discussed”. That word “properly” is your word, Mr Johnson, not the Inquiry’s.

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s indeed my memory, and I remember the scheme coming up several times, and that’s why I, as I’ve told you, I was surprised when, later, I heard that Chris was calling it “Eat out to help the virus”, and taken aback.

Lead Inquiry: Enforcement.

There was, at the same time, of course a constant debate as to whether or not, in order to promote proper self-isolation, in order to ensure heightened compliance with the guidance and the regulations, further enforcement was required or whether or not, or perhaps alongside it, additional financial support should be provided. It was an obvious debate that had to be had.

Did you have a position in relation to whether or not the cure for lack of compliance or for difficulties with self-isolation should be greater enforcement, tougher enforcement and bigger fines, or for the setting up of a more generous system for financial support for those who were self-isolating; do you recall?

Mr Boris Johnson: We – we did both. We instituted a compensation scheme for self – for – payments for those who were self-isolating, from September I think, of about £500, but I also took the view that if we were going to have a system of enforcement then it needed to be pretty firm.

Lead Inquiry: Do you recall whether or not the amount for – the payment went up between March 2020 and September?

Mr Boris Johnson: I –

Lead Inquiry: Was there any increase before September, Mr Johnson, do you recall?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I remember the top whack fine was £10,000.

Lead Inquiry: Well, indeed. You declared in a handwritten message, a handwritten note on a box note given to you on 13 August:

“I agree with the openings but the OVERRIDING MESSAGE …”

You said in capital letters.

“… should be about tougher enforcement and BIGGER FINES.”

But at the same time it’s notable that you in no way suggested that an alternative way, or perhaps a complementary way, might be to increase the amount of payments for self-isolation?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, we did, as I’ve just said, increase payments for self-isolation.

Lead Inquiry: That wasn’t a suggestion that you made at this time, although it came in later, as you rightly say, in September. So your position was, it would appear, enforcement is the only way to go?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, that’s obviously not quite right, because we did give quite generous payments for self-isolation. I think the concern that we had was that there could be difficulties, complications, abuse of any system of payments. We were already spending, as everybody knows, very considerable sums in support of all kinds, so there were anxieties about some of the implications of the compensation system, but because it was so important to go with self-isolation, to encourage people and to help people who needed support, we did go for the £500 payments.

Lead Inquiry: On the regulations and the guidance themselves, evidence has been received by the Inquiry from the former Home Secretary, Dame Priti Patel, that in her opinion there was a high degree of confusion surrounding the broad thrust of the regulations as well as their detail, and the Inquiry has seen a diary entry in Sir Patrick Vallance’s evening notes where you exclaim in frustration, but plainly perhaps not to be taken too seriously, “Who made these stupid rules” –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah –

Lead Inquiry: Was that – against that context, Mr Johnson, to what extent did your advisers and officials come to you over the summer and the autumn of 2020 and say, “There really is a distinct problem about the efficacy and the workability of these regulations, they’re very difficult to understand and they’re giving rise to a significant degree of confusion”? Did that debate ever take place?

Mr Boris Johnson: We did – we did try to make the rules as simple as we could, but the problem was the effort did – to get people to self-isolate, to avoid contact, because of the complexities of human life, became extremely complicated. And I think we really need – you know, for the future – to think about how we do it again, because yes, it was very difficult to enforce. And I do have a great deal of sympathy for those who were – the police, those who were charged with enforcing it, because it changed very often, I think there were 60 separate changes, and the complexities for the public to understand were very great.

Lead Inquiry: Have you thought about how it might be done differently next time in terms of the promulgation of the legal superstructure?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think clearly it would be a matter for my Lady and the Inquiry, but I think that there needs to be a great deal of reflection about the – simplifying the whole approach and seeing what we can do to rely more on common sense and less on regulation and legislation. But there may be limits to that, and I’m not suggesting there is an easy answer, because the reason fundamentally in the UK why you – and I say this to all the libertarians – why you need regulation is because ultimately people want to see everybody being obliged to obey the same set of rules and to – and they want their neighbours to do what they’re doing.

Lead Inquiry: But it must be noted that, despite your declared libertarian tendencies, your own message to your advisers, as we see from that document, was bigger fines, more enforcement, a heavier hand?

Mr Boris Johnson: I wanted – so here’s the picture, I was very concerned – I knew that we were basically in remission as we come out of the first lockdown, and the reason I go for things like Eat Out to Help Out is because I think it’s within the budget of risk, but I know that we’re going to – we’re going to face another wave, and I really want people – if we’re going to avoid tougher measures, we need people to obey the existing strictures.

Lead Inquiry: It was obvious to you, and we’ll look at a WhatsApp in a moment, of course by the end of July that the United Kingdom would be hit by a second wave. That was epidemiologically taken for granted in terms of the examination of this viral pandemic.

We’ll have INQ000048399, page 25. You say it’s “completely obvious we are about to be hit by a second wave”. It’s about halfway down, just after halfway down the page. 8.10.48:

“Folks, looking at Spain and France and remembering March, it is completely obvious we are about to be hit by a second wave.”

On page 32, a month later, 31 August, in the same WhatsApp group, you say, page 32:

“We have seen the wave coming for miles so we should be ready.”

Thank you.

It’s obvious that the government was concerned in the summer of 2020 with, as you say, the prospect of being hit by a second wave. Did you, therefore, give consideration to the possibility of putting into place a formal system of segmentation? The Inquiry has heard evidence how, in August and September, the Covid Taskforce considered whether or not it might be possible in advance of the impact of the second wave to consider a formal system of segmentation for the elderly. Do you recall that debate?

Mr Boris Johnson: I certainly do, and I think that we were looking at all sorts of different solutions.

Lead Inquiry: There were a number of meetings with the Covid Taskforce. You say in the minutes of a meeting of the strategy committee, Covid-S, in September:

“… a plan should be considered on segmentation of the population, to enable a portion of the population to continue to live their lives as normal.”

That is to say, the remainder.

Do you know now, can you recall why the proposals on segmentation were either impractical or not possible to be taken further? Do you remember?

Mr Boris Johnson: A lot of people – I kept having to explain this to people, because intuitively it sounds like a very reasonable thing to do, to protect those who are going to be most vulnerable, principally the elderly and those with chronic conditions. The trouble is that when the R starts circulating above a certain rate, the velocity of transmission of the disease becomes so extreme that it just breaks the segregation that you’ve tried to impose, and that vulnerable population, a percentage of them will inevitably get the disease, and as you know, a small percentage of a very large number is a very large number.

Lead Inquiry: So if we look at INQ000048399, which is the CSA-CMO-PM WhatsApp group for August, page 28, you entered into a debate with Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance about the merits of giving the elderly a choice, and you say, in effect: why not give the over 65s a choice? They can decide whether to enter into spontaneous self-preservation and keep themselves to themselves, or run the risk of hugging their grandchildren and engaging fully in society.

And you put that position to Sir Chris Whitty and he says in the middle of the page, starting at 7.22.49 pm:

“Agree [it’s] entirely reasonable at an individual level.”

And then –

Mr Boris Johnson: It’s the second paragraph is the crucial one.

Lead Inquiry: Indeed, he says:

“People can rationally make an informed choice they wold rather take a small increased risk of dying and hug their grandchildren / go clubbing.”

Perhaps not the same people both hugging their grandchildren and going clubbing. But “at a population level” –

Mr Boris Johnson: This is the problem.

Lead Inquiry: – the government is under an obligation to ensure that the epidemiological line is held so that the R rate doesn’t then go back above 1; was that the nub of the problem?

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s it. So Chris in that second paragraph is making the essential point that even if you’ve elected to self- – to be shielded or even if the government is trying to shield this segment of the population, it’s not going to work because the infectiousness is too great.

Lead Inquiry: Do you think that is why perhaps the segmentation debate didn’t lead to any practical proposals? It came up against the –

Mr Boris Johnson: I couldn’t see –

Lead Inquiry: – the impossibility of the epidemiological problem?

Mr Boris Johnson: I couldn’t see how it would fix up our problem, but it was sometimes a job to explain that to colleagues, but you can see that we didn’t pursue it.

Lead Inquiry: Well, it appears to have been quite a job to explain it to you, because you wanted that choice to be given to individuals, and your CMO was saying, “Don’t do that”?

Mr Boris Johnson: And it’s – and, quite rightly, I was interrogating my advisers about points that had been made to me, with a view to understanding the arguments and being able to explain them to the world, that – which is my job.

Lead Inquiry: So by September, in light of what you’ve agreed, which is that it was obvious that a second wave was coming, you say in your statement “we were going to have to do something”, there was this debate about a circuit-breaker, you’ll recall.

The SAGE advice to you, relayed by your CMO and your Government Chief Scientific Adviser, was to the effect that the more rapidly interventions are put into place and the more stringent they are, the faster the reduction in incidence and prevalence and the greater the reduction in Covid-related deaths. As a general proposition, do you accept that?

Mr Boris Johnson: That was the advice that they gave then, though of course it had changed a bit from where we were in March, though they were still making the point on the circuit-breaker. If you look at that – I think that SAGE advice in September, they’re still saying: if you do one it may not be enough, and you may have to do another. Which was, if you remember, Patrick’s point back in March.

Lead Inquiry: So if we look at INQ000102265, page 2, this is a WhatsApp communication on 17 September, we can see that Mr Cummings says:

“We [should] consider a 2 week circuit breaker, keep schools open but close bars restaurants … etc …

“We [should] consider doing this this week …”

Then he says:

“Sorry I meant consider now saying this early Next week for fortnight.”

You say:

“What’s the difference between a circuit breaker and a national lockdown and what if it doesn’t work.”

Is that a nod to the point you’ve just made, the difficulty with the circuit-breaker is –

Mr Boris Johnson: It is.

Lead Inquiry: – you don’t know whether it will work, if it’s short you may run the even worse risk of having to do it again?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, so as I think Patrick said again in one of the meetings, you know, there’s the yo-yo risk, and – which SAGE themselves point to, and I think Matt himself, even though Matt was generally very much on the – the Health Secretary, was very much on the precautionary side of the argument, was not actually in favour of a circuit-breaker, and I think that was his evidence to you as well, for that reason.

Lead Inquiry: Patrick Vallance at thebottom of the page says:

“Yes lesson is go fast, go a bit harder than you think you need, go a bit wider in geography.”

So the scientific or epidemiological advice, Mr Johnson, was: there may be risks but in the general epidemiological context, in the public health context, the advice is you’ve got to go the extra mile. And that, therefore, would mean a circuit-breaker as opposed to local restrictions or varying degrees of stringent restrictions being applied.

But your position was, “Well, ultimately I don’t think that the epidemiological argument is made out, I want to take a different path”, and of course circuit-breakers were not applied; is that the nub of it?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, I just want to try to remind everybody of the context when we’re coming out of the first lockdown, because what’s happening is that the disease is very diversely spread, shall I say, over the country, and there are parts of the UK where it’s barely present, some places sadly – Leicester, some parts of the northwest – they barely came out of restrictions throughout the time, throughout 2020. And so the question would have been: do we continue with national measures the whole time – which would have been – which is the logical tendency of some of the submissions that I think that you’ve had – you know, that would just write off 2020, or –

Lead Inquiry: Slow down, please, Mr Johnson.

Mr Boris Johnson: Forgive me. Or do you try what we tried, which is to respect and reflect the geography of the outbreak, and to say, well, we’re not going to close hospitality in Devon and Cornwall because of whatever is happening in the West Midlands or elsewhere.

And that, for a while, seemed to a lot of people to be a sensible way forward, and I think – I mean, we’ll probably come to this, but I’m trying to – the defects in the tiering system, but that led to tiering, and I think it was worth a try, because of the difficulties with the circuit-breaker concept which Patrick and Matt and others have alluded to.

So that was my – that was my hesitation. It wasn’t that I was against going into a national lockdown per se or that I had set my mind absolutely against it. If you look at what I said to the Cabinet on July 21st, I said we’ve got to keep this as part of our arsenal.

But I thought that a local approach was a sensible – well, or regional approach was a sensible way to go, and it was worth – worth trying.

Lead Inquiry: This was a matter of spread of infection and death. To use your words, you thought not having a circuit-breaker and then latterly having a tier system was worth a try. Was that the correct approach when dealing with matters of such momentous importance? The scientific advice – and admittedly, Mr Johnson, the advice is never phrased in terms of “You, the Prime Minister, must impose a circuit-breaker”, it is perhaps a little more coyly expressed in terms of “more rapid interventions are required”, “go fast, go early”, “do more”.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: So they gave you, by implication, the room to make the decision yourself.

Mr Boris Johnson: So –

Lead Inquiry: But was that the right approach? Why didn’t you apply what you knew to be the lesson learnt from March, which is: go early, take a precautionary approach, and go the extra mile epidemiologically?

Mr Boris Johnson: So there were some areas that had outbreaks of the disease that were in very tough measures. And it’s not as though we didn’t do anything nationally throughout the period; on the contrary, we ratchet up the measures throughout September and October, we intensify the pressure on the virus. So September 9th we go to the rule of six, September 22nd we go back to working from home and a curfew – forgive me, October 14th we move into the tiering system, some places go straight into lockdown, and so on, and we intensify the tiering system. And we then go into the full lockdown at the end of the month.

And I actually think that that programme had a very good chance of working. If you look at where we were by November 22nd, the disease was starting to turn down, incidence was turning down, and the thing that really threw us off was, of course, the Kent variant, the Alpha variant.

Lead Inquiry: But you’re now – you’ve now moved further, of course, into November and December. On 17 September –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – as this debate indicates, quite plainly, your chief adviser was saying we should consider a two-week circuit-breaker, your Government Chief Scientific Adviser was saying:

“Circuit breaker would be for 2 weeks … We can get the paper round tomorrow on that … you [can even] think about doing [it] regionally.”

Your Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was saying:

“[If we want] To avoid a national lockdown we need to act fast … [we’re] going in the wrong direction.”

And your scientific adviser again says “go fast”.

You didn’t, however, accept the advice set out there, which was: go for the two-week circuit-breaker?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, we did go – we went immediately. So a few days later we go for the working from home and for the curfew. The Health Secretary –

Lead Inquiry: You go for a 10 pm curfew, do you not, Mr Johnson, and advice on working from home?

Mr Boris Johnson: The Health Secretary himself was opposed to – and already I think by 22 September 10 million people, in a country of 67 million, are already in Tier 3, effectively in lockdown measures. So it’s not as though nothing is happening in that period.

Lead Inquiry: No, nobody has suggested nothing was done. There was, of course, the rule of six, there was the curfew from 10 pm, there was the package of measures which you described as the package A measures of late September –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – but the circuit-breaker was not done?

Mr Boris Johnson: The national circuit-breaker, no, for – because I was – I wanted to keep going with a regional approach. We had 10 million people in lockdown on 22 September. It was not as though the country was not going through, or large parts of the country were not going through, another lockdown.

Lead Inquiry: Well –

Mr Boris Johnson: The issue was whether there was any support for a continued regional approach, and actually if you look at the October – the October 20 Cabinet meeting, you will see that the CMO says that the country – and I think JVT also – Jonathan Van-Tam also said this, the country’s basically divided into three parts – those where the disease is flat, those where it’s increasing slowly, those where it’s rising fast – and a regional approach is therefore still justified.

And those were – that is what, as far as I remember, Chris said in that meeting. And so I – I’m not going to pretend that this was an easy decision, and it certainly wasn’t, and it was one I agonised over, but I thought that the – a regional approach could still save us and could still help us.

Lead Inquiry: You have said twice that part of the rationale for not having a circuit-breaker in September was that the – you said:

“It was not as though the country was not going through, or large parts of the country were not going through, another lockdown [already].”

Is this the position: obviously from July there were areas in local restrictions, notably Manchester, Liverpool and parts of the northwest of England, there was the national rule of six, there was then the package A measures –

Mr Boris Johnson: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – of 22 September –

Mr Boris Johnson: Correct.

Lead Inquiry: – which was a 10 pm curfew and advice to work from home.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: But the majority of those regions which, to use your words, were placed in lockdown, were not in fact placed in lockdown unless and until they went into Tier 3 in the tier system, which wasn’t introduced until 14 October?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, but there were restrict – there were already restrictions around the country which were – which were very severe, and they were localised.

Lead Inquiry: They were not, with respect, comparable to lockdown, were they?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, there were – people faced restrictions around the country on the basis of where the disease was prevalent and where it was spreading, and I thought that – you know, we’d learnt a lot in that period. We’d seen the horrors of the first wave, and the shock of what had happened – you’re completely right about that – and it was appalling and we’d seen the suffering.

But we’d also seen the impact of the pandemic, of the measures that we’d taken, and our objective remained the same, which was to protect the NHS and save life, but – and our strategy was to use NPIs, but it seemed to me, given the disparity in the prevalence across the country, it seemed to me for that period that a local approach was worth pursuing and, in justice and fairness, a lot of people thought the same, because they thought: the disease is not prevalent here, it is not circulating in my community, why am I being locked down? And we had to address that issue as well.

Lead Inquiry: But the other people who thought the same, Mr Johnson, were not the Prime Minister with access to this epidemiological public health advice which appeared to be pointing in that direction.

Mr Boris Johnson: Some of it did and some of it, as I have just said, continued to support a regional approach.

Lead Inquiry: Is that why you called for the meeting on 20 September in Downing Street with Professor Gupta, Professor Heneghan, Anders Tegnell of Sweden, I think the state epidemiologist, and also Professors Edmunds and McLean because you wanted to have a greater diversity of scientific advice and at least advice beyond the advice which you were receiving but which you were not inclined to accept from your own Chief Medical Officer and Government Chief Scientific Adviser?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think, with great respect, it was the other way round. What I could say – this is the – towards the end of September, middle of September, and I can see that things are going to deteriorate, there’s no question, and I can see the direction of travel. I still want to use tough local measures to try to achieve what we need to achieve. But I can see that, as I’ve told Cabinet, and as I think I’ve told the public as well, we’re probably going to have to go back into national measures. And what I want to – and I know that where I do that, wherever it comes, there will be of course a lot of downsides and people are going to complain and to object for all sorts of good reasons.

I need to have the arguments, I need to understand what – a lot of people talk about the great Swedish success and, you know, how they managed to do it without lockdowns, and if I’m going to impose another lockdown in the course of the next few weeks, which is indeed what I had to – I ended up having to do, I need to know what the counterarguments are.

Lead Inquiry: Mr Johnson, your government and you personally had declared that you would be following, by which you mean you’d be guided by, the science. Throughout the course of that year you had been guided by, accordingly, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and by your CMO and GCSA.

Why did you not continue to follow, to be guided by, that advice in September 2020? Why did you deliberately allow yourself to depart from that stated position?

Mr Boris Johnson: First of all, because the scientific advice was not clear. There was a – there was a – yes, there was a push for a circuit-breaker, but that was not supported by the Health Secretary, as he’s testified to you, and he was normally in the – amongst the toughest in wanting to impose lockdowns. There were question marks about the circuit-breaker and its efficacy, and indeed where a circuit-breaker was tried, as you know, in Wales, it’s not clear that it – that it actually worked.

So –

Lead Inquiry: That was later. It wasn’t, of course, imposed until October.

Mr Boris Johnson: So I was – sure, but what I’m saying is that there were perhaps legitimate grounds for thinking that a circuit-breaker was not a panacea, and I was keen to continue with a local or regional strategy which continued to have scientific support for being reasonable, as I’ve said.

Lead Inquiry: The nature of the specific intervention may not have been absolutely clear, because SAGE posed the issue to you in terms of interventions being required, but the debate was plainly – and you understood it to be plainly – about the merits of a circuit-breaker. So there was a clarity about the debate. What lacked clarity was what ultimately – what political decision should be made by you. You were unclear as to what the way forward should be.

The meeting on 20 September –

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s not true. With respect, what we decided to do was to continue to tighten the measures that we – the national measures that we had, but also on October 14th to go for the tiered system.

Lead Inquiry: On 20 September you deliberately arranged for a meeting at which you allowed yourself to hear from scientists on either side of a completely different debate, which was not to do with the merits of a circuit-breaker, but to do with whether or not, as a general policy, the Great Barrington approach – that’s to say, to use another word, another expression, the “let it rip” approach – should be applied or whether or not the general approach of caution should be applied. That was the debate on 20 September.

Mr Boris Johnson: No. Well, actually that was – I don’t remember people discussing the Great Barrington Declaration, but the –

Lead Inquiry: It’s the approach which is later reflected in the Great Barrington Declaration.

Mr Boris Johnson: What was so interesting about the debate on 20 September, to which, as you can imagine, I listened with great care, was that actually the scientists who had been billed as, to use your words, the “let it rip” brigade, did not really support that approach, and the longer the conversation went on, I was fascinated to see how actually they migrated towards a precautionary approach and towards the understanding that NPIs were inevitable and necessary, and that you had to do something.

So the question – so I was – I was really interested in – I was thinking ahead in that conversation. I was thinking ahead to where we were going to end up in a few weeks’ time, and I wanted to fortify myself against the types of arguments that you’ve mentioned.

Lead Inquiry: Bluntly, although you had been given to understand that Anders Tegnell, who was the state epidemiologist for Sweden, would probably recommend a more herd immunity-style approach, turned out, to your surprise in the meeting, to argue in fact for stronger intervention?

Mr Boris Johnson: He didn’t – I wouldn’t say that, no. Sorry, let me be clear. I don’t remember him or anybody making any particular comment about, you know, tiers versus lockdowns or whatever. But what I do remember is a surprising degree of unanimity, given the divergence in views that I’d been led to expect.

Lead Inquiry: He may not have mentioned, and there is nothing to suggest he mentioned circuit-breakers or lockdowns or tiers, but in the general conceptual debate about the precautionary approach and the need for stronger intervention –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – Anders Tegnell made it absolutely plain to you that, contrary to much of the press reporting about the Swedish approach, a stronger intervention was merited if the approach to be adopted by your government was: there’s a second wave coming, we need to do more to stop it. That was the approach he took in the meeting, wasn’t it?

Mr Boris Johnson: I couldn’t swear to that, Mr Keith. What I remember is that he – that everybody – and I, you know – everybody at the meeting was – I mean, the meeting – it was more abstract, I think, than concerned with the details of the current UK position, about which actually I don’t think they necessarily, some of them, knew or I don’t think –

Lead Inquiry: Is that right?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t –

Lead Inquiry: You don’t see one-page papers from every single attendee about the – inviting them, and they produced information – about the approach that the United Kingdom Government should adopt. Do you recall?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t remember them commenting specifically on the situation that we were in. What I do remember is there was a much greater uniformity of view that we needed to do something. What I’m trying to say to you is that if you’re saying to me that Anders Tegnell said, “You’ve got to do – look, you’ve got to lock down now”, that wasn’t –

Lead Inquiry: I have not suggested that to you, Mr Johnson.

Mr Boris Johnson: No. Well, that’s not what – that’s what I remember, anyway.

Lead Inquiry: At a Covid-S meeting on 21 September, the following day, you said, and the minutes record that you said, “the events of the spring showed the consequences of making decisions too late”. So you were well aware of the need to get on and make decisions and to avoid the mistake of the spring –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, of course.

Lead Inquiry: – which is to leave the most stringent interventions to the last minute, correct?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, the mistake of the spring, if you remember, was that we’d mistaken our place on the curve, and that was – but we were in much less doubt about that now.

Lead Inquiry: The mistake in the spring was making a decision too late. The fact that –

Mr Boris Johnson: No, sorry –

Lead Inquiry: – one of the reasons for the decision, for that mistake, Mr Johnson, may have been a misunderstanding as to where we were on the epidemiological trajectory is quite different, is it not?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, we couldn’t have made the decision earlier because the facts as we understood them were – were different.

Lead Inquiry: Your summary in that meeting –

Lady Hallett: Sorry, you’re both losing me.

Mr Keith: I’m so sorry.

Lady Hallett: No, it’s just that you’re both –

Mr Keith: Talking over each other.

Lady Hallett: Exactly. That may be part of the problem, but also can we make sure that we know which period we’re talking about, because we’ve been talking about the spring and the autumn. I just want to be clear.

Mr Keith: In the autumn, I suggested to you, you had said in a Covid-S meeting, 21 September, by reference back to the spring, “the events of the spring showed the consequences of making decisions too late”. Regardless of why those decisions were taken, Mr Johnson, what were “the consequences of making decisions too late”? Your reference.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: What did you mean?

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, so just to clarify this point, in the spring we couldn’t have made the decision any earlier, because we didn’t know the relevant facts. When it came to the curve in September/October, we were much more on top of it, we could see where it was going, and the relevant facts are that the virus was not evenly distributed across the country, and that was the key thing. It was – it looked as though it might be in abeyance for a long time in parts of the country and therefore it made little sense to lock it all down. And what we were trying to find – and you can criticise us for this, but I think it was reasonable – we were trying to find a way through that allowed as much of the country as possible to keep going.

Lead Inquiry: Mr Johnson, what were “the consequences of making decisions too late”? When you said those words to your colleagues on the Covid-S meeting on 21 September, what did you have in mind by “consequences” and the decision-making having been “too late”?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, clearly, if you make any decision too late, then there’s going to be a cost and in the case of Covid there’s a cost in human life. But what I wouldn’t accept is that the decision in – all the decisions in September, October, November were too late, nor would I accept, knowing what we did then, that the decision in March was too late.

Lead Inquiry: Well, there we are.

On 22 September, you announced the package A measures. You’ll recall that you were presented with a paper which had package A measures, the majority of which were described in the very same paper as being unlikely to bring R below 1; some package B measures; package C measure, the more stringent; plus the possibility of a circuit breaker. And you went for all the package A measures and some of the package B, so largely the measures which your own CMO had advised would be unlikely to work, even in combination, to bring R below 1, but that was your right.

You announced that you, we, your government, would not listen to those who say “let the virus rip” nor to those who urge a permanent lockdown when you announced those measures. But the phrase “let the virus rip” and the notion that you as a government would let the virus rip was your own phrase, was it not?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, no, there are – sad to say, there were plenty of people who had used the phrase in conversation with me. I was trying to represent a view which was, sadly, quite widespread, which was that, as you’ve said already, the approach might be to segment the most vulnerable and to protect them and to allow the vast majority of the population, who were much less vulnerable, to acquire, gradually to acquire immunity.

Now, that was not, as we’ve discussed repeatedly, an approach that I could take at all and I was saying that in order to explain to the public why it was not an approach that we were taking, any more than going into permanent lockdown was an approach that we could take.

We faced an appalling – the problem with this whole period is that we had come out of – we’d found a way out of lockdown, and we’d got the R below 1, but we didn’t yet have either good enough therapeutics or a vaccine, and so our only tools remained NPIs, and the question was: do you go straight back into lockdown, which is what a circuit-breaker is? I mean, a circuit-breaker sounds like a pretty sort of – it’s a glib phrase. It actually means an immensely difficult costly exercise, which falls hardest on the poorest and neediest in society. You then might have to do it again and again, and there’s even then no guarantee that it’s going to work. And you don’t have the – you don’t know what the end state is, because you’ve got no vaccine. And that was why I thought it was sensible to continue to throw everything we had at a combination of intensified national measures, plus the regional system, the tiering system.

Lead Inquiry: My question to you was whether or not you, whilst announcing that you would not listen to those who had said “Let the virus rip”, had used the words yourself. You deny that, so could you please look at the diaries –

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, what I’m saying is that this was a phrase in common parlance at the time and remained so.

Lead Inquiry: Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries, INQ000273901, page 92:

“Actually having a discussion [Meeting with PM] about ‘letting it rip’.”

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t wish to be –

Lead Inquiry: I’m just going to put –

Mr Boris Johnson: – repetitive, but this is exactly what you’d expect me to be talking about at this stage.

Lead Inquiry: Page 245.

Mr Boris Johnson: This is June 2020.

Lead Inquiry: I’m going to show you all the ones, Mr Johnson, out of fairness:

“[The Prime Minister] meeting – begins to argue for letting it all rip. Saying yes, there will be more casualties but so be it – ‘they have had a good innings.’”

608 – perhaps that’s the same.


“… we should let this rip a bit.”


“He is obsessed with older people accepting their fate …”


“… obsessed with the average age of death being 82 … “

Which is longer, you believe, that the average life expectancy.

“… ‘Get Covid live longer’”, you said.

245, back to the other one, you say at the bottom of the page, according to Sir Patrick Vallance:

“… ‘… we are in a really tough spot, a complete shambles. I really don’t want to do another national lockdown.’”

You were told that if you want:

“… ‘… to go down this route of letting go, ‘you need to tell people – you need to tell them you are going to allow people to die’ […]”

Was your position, Mr Johnson, that in light of your views, secretly held, about people dying having reached their time anyway, that you were obliged to reject the advice of your advisers that there be a circuit-breaker?

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Lead Inquiry: That there be no national lockdown –

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Lead Inquiry: – until the last possible moment?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, this is all rubbish.

Lead Inquiry: And that you would try a tier system?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, no. So the implication, or the implication that you’re trying to draw from those conversations, is completely wrong, and my position was that we had to save human life at all ages, and that was the objective of the strategy and, by the way, that is what we did.

If you look at what we actually did, never mind the accounts that you have culled from people’s jottings from meetings that I’ve been in, if you look at what I actually said and what I actually did, and there is abundant quotation from me, millions of words that I spoke in Parliament or in press conferences or whatever, if you look at what we actually did, we went into lockdown as soon as we could the first time round, and we sensibly went for a regional approach when the disease picked up again, and then again went into lockdown on 30/31 October.

And I think, frankly, it is – it does not do justice to what we did, our thoughts, our feelings, my thoughts, my feelings, to say that we were remotely reconciled to fatalities across the country or that I believed that it was acceptable to let it rip. What I was asking, and I had to do this, I had to – we covered a lot of this yesterday, but I had to challenge the consensus in the meeting.

You’ve got to understand that these meetings comprised an overwhelming number of very, very talented, brilliant public health officials, civil servants, and so on, and scientists, and I was representing the only layperson in the meeting, apart from the – occasionally there would be other politicians, but I was basically – I had to speak for everybody who wasn’t in the meeting and who wanted these points put to the scientists before I went out to explain them.

I had to get their version of why this wasn’t the case, why wasn’t it true that the – as people were continuously saying in the media and elsewhere, that it was – the answer was to shield the elderly, protect the elderly and to let it rip otherwise. I needed to have the counterarguments. And if you want to look at what I thought, why don’t you look at what I actually said in Cabinet and what I did.

And by the way, I – well, sorry, I don’t want to interrupt your question.

Lead Inquiry: It’s obvious, Mr Johnson, that you were not minded at all times all the time to accept the scientific advice that you were being provided with, and that was absolutely your right.

It’s notable that there was, analogously to SAGE and the CMO and the GCSA, no economic advisory body, no economic analysis being provided to you in a formal structure that could have provided a foundation for the alternative side of this debate. That is to say: well, Prime Minister, you’ve got a great deal of evidence here epidemiologically and in public health terms, but you’ve got a terrible decision to have to make again, whether or not to impose a lockdown. And that engages the debate with which we’re all familiar, and with which you were anxiously grappling, which is the damage on the economy.

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith, I thought Mr Johnson said yesterday that he did have that kind of analysis. It came from the Treasury.

Mr Boris Johnson: I was going to say –

Mr Keith: Thank you, my Lady.

My suggestion is a formal economic SAGE, a formal body, advisory group, rather than just the Chancellor and the HMT directly.

Mr Boris Johnson: I’ve thought about that and I think – and, you know, it’s a suggestion that I hope the Inquiry – you know, I bet you’re going to look at.

But I think that actually – and I was going to say this at the end, I’ll say it now – I think that the – Cabinet government, there’s a reason it’s evolved in this country in the way that it has, and I think that the Treasury representing the economy, the Department of Health representing health, actually worked pretty well after a while. I mean, I think it was a great shock adjusting to Covid, but I think that the way it worked was pretty good. Departments did what they needed to do.

Lead Inquiry: These debates, Mr Johnson, and there are hundreds of meetings at which the CMO and the GCSA attend and where the epidemiological evidence is provided to you, takes place in the Cabinet Office room –

Mr Boris Johnson: The Cabinet Room, yes.

Lead Inquiry: The Cabinet Room or the Cabinet Office room or your study. It’s not taking place in Cabinet.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well –

Lead Inquiry: Mr Cummings has described how the Cabinet process, the debate in Cabinet, was more politically excitable, more –

Mr Boris Johnson: Performative?

Lead Inquiry: Thank you, performative – how there were worries about leaks where it was more a matter of political theatre and therefore there wasn’t the opportunity, for the reasons he explains, to have this sort of debate and to consider in detail the sort of advice about which –

Mr Boris Johnson: Okay, I think that’s certainly a fair criticism of some Cabinet meetings, but as time went on and I genuinely think that Cabinet proved to be more and more valuable, and you genuinely started to have different points of view, properly represented, around the table, and different departmental interests, particularly HMT, properly represented. And it became a much more – I started to see the wisdom in the system, and I think it worked.

Lead Inquiry: Perhaps one further question before the break, if my Lady wishes it.

INQ000236586 is an email from the principal private secretary to the Chancellor in the Treasury concerning one of your regular bilateral meetings with the Chancellor. You, as Prime Minister, plainly had a large number of bilateral meetings with him, Mr Sunak, and there is a reference in the first paragraph of the email from the principal private secretary to the following:

“Following the inconclusive strategy meeting [so a strategy meeting, perhaps a wider strategy meeting in government] the [Prime Minister and Chancellor] met and discussed plan for NPI easements on Friday.”

So you and your Chancellor meet privately, and by privately I mean in the absence of Cabinet, in the absence of other secretaries of state or civil servants outside Number 10 and HMT, and you discuss “plan for NPI easements”, so a public health issue.

“No other minister included – shows the strength of the [Chancellor’s] voice in these discussions.”

So with reference back to my earlier question about a more formal, open, perhaps transparent, process of enabling the Prime Minister to receive economic advice, do you think that these private bilaterals where you discuss with the economic voice in government, the Chancellor, matters of public health, were the right way to have done this?

Mr Boris Johnson: I can’t remember the meeting that I think it’s Elizabeth Perelman is referring to but –

Lead Inquiry: It’s a normal bilateral.

Mr Boris Johnson: These would be – these would be normal conversations that I would have with Rishi. You’d expect me to have them. The plan for NPI easements that she refers to was not something that we have devised at this meeting. It’s something that we’re discussing and presumably were discussing the funding implications or the economic implications of what’s envisaged.

Lead Inquiry: Well, there are references to SAGE, there are references to NPI. It’s obviously a public health argument debate.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, yes, it is, but what we’re – everything in that period related to public health, absolutely, and so we would have been talking about, I imagine, what the Chancellor’s views were, and I would have been – I’d have been listening to his – to what he had to say.

Lead Inquiry: Finally, there is evidence, both from Mr Sunak’s own witness statement and also from Mr Warner, Ben Warner, as well as actually Mr Cummings, that the Treasury’s analytical capabilities would have been assisted by a more formal system of cost-benefit calculation.

And just pause there, please, Mr Johnson, before answering.

In your strategy update comments – we’ll come to this in a moment, but in response to the final paper or one of the final papers before the second national lockdown from the Covid Taskforce, you wrote in your handwritten annotations at the end in capital letters:

“Can I please see some SERIOUS economic analysis.”

Is there a case, by way of one of the many lessons to be learnt, for a formalised system of cost-benefit calculation so that the Treasury, and the wider world, can see how there can be a quantitative analysis of the impact of interventions economically?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, the Treasury does a phenomenal amount of cost-benefit analysis, as you can imagine, already, and yes, I think that – as I’ve said already, my Lady, I think what we really need to have is some proper quantified analysis of the benefits of NPIs and the epidemiological benefits of NPIs, because I think there’s still too much uncertainty about those, as well as a proper understanding of the economic – the economic cost.

So, yes, I think if there could be some way of putting those two things together in a formalised way, that might very well be useful. But that was effectively what I was doing the whole time; week in, week out, those were the calculations we were making. But I want to stress that the objective was always saving life and that was what we were trying to do.

Lady Hallett: That’s your final, final question before the break, is it?

Mr Keith: That’s my final, final question before the break.

Lady Hallett: 11.30, please.

(11.15 am)

(A short break)

(11.30 am)

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith.

Mr Keith: Mr Johnson, the tier system –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – about which you’ve spoken, thank you.

Briefly, you received advice from the Covid Taskforce on 7 October. Just to put this in its chronological place, there was a discussion in Number 10 that day about regional lockdown measures, a major meeting on 8 October –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – yourself, the Chancellor, CMO, GCSA, and the chief executive of the NHS –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – Simon Stevens.

The evening notes kept by Sir Patrick Vallance talk about the somewhat desperate nature of the – or the anxious nature of the decision having to be made by you, and the issues which you ventilated which were troubling you.

The evidence from the Covid-O meeting of 11 October is that the Government Chief Scientific Adviser made plain, because he says it in terms, that the level 3 baseline – that’s to say, the standard level 3 but the upper, the higher most level 3 level – was highly unlikely to bring the R below 1 and so highly unlikely to control the growth of the epidemic.

Is that why you said earlier, and you’ve said it in your statement, you felt the tier system was nevertheless worth a try? There were doubts expressed before you even announced it as to whether or not it would work, but your assessment – and it was ultimately for you to decide – was it was worth the shot?

Mr Boris Johnson: It was, and it wasn’t just my assessment. I think that after, even after that meeting, as I said earlier, on the 20th or so you’ve got continuing scientific corroboration of the rationale behind the regional approach.

But what we wanted was of course to try to stamp on the virus, to wallop it wherever it was most prevalent. The difficulty was that it was very laborious and involved some very difficult negotiations, understandably, with areas that had been in restrictions for a very long time, and their leaders, understandably, you know, wanted proper financial help, and to get the tougher measures put on was proving, in a voluntary way, was proving time consuming and costly.

Lead Inquiry: Is it right to say that there was continuing scientific corroboration for the tiers? The material in Covid-O was to the effect that even the highest level, level 3, would be unlikely to work. Sir Patrick Vallance’s notes make plain that at that meeting he felt he was being asked to approve measures knowing that they weren’t enough, and the public health epidemiological support appeared to be quite slim. However, the scientists and the public health experts recognised that the public health issue was only one half of the debate. It was for you to weigh up the many issues that you’ve described, including the economic considerations, and to balance them. That wasn’t their call, it was your call.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I had to balance them but there were two things. I think it – so I was fortified by I think what the CMO said in the Cabinet of October 20th, where I’m fairly certain that he said something and JVT said something at about the same time to the effect that a regional approach was still reasonable.

What we wanted out of the tiering system, and we’ve got to be clear we didn’t achieve it, was really to crush the virus where was most prevalent, and I’ve explained that one of the difficulties was, you know, getting local leaders to put in measures fast enough.

I think it’s possible, and I think there’s even some evidence from Patrick that, you know, we had a fighting chance of getting the R below 1. If we’d been able to get some of those measures in, put in harder and faster in those areas, I think it might have worked, and there are other people who think that too.

Lead Inquiry: The point, Mr Johnson, is you can’t rely on what was said on 20 October about the general nature of regional restrictions because you made the decision to go for tiers on 11 October, over eight days before, and the announcement was made on 12 October.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, so what I’m –

Lead Inquiry: So what was said – excuse me. What was said subsequently on 20 October in relation to the merits of regional restrictions can’t be relied upon as a justification for your decision-making ten days before.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, with great respect, I think what it shows is that there was – around that time, there was continuing scientific support, as I took it, for – I’m just giving you what I felt – support for a continued regional approach.

And, by the way, it was also my feeling that although the suggestion from SAGE had been for a circuit-breaker, I didn’t feel, listening to the arguments, and this may have been my mistake, but I didn’t feel, listening to the arguments that the pressure for a circuit-breaker was particularly strong, and that may be my mistake, but it wasn’t coming from the Health Secretary, and it seemed to me that there were – there were countervailing arguments as well.

Lead Inquiry: In the event, the tiers, as we know, didn’t work.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, they didn’t and I’m very sad about that, but I think that they were logically, rationally, as we came out of the restrictions in the summer, they were worth a try. The trouble was that they became very invidious as between areas, because one village would suddenly find itself in very heavy restrictions, the village next door was not, while the incidence of the virus was exactly the same. Local politicians, politicians of all kinds, became very worked up, sometimes quite paranoid, about the tiering approach.

It clearly was proving divisive and difficult to implement. Though I want to say that Eddie Lister, who was in charge of the negotiations, did a heroic job in trying to get government to, local government, regional government to agree.

Lead Inquiry: In addition, the evidence would appear to suggest – of course, as ever, a matter for my Lady – that not only were there problems that you’ve identified, Mr Johnson, but, as Mr Ridley has said, the process overall was entered into extremely quickly, which gave rise to problems of its own?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: The negotiations were difficult and prolonged, and of course when dealing with epidemiological –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – exponential growth –

Mr Boris Johnson: And the virus isn’t – the virus isn’t interested in all this. The virus –

Lead Inquiry: Indeed. And also, logically, because the virus was spreading, ultimately, as proved to be the case, it spread to all areas and therefore there was a level of – there was a degree of, it’s been described as epidemiological levelling up, everywhere would have to eventually go up into tier 3 and that would, of course, defeat the whole purpose of it?

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s completely right.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Mr Boris Johnson: And I think that’s a pretty fair summary.

Lead Inquiry: Mr Hancock told the Inquiry that he knew on 12 October when you announced the tier system that it wouldn’t work. Did he tell you that?

Mr Boris Johnson: Not to my knowledge, not that I can remember.

Lead Inquiry: We then come to the lead-up to the second lockdown.

It does appear that the Covid Taskforce provided a forward strategy document for you on 25 October, and there was a meeting in Chequers to discuss it. You then received a further taskforce advice on 28 October, and then another paper for a Covid-O meeting, and then there was ultimately a meeting at which you decided that there had to be a lockdown, and my question is this: why were there a number of papers and strategy documents given to you in the same week, all broadly recommending a lockdown? It rather looks as if the Covid Taskforce was trying to bring you to a particular conclusion.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t know the answer to that. I do remember the papers and, you know, I thank the – I think it was the James Bowler paper that I got on the 28th, for instance.

There were – there was a lot of good paper – you know, the Covid Taskforce, by the way, was determined to make the tiering system work, they thought, you know, we began full of hope that it could work. But it was clear by the end of the month, towards the end of the month, that it was just running out of road.

Lead Inquiry: Let me be more direct. Mr Shafi’s notes of a meeting on 25 October, the forward strategy meeting, record you as recognising that the country was in a very tough spot. You say, according to him, that you were deeply sceptical about a national lockdown, and you say “We’re not” or “I’m not going to be stampeded into a national lockdown yet”, that’s over the weekend.

Then three days later, the taskforce comes to you and says the situation is continuing to deteriorate, we don’t think the tiers are working, there’s got to be a lockdown. And the point I made to you is: to what degree, if any, do you assess that the Covid Taskforce was trying to impose on you or trying to recommend a lockdown because it was aware that you had already said on the 25th, “I’m really not going to be stampeded this time”?

Mr Boris Johnson: But it was quite right not to be stampeded into any course of action, but the virus – you know, irrespective of the Covid Taskforce, the virus was spreading, and it was spreading exponentially, and that was – and that was clear from what James Bowler had to say, and, you know, that was clear for a long time that it was spreading in areas where it had seeded –

Lead Inquiry: Of course.

Mr Boris Johnson: – we wanted to try the tiered approach, we wanted to try the local approach. That was gradually running out of road and we had to go for national measures. But I always knew that we were – that was on the cards.

Lead Inquiry: Having tried measures which didn’t prove to work, having been told from July that a second wave was inevitable, do you accept that there is at least a good argument that the tier system should have been conceptualised and put into place earlier, at a time when the prevalence was lower, and therefore the tier system may have been more likely to work, so for September, alternatively that a circuit-breaker should have been applied in September so as to avoid, possibly – and we will never know – possibly the second devastating national lockdown which you were forced to apply?

Mr Boris Johnson: So on the point about the circuit-breaker, I think we’ve been round that quite a bit. There were arguments for and against it. It wasn’t actually presented to me as something that we urgently needed to do, it was an option. The Health Secretary was against it and there were clear downsides because of the problem of bounceback. And, as I say, a circuit-breaker is not just flipping things on and off, it’s a very, very – a massive intervention, you’ve got to get it right –

Lead Inquiry: Like a lockdown?

Mr Boris Johnson: It’s a complete lockdown.

So – and on the – your point about tiering, should tiering have been introduced earlier and formalised earlier, which is I think what you asked, that’s an excellent question, I think that the truth is that we already, for a long time, had had a kind of tiering in the sense that, you know, some places remained – Leicester, the northwest – remained under measures for a long time.

It took a while – I’ll be honest, it took a while to work out the LCAL system, and to work out how to move places up and down, and I think one of the lessons of the whole experience is that when you set up these artificial boundaries between epidemiological areas in – using council boundaries or whatever, you’re going to create huge problems, and – or parliamentary constituencies, you’re going to create huge problems, and we ran into those. And, you know, I say in my statement I don’t think that it, in the end, worked, but logically it appeared to be the right way to go as we came out of the – out of the first lockdown.

Lead Inquiry: And do you accept, Mr Johnson, that the position that was ultimately reached was that you did have and you imposed a rollercoaster lockdown process overall? Epidemiological evidence has been given to this Inquiry to the effect that if you impose lockdowns, circuit-breakers, whatever they may be called, earlier there is a greater chance you can get on top of the virus earlier, you then don’t need to have such a long circuit-breaker or lockdown, and when you come out prevalence is likely to be lower, thereby obviating the need for yet another lockdown.

Mr Boris Johnson: The answer –

Lead Inquiry: If you just let me put the question.

The evidence suggests that if, however, you wait to the last minute before imposing a lockdown, you have more of a pronounced rollercoaster approach and prevalence is unlikely to be as low as it otherwise would be, and the lockdown, in order to work, has to be longer, harder and more brutal.

Mr Boris Johnson: Right.

Lead Inquiry: That’s what you ended up with.

Mr Boris Johnson: No, so a lot of points there, if I may – if I may.

So, first of all, we didn’t delay and then do something at the last minute as though – so neither in March nor in September/October did we do one single lockdown. And I think this is one of the most important points that people need to remember, because it’s been slightly forgotten.

In March there are a crescendo of measures beginning in – in – I think on the 9th, when I first tell people to avoid contact and so on. There’s school closures, hospitality closures – non-essential retail closure and so on. Then the lockdown on 23rd.

When it comes to the – to September/October, again there’s a series of steps that we take nationally in addition to the regional measures. Now – and I’ve described them: 9 September, the rule of six; 22 September, working from home, curfew; so on and so on – then the tiering system; then lockdown.

Now, the question about whether the actions helped depress the – change the shape of the curve, I think that they did, I hope that they did, I believe that they did, but epidemiologists will have – and I think it’s one of the most important things that the Inquiry has to evaluate, in my view, is the exact extent to which those NPIs changed, deflected the progress of the virus.

What I also think is that if you look at what happened, the – and particularly the second curve, the second wave, it’s very interesting that the first – it goes – it’s in two – there are two parts to it. And the first wave you can see that the collective impact of what we’re doing from September onwards, because we’re following it very closely by this time, does bend the curve. And, you know, again I’ll leave it to you to evaluate the exact extent to which that worked and that happened, because that’s the crucial thing, we need to explain it properly.

But then what happened, as I said earlier on, is that you get Alpha, and that we hadn’t budgeted for. And that’s why the second curve describes the shape that it does.

Lead Inquiry: Would you just explain what the significance Alpha was in terms of its additional transmission, Mr Johnson?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes. Alpha is, as every – Alpha is the Kent variant which was identified in early December. I don’t know why we called it the Kent variant, it didn’t originate in Kent, but – and it was much more transmissible than the original coronavirus.

Lead Inquiry: To a very large extent, is this right, the emergence of the Alpha variant swept all the pre-existing considerations before it away, because –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, so –

Lead Inquiry: – the transmissibility meant that the government’s –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – room for manoeuvre was very much more constrained thereafter?

Mr Boris Johnson: That – that’s right. So when you talk about a rollercoaster, I would say that that rollercoaster was very largely driven by nature. The extent to which we were able to control the rollercoaster is something that I think we all need to focus on.

Lead Inquiry: Well, indeed. The rollercoaster was plainly evident from November, hence the lockdown. The Kent/Alpha variant did not make itself plain until the first three or four days in December.

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: Though what’s happened with the measures that we put in, as I said to my Lady before, in that second wave, it actually looks, and I remember Matt telling me this, as though we’ve started to get the numbers under control again. And that was encouraging and so it was unbelievably depressing when we got Alpha.

Lead Inquiry: There was a small margin for discretion, as far as you could see it, in December, because there was some way of trying to delay the more stringent measures that would be required as a result of the Alpha variant. There was Christmas to consider.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah, yeah.

Lead Inquiry: Obviously the prevalence level of the virus, the rate of transmission was still relatively high in December, although the November lockdown had of course brought it down significantly, but not to the same level as it had been brought down to in May, and therefore there was no possibility, was there, of opening entirely in December? There had to be fairly stringent restrictions applied, continued to be applied, whatever view you had reached of the public health crisis; is that a fair summary?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, so our initial plan, as you know, was to open up on December 2nd, which indeed we did. We then see incontrovertible evidence of Alpha and we know we’re basically heading for a lockdown, a full lockdown in January, which is what we did.

Lead Inquiry: There was a debate, of course, about the degree to which you could ease, to the limited extent that you could, in December –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – bearing in mind your very clearly stated wish that as much could be done as possible to allow families to spend Christmas together?

Mr Boris Johnson: We did have that debate, though, if you remember what happened, it just became untenable because of the spread Alpha, and London and a lot of the rest of the country went straight into Tier 4, as we called it.

Lead Inquiry: I need to ask you, Mr Johnson, to what extent your decision-making in the middle of December was influenced by the press or your backbenchers, because there are references in the Patrick Vallance diaries to you saying that the view of your backbenchers was to take a particular path, you were minded to agree with them, you appeared instinctively to resist the further reintroduction of the ultimate lockdown measures?

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Lead Inquiry: Is there any truth to that?

Mr Boris Johnson: It’s certainly true that, as I’ve said before, that in the course of meetings I would, as I thought was my job, and I believe was – rightly thought was my job, I would express the general view of not just of backbenchers but of other Cabinet ministers who might not be in that meeting about what we were doing, and to try to set up some challenge in the conversation.

Lead Inquiry: On 2 January, Michael Gove sent you a private note expressing his views, essentially to the effect that there was no alternative but to adopt a “strategy of maximum suppression”, as he put it. Did that note, which perhaps traversed well-trodden ground, change your views as to what should be done on 4 January?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, and we’d already basically knew that – I was grateful to Michael for his note, but we already knew that we were – again, we just had to take the toughest measures that we could.

Lead Inquiry: How did the last minute change in relation to whether or not schools –

Mr Boris Johnson: Terrible.

Lead Inquiry: – as opposed to secondary – schools not going back at all as opposed to just primary schools going back arise?

Mr Boris Johnson: It was terrible. It was terrible. I mean, it was –

Lead Inquiry: How did it happen?

Mr Boris Johnson: It was just – it was inevitable, because we’d … if you remember, in the October/November, November lockdown, we’ve kept the schools open, because of the massive detriment to people, you know – and it’s always the most vulnerable families, it’s the poorest kids who get – who come off worst from school closures. And that was definitely the case, we’d seen that in the first lockdown. Without a shadow of a doubt. So we were desperate to keep schools open. Yes, did I fight and fight and fight in my heart and head to keep schools open? Yes, I did, and I really wanted to do it, but it just wasn’t – it wasn’t a runner and we had to lock everything down.

Lead Inquiry: How did you fight in your heart and head, Mr Johnson? I ask because Mr Williamson says in his witness statement that when he and you attended the Cabinet meeting on 4 January, he made clear that he didn’t think – of course, he is the Secretary of State for Education – he didn’t think schools should close again, if they had to close then they must be opened again by February half term, and he says:

“… I did not have complete autonomy to make core decisions, especially those regarding school closure and school reopening …”

So, to a significant extent, the views of the Secretary of State for Education were overridden –

Mr Boris Johnson: They were, and I –

Lead Inquiry: – and your Cabinet approved the changes?

Mr Boris Johnson: I didn’t – I – and I listened respectfully to what Cabinet had to say, and indeed many, many colleagues who thought that we should try to keep schools open, and I just couldn’t – you know, the fact is that, sadly, schools are terrific reservoirs of the virus and in the cold winter months they were going to be a big vector of transmission for – for elderly people, and it wasn’t a runner.

Lead Inquiry: Now, may we move forward, in fact almost a year, to Omicron –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – in 2021.

Without going into the details of the somewhat arcane and complex issue of plan A and plan B –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – and plan B plus, was this the position from the beginning of December or the end of November and the beginning of December: the Omicron variant became apparent?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: Steps, you declared to Cabinet, had to be taken to protect the public from the variant. For good precautionary reasons a plan was devised and put into place, which essentially meant moving from the pre-existing plan A to a plan B, and you told Covid-O on 8 December that there seemed little option than to implement plan B: the reality was that we were running out of road, the choice was to go ahead with plan B or to wait and be faced with more concerning data and a rise in hospitalisations. Is that a fair summary?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that sounds right, yes.

Lead Inquiry: What was it that took place in the course of the middle and later part of December that meant that you didn’t have to go to plan B plus, which was right back up to the more severe interventions, in fact probably a level 4 –

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s right.

Lead Inquiry: – lockdown?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think this was one of those occasions, possibly rare, when I felt that I’d got – maybe I was flattering myself, but I felt I’d got a pretty good handle on the data by then, and I was – I was watching it very, very closely, and particularly the IFR in the Gauteng province of South Africa where – where Omicron was very prevalent, and what we were studying was the extent to which Omicron translated into – into deaths. And of course every one is a tragedy but if the ratio was starting to diminish, as it seemed to be, then that was very significant.

And so we were all – I’m not claiming credit for myself, but we were all watching this very closely, and I thought that it seemed to – the data that we were seeing from South Africa seemed to me to suggest that Omicron was less – less deadly and – you know, considerably less deadly.

And I didn’t know this, and I was very, very – I mean, I was – you know, Omicron was absolutely terrifying, you know, because it was very transmissible and there seemed a real risk that it would do a huge amount of damage to our – to people. But what I’m trying to say is that around about the middle, the end of that month, I start to think that maybe it’s less deadly and there seemed, indeed, to be – you know, that did indeed turn out to be the case, and we were lucky with Omicron.

Lead Inquiry: The material shows, Mr Johnson, that there were, as before, and you’ve addressed this issue, a number of bilateral meetings between yourself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one in particular – we have an email concerning a read-out of a meeting between yourself and the Chancellor on 18 December – makes plain that you were – you seemed “genuinely undecided”, you raised a number of points on each side of the argument – this goes back to your stated tendency to try to ventilate both sides of an argument.

The Chancellor, according to the read-out, said “ultimately this is a decision for the [Prime Minister]”, but he personally remained unconvinced that there was a compelling case for significant restrictions.

And that is ultimately, of course, what you indeed decided.

There has been an article in the press dated August 2022 which suggests that at that meeting the Chancellor came as close as he could or used the closest formulation of words that he could to imply that he would resign if there was another lockdown. Does that accord with your recollection?

Mr Boris Johnson: No. No, I don’t remember that.

Lead Inquiry: The debate, of course, continued in government to the end of December, and you were presented with a paper concerning measures for January and you expressed your scepticism for those additional measures in your habitual way, by using an expletive across the paper to describe what you thought of the measures.

On 5 January, you told Cabinet it was “time to grip the handlebars tightly as the next few weeks would be bumpy”, but the best option for the country was to get through the period without going back to restrictions. Is that correct?

Mr Boris Johnson: That is correct, and I think that was entirely justified, based on two things, the – what we were starting to learn about Omicron but also, of course, on the vaccine roll-out, which was by then – and I think, you know, we’d vaccinated a huge number of people already.

Lead Inquiry: Now, rule breaking.

You supported Mr Cummings when the Barnard Castle affair exploded in Easter 2020, did you not?

Mr Boris Johnson: I – I did.

Lead Inquiry: You – well, the material, the suggestion is that Mr Cummings drove 250 miles to Durham over the weekend of 27, 28, 29 March at the height of the lockdown, with his wife and child, and then on 12 April he drove to Barnard Castle.

He has said that you knew that he had moved his family out of London on that weekend of 27 March. You, the Inquiry is aware, have said in a WhatsApp with another official that:

“[Mr] Cummings is a total and utter liar. He never told me he had gone to Durham during lockdown I only discovered it when the stories … came out … He … claimed that he had told me but that [he said] my brain was so fogged by COVID that I didn’t register [but] it’s not true. I would have noted it. He never told me.”

Is that the position you take today?

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s – that’s what I remember.

Lead Inquiry: The position, though, was, of course, that public confidence in your administration, the United Kingdom Government – not, I should say, from the data, the Scottish or Welsh administrations or the Northern Ireland Executive – dipped significantly. There was a very notable drop in confidence in the competence of your government.

That obviously was highly regrettable. In the height of a public health crisis of unprecedented proportions, to have that blow to the public confidence in your government’s competence was obviously damaging?

Mr Boris Johnson: It was a bad moment, and I won’t – I won’t, you know, pretend otherwise. But actually I think that what happened thereafter was fascinating in that the – you know, whatever the rights and wrongs of the position I took on that episode, people continued to want us to get on with the job of fixing the pandemic and they continue – in spite of what you say about the confidence factor, they continued to be more than willing to work together to defeat the virus, and that’s what they did.

Lead Inquiry: Is that right, Mr Johnson? The same data which established the significant drop in confidence in your government, data from UCL called the Covid-19 Social Study, also appeared to suggest a drop in self-reported adherence to guidance. So there was a – there was not just, you would say, a communication or political or presentational issue, there was a substantive impact.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I can’t quantify that. What is certainly true is, as we’ve discussed a lot over the last couple of days, all NPIs start to degrade over time, public adherence starts to fray. Whether that episode helped to exacerbate that problem, I – to the extent to which it did, I just can’t judge.

Lead Inquiry: The Inquiry, as is everybody, is well aware of course that then the first reports of social gatherings in Number 10 emerged in November of 2021. You were issued with a fixed penalty notice on 12 April 2022, relating to an event in Downing Street on the occasion of your birthday, 19 June 2020, just a few weeks after the Barnard Castle affair.

Putting aside the issue of your own fixed penalty notice, did you – and it’s important I ask you this – apologise for the impression that had been given that staff in Downing Street take the rules and the regulations less than seriously; you in fact I think described yourself as sickened yourself and furious?

Mr Boris Johnson: I did, and I repeated that on many, many occasions.

Lead Inquiry: But you acknowledge, of course, that all the breaches proved to have taken place, but the general behaviour took place in Downing Street on your watch?

Mr Boris Johnson: I do, but I wish to just – to stress, and I’ve continue – I’ve always, I hope it’s been clear from everything I’ve said, I take full responsibility for everything that the government said or did during the pandemic. The – I continue to regret very much what happened, but I really want to emphasise, and you talk about the impression, the version of events that has entered the popular consciousness about what is supposed to have happened in Downing Street is a million miles from the reality of what actually happened in Number 10. And I speak on behalf of, I know, of hundreds and hundreds of hard working civil servants who thought that they were following the rules and I know – I don’t think have been properly characterised by some of the – not just the media coverage but the dramatic representations that we’re now having of this are absolutely absurd, and I – I want to repeat that, they’re a million miles from the reality of what happened.

Lady Hallett: Mr Johnson, one of the problems is that I’ve received a number of messages from bereaved people, as I’ve travelled around the United Kingdom, and so many of them who suffered horrific grief during lockdown –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Lady Hallett: – we all know that it’s far more traumatic even than many other kinds of grief, and I’m afraid “Partygate”, as it’s been called, exacerbated it.

Mr Boris Johnson: Of course, my Lady, and I totally understand their feelings, and, you know, I – what can I do but again apologise for mistakes that we made in Number 10?

What I’m trying to tell you, and to tell the Inquiry, is that I think that the characterisation, the representation has been of what civil servants and advisers were doing in Number 10 has been a travesty of the truth. They thought they were working very, very hard, which they were, and I certainly thought that what we were doing was, as I’ve said before, within the rules.

So that is in no way to attempt to mitigate the – or to – the offence that has been caused, and I understand the offence that has been caused, and I apologise for the offence that has been caused, and, you know, if I had my time again of course I’d have done things differently in Number 10 and I would have sent repeated messages round saying, “Please, you know, make sure that everybody can see that you’re properly following the guidance”, though frankly I think, as some of your witnesses have said, it was logistically impossible to do that.

But anyway, you –

Mr Keith: Mr Johnson –

Mr Boris Johnson: I think people know my views on this.

Lead Inquiry: You say it was a million miles away from the reality of Downing Street. One of your most competent and sterling civil servants, Helen MacNamara, said in live evidence to my Lady, “I’d find it hard to pick one day when the regulations were followed properly inside that building”.

Mr Boris Johnson: But that’s the point I’m making, because the –

Lead Inquiry: Are you saying that this was all a matter of breaches of the regulations on account of –

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, if you look at –

Lead Inquiry: – the formulaic obligations of walking down corridors and having to work in the building structure of Downing Street?

Mr Boris Johnson: If you read what Helen said in her evidence to you, I think that is – I think actually that is what she was – she was driving at. There was – she says there was one meeting where we were able to do things strictly by the absolute letter of the guidance, and it was unsustainable. And that was why the guidance was written in a way so as to allow businesses to have flexibility. And the particulars – I mean, I have been round this issue many times, and forgive me, but the situation in Downing Street, the conditions of work there, we were having to call – as the Inquiry has heard – meeting after meeting after meeting at all hours of the day and night, in rapid succession, and summon people rapidly to different meetings. As Helen MacNamara rightly says, in those conditions it was very hard to follow the letter of the guidance, and I’ve tried to explain that many, many times.

But I –

Lead Inquiry: May we –

Mr Boris Johnson: – I understand the offence that has been caused.

Lead Inquiry: May we have INQ000226239, page 13, please.

This is around that time, the time of the revelation of the partying in Downing Street, a WhatsApp communication between yourself and your Cabinet Secretary.

Your Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, was originally obligated to carry out an investigation, but for a variety of reasons which we needn’t explore he did not do so. But in the context of that debate, at 23.04 on 17 December, Boris Johnson:

“In retrospect we all should have told people – above all Lee Cain – to think about their behaviour in number ten and how it would look. But now we must smash on.”

So that wasn’t about technical breaches of the regulations because of the planning in Downing Street, it was a reference to behaviour, a behaviour of your officials and advisers, and you knew how it would look, but you didn’t care that much?

Mr Boris Johnson: I did care, and to say that I didn’t care about what was happening generally is the complete opposite of the truth. And yes, I think that we could have done more in Number 10 to insist that people thought about the way their behaviour would be perceived by others, and I made this point repeatedly to the various inquiries that have been held already into this matter, and we should have thought about what it would look like to have people out in the garden when other people were not allowed in the garden, even though the garden was being used as a place of work.

But, you know, the idea that I didn’t – in your line of questioning, which has, you know, been of course excellent throughout, you have – you’ve dwelt particularly on WhatsApp exchanges and various things that I’m supposed to have said which indicate that I didn’t care. I did care, and I continue to care passionately about it. And if you want – and I haven’t talked about this before in public, but – and it goes to what you were saying earlier about – about elderly people, and my – what you claim is my indifference to the pandemic. I just want to remind you that I – when I went into ITU, to intensive care, I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly, and in fact they were middle-aged men and they were – they were quite like me, and some of us were going to make it and some of us weren’t, and what I’m trying to tell you, in a nutshell – and the NHS, thank God, did an amazing job and helped me survive, but I knew from that experience what an appalling disease this is. I had absolutely no personal doubt about that from March onwards. To say that I didn’t care about the suffering that was being inflicted on the country is simply not right.

Lead Inquiry: Mr Johnson, I have never suggested you didn’t care about the suffering. I suggested you didn’t care about the reaction to the behaviour demonstrated, a clear reference on the face of that WhatsApp.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I – thank you for that clarification.

Mr Keith: My Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr Weatherby, I think you’re going to ask some questions, and then Ms Campbell.

Mr Weatherby: Yes.

Lady Hallett: I want to make sure that we don’t have too long a morning.

Mr Weatherby: I’m happy to crack on as long as you are and the stenographer and Mr Johnson is.

Lady Hallett: So if we crack on for about 20 minutes?

Mr Weatherby: Yes, indeed.

Questions From Mr Weatherby KC

Mr Weatherby: Mr Johnson, I am going to ask you some questions on behalf of about 7,000 bereaved family members from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are supporters of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice UK, a group which eventually you did meet with at one point.

I’m going to ask you questions for about 20 minutes, and some of the points that I’m going to ask you about have been touched upon by Mr Keith, so I hope that you and I can collaborate in dealing with them effectively.

I want to start, I want to go back to a point that Mr Keith raised with you about part of your statement where you say – it’s paragraph 15 – where you say that the United Kingdom has “defied most of the gloomier predictions and has ended the pandemic (or the most serious phases of it) well down the global league tables for excess mortality”.

Now, at the end of your exchange with Mr Keith, my understanding was that you basically stood by that statement; is that right?

Mr Boris Johnson: Erm, well, I – the first thing to say is how glad I am that you and the representatives of the bereaved families are here and taking such a big part in this, in these proceedings, I think that’s a good thing and I think it’s very valuable for the Inquiry.

On the data, whatever the data may say, you know, one death is a tragedy –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: – there were too many. I was merely making the point that I thought that the statistics are – they are – I’ve seen several –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: – tables that seemed to confirm what I was saying.

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay.

Mr Boris Johnson: I point you to another one by The Lancet giving roughly the same impression.

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay. My question was: do you stand by the statement that you made?

Mr Boris Johnson: I do.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes. So as far as I can see, in a very lengthy statement, no problem with that, but you don’t actually provide much of a basis for that statement, so I just want to probe it a little bit further if that’s all right with you, and I want to put up a document.

I’m going to actually put up a very small number of documents to you in my time, but I do want you to look at this one.

It’s INQ000292765, and it’s page 10, please.

Just while it’s going up, this is a graph that’s been provided at the Inquiry’s direction, and it deals with this very issue, and it’s the comparative position of the UK internationally.

Now, an earlier witness told us that you have some difficulty with graphs, so whether that’s right or not, don’t worry, I’m going to actually point out the points that I want to raise with you, but I wanted you to be able to see it.

This is the comparative position of the United Kingdom, age-standardised, for excess deaths with other European countries over the period January 2020 to July 2022. What it does is it shows that 18 months into the pandemic – it gives two points, it shows that 18 months into the pandemic the United Kingdom was ninth highest out of the 33 countries in terms of its excess death adjusted, and then it dropped to 15th after 30 months, so it did get better.

But the important point to – that I want to highlight, and want to fairly put to you with the document in front of you, is that only Italy amongst comparable countries had a higher excess mortality rate.

So it’s right that the UK is in the middle of that graph, but in terms of comparable countries, only Italy has a higher mortality rate. And you would agree with that, I assume, looking at that graph?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t quite understand what you mean by comparable in that context.

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay. Let me explain, then. It’s important, of course, that we don’t compare apples with pears, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

So if it’s right, your statement, that the UK “defied most of the gloomier predictions”, your words, we would be looking at comparisons, wouldn’t we, with countries like France or Belgium or the Netherlands –

Mr Boris Johnson: If you look at –

Mr Weatherby KC: – rather than Bulgaria or Poland, which are very different countries. I’m not deprecating Bulgaria or Poland, but –

Mr Boris Johnson: What are you doing with Bulgaria then?

Mr Weatherby KC: – but I’m asking you, if you’re going to say that the UK defied the gloomier predictions, then the real comparison is with countries such as France or Belgium or Spain or Germany; is that right?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, the – if you look at the – the point I was making, and which I stand by, is that the UK, the tables I’ve seen, actually comes about halfway down. And it’s not just this table, it’s the – I think there was a Lancet study as well, I think the former Health Secretary alludes to it in his evidence. This is not in any way to diminish the pain and the suffering of people who lost family members during Covid –

Mr Weatherby KC: I understand that.

Mr Boris Johnson: – it is simply to point out, it is simply to mount – it is to reflect the enormous effort made by the whole of the UK to protect the NHS and save lives –

Mr Weatherby KC: Can we stick to the question.

Mr Boris Johnson: – and I believe that it did.

Mr Weatherby KC: Can we stick to the question.

You’ve raised this in your statement. You made a sweeping assertion that the UK defied the more gloomy predictions. I’m putting to you some cold steel of evidence, and that’s what I’m trying to do here.

Mr Boris Johnson: But I don’t believe that your – I think your – I don’t believe that your evidence stacks up, and I think that actually if you look at –

Lady Hallett: Could we just pause, please, Mr Weatherby, Mr Johnson.

I’m sorry, I know that emotions are running high, but I have to ask those in the public gallery to keep quiet whatever their emotions, because it’s going to disrupt the proceedings and it affects the live feed, the streaming for other people who are trying to follow. I’m really sorry, I do understand, but it has to stop. All right?

Mr Weatherby: Thank you, my Lady.

Now, Mr Johnson, the point I’m getting at is that you’ve raised this, I’m actually now trying to present some evidence. The Inquiry has sought this evidence itself.

Now, before you – I’ll give you the opportunity to answer, but this evidence is based on ONS, Office of National Statistics, material and Eurostat material that they’ve got. There is a document accompanying this, I’m not going to put it up, it’s quite a detailed document, but it’s been provided to the Inquiry – I’ll give it for the record, it’s INQ000271350 – that explains the basis of these figures. The age standardisation which deals with the difference of population and difference of age spread, and it deals with the robustness of the international data that is used.

So these are, I’m putting to you, the gold standard of the evidence in respect to this. It deals with excess deaths, not just Covid deaths, it deals with excess deaths over the period.

So you haven’t put forward any evidence to justify your assertion; why are you questioning this?

Mr Boris Johnson: I’m not questioning this, this shows – first of all, this shows exactly what I said it shows, which is that if you look at the European tables we come about halfway down. Secondly, actually, if you look at the data, for instance, that the former Health Secretary, Mr Hancock, cites in his own evidence, The Lancet study, you can see that the UK, France and Germany and the tables for excess mortality are grouped very close together, and I think Italy, sadly, has a little bit more, and the Netherlands has a little bit more, other nations a little bit more. The interesting thing for me is how, at the end of it all, a prophecy by Chris Whitty was proved correct when he said that the UK would probably end for excess mortality around about the middle of the pack.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: And that is indeed what has happened.

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay.

Mr Boris Johnson: That does not in any way diminish the individual tragedies of people who have lost lives.

Mr Weatherby KC: You’ve said that, but just dealing with these ONS statistics, this is what the King’s Fund said. Now, the King’s Fund, I’m sure you know, is a prestigious independent healthcare institution, set up well over a century ago. This is what it said:

“These figures show that, although all European countries have experienced devastating death tolls from Covid-19, and the impacts varied geographically in terms of timing and magnitude, excess mortality in the UK during the pandemic exceeded that of most comparable Western European countries.”

And it went on:

“The UK also had the highest excess mortality rate compared with the baseline among people under 65 in western European countries such as France, Belgium and Sweden.”

So I’m going to move on, but I put it to you once more that this does not – this gold standard of the data available does not support what you say in your statement, does it?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think – with great respect, I think that actually it does. And what I was responding to in my – and if you look at The Lancet document, The Lancet study, the UK is I think about 102nd of 190 or so countries.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: But in a way, I don’t – I think this argument is irrelevant. What I was trying – all I was trying to do was to – I didn’t want the Inquiry to run away with the impression that there was something uniquely awful about the performance of the UK services.

Mr Weatherby KC: I’ve put the evidence to you, I’ve put it from what I’m describing as the gold standard, I’ve indicated to you that it’s age standardised, it’s excess deaths.

One further point on this. Looking at the global picture, The Johns Hopkins University institute of medicine has done a review or a research per head of population; the UK comes out as number 20 in its global table of 173 countries for Covid.

Similarly, the Worldometer website, which is a dataset provider, which includes providing data to the UK Government, has the UK at number 18 out of 231 countries.

So again, the UK did far worse than you’re trying to suggest, didn’t it, Mr Johnson?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t agree with that, and I think that if you look at the age of the UK population, as I said earlier in my evidence, the comorbidities that we sadly have, the density of the UK –

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay.

Mr Boris Johnson: – population –

Mr Weatherby KC: Well, let’s look at that.

Mr Boris Johnson: – I think that Chris – the original prophecy of the Chief Medical Officer has turned out to be broadly correct.

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay, let’s look at that. You raise age and density. South Korea, a comparatively wealthy country of 52 million people, has an older population than the UK, it has a population density of almost twice the UK, and it had a quarter of the UK’s deaths.

Mr Boris Johnson: Can I try – I’ll venture an explanation for that.

Mr Weatherby KC: Of course, absolutely.

Mr Boris Johnson: And I think the answer is well known to people who have followed it, and that is because – you know, in no way to detract from the wonderful efforts of South Korean healthcare, but they already had substantial experience of plague – SARS and other such diseases and were well prepared and arguably were better prepared than the UK –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: – to tackle something like this.

If you look at the – you know, notwithstanding what you say, if you look at the comparator countries in Europe – you haven’t mentioned the United States, where – which had significantly higher mortality –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: – the UK, given its – the elderliness of the population, the comorbidities, I do not think it is fair to say that the UK did significantly worse than others.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, with respect, that’s deflecting from my point, isn’t it, by going off and talking about another country? I’ve given you the full picture here and asked you to comment on it.

Mr Boris Johnson: I’m giving you – sorry, you asked – you asked me to – for my opinion about South Korea, now you’re saying that I shouldn’t be talking about another country.

Mr Weatherby KC: No –well, okay, South Korea, that segues me into my next point, about what happened in March.

It was only by mid-March, wasn’t it, that the United Kingdom Government was serious about sourcing ventilators and oxygen supply and PPE and protective clothing, and it had failed to source anywhere near enough tests, as evidenced by much of the evidence, that no doubt you’ve followed, in this Inquiry? That’s the reality, you got to mid-March without having addressed all of these issues of testing and PPE?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, it took a long time before we had a convenient lateral flow test that everybody could use anyway, and it took a while before that had been devised, partly thanks to work done at Porton Down. And yes, it – but – you know, yes, and I think it’s one of the things that the Inquiry needs to focus on, is yes, our diagnostics industry and capability was not strong enough at the time Covid broke.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, no doubt.

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s absolutely true.

Mr Weatherby KC: No doubt.

Mr Boris Johnson: One of the legacies, and I should have said this in – since you’ve mentioned tests, it can make – it allows me to segue conveniently into a point I wanted to make but didn’t, actually what happened was that we went up massively in our ability to test people –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, later.

Mr Boris Johnson: – and by the end of that year we were doing, I think, 300,000 by September and half a million people by –

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay, let’s stick to that point –

Mr Boris Johnson: And since you make other comparisons with other countries –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes?

Mr Boris Johnson: – it is worth bearing in mind that our testing ability was by far the biggest in Europe.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, okay.

Going back to the point about South Korea, by mid-March South Korea had actually tested five times the number of people that the UK had tested, and the reason for that was partly because they had a history of learning from SARS and MERS, which apparently the UK hadn’t. But also because you and the government had not seen the Covid coming over the horizon, or you had seen it but you hadn’t acted on it.

I mean, paragraph 46 of your statement:

“Looking back, it is clear that we vastly underestimated the risks in those early weeks. If we had properly understood how fast Covid was spreading, and the fact that it was spreading asymptomatically, there are many things we would have done differently.

“47. If we realised what this virus could do, then we would have immediately laid down stocks of … (‘PPE’), checked PHE had diagnostic abilities, started the race for a vaccine, and started to socialise the public with the idea that they were going to have to do [NPIs].”

That’s your own words, that you failed to act on things like ramping up testing and PPE until it was too late?

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, what my words say is that we didn’t know at the time what we needed to do, even – but even had we known, even had we known, we would not have been able in the time available to build up anything like the diagnostics capabilities that were necessary for a test and trace scheme, and the test and trace system was rapidly overwhelmed in every European country.

Mr Weatherby KC: Well, the problem is you hadn’t got started with it, Mr Johnson, that’s what’s you’re saying in your self-reflection in your statement, isn’t it? The reality is –

Mr Boris Johnson: No, that’s not true, we had a – we had a test and trace system, and we could already test and trace people, but it was nothing like big enough, and what I hope will be one of the legacies of this exercise is that we will have a much bigger diagnostics industry, as indeed we now do.

Mr Weatherby KC: Well, the reality is that your government was reactive not to what was on the horizon but what was there in the here and now, and you’ve just reacted too late to provide PPE, source PPE or source testing; isn’t that the reality of it?

Mr Boris Johnson: No. As soon as we understood the scale of the problem, we shifted heaven and earth to get both things, and I think by the end of the year, I think it was something like 35 billion items of PPE that we’d –

Mr Weatherby KC: By 5 April the BBC were reporting, still on the website, headline: “Coronavirus: The NHS workers wearing bin bags as protection”. Three days later The Daily Telegraph ran a similar article.

Even after the first lockdown had started you were woefully short of PPE and testing because you hadn’t reacted when it came on the horizon in January, ramped up testing capacity, ramped up PPE?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, so even if – even if we’d appreciated – and I’ve told you, and I’ve explained, that we didn’t understand the scale and the pace of the virus’s advance, but even if we had, I don’t believe that it would have made that much difference in January, because the stocks were not great around the world and if you remember what happened we had a terrible situation in March when there were, you know, struggles virtually at airports over consignments of PPE, to make sure they went from one country – to one country rather than another country.

Mr Weatherby KC: The documents show that at the beginning of March, which is when you first started to chair COBR and you went to the hospital shaking hands with Covid patients, at the beginning of March, the CCS, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, was still scoping matters such as PPE and testing. By 26 April, well into the – a month into the first lockdown, there’s a private email between you and Dominic Cummings where you say that the T and T – the test and trace plans were “whistling in the dark”, with “Legions of imaginary clouseaus and no plan to hire them” and an app that doesn’t work. And finally this:

“We GOTTA turn it round.”

That’s what you were saying a month into lockdown about testing.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, what I was also being told, if you think about the evidence that had been given to me to begin with, I was being told that we did have a very good test and trace system, I was told that we had ample preparations, and that turned out not to be true. So what you’re rightly quoting is me responding to the reality and telling the system that we’ve got to go up several gears and sort it out.

Mr Weatherby KC: Just for the record, the reference is INQ000226628, at page 21.

But what you’re doing there is you’re saying, you know, the stable door’s open, the horse has bolted, and you’re realising that there’s no plans in place to ramp up the testing. You’ve told us this morning that in early March you didn’t realise where on the curve you were. Part of the reason for that is that the UK didn’t have enough tests.

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, the UK’s diagnostics industry was not as well developed when the pandemic began as others, that’s absolutely correct, and –

Mr Weatherby KC: And your government didn’t do anything about it?

Mr Boris Johnson: – and that was because I was being told in those early weeks that we were well covered, and I think if you look at what Chief Medical Officer had to say, what Yvonne Doyle had to say, at around that time, you can see that they are – they believe that we have a big testing capability, and that was – that was what I was picking up.

That turned out not to be true. We reacted. We then set up one of the biggest testing – well, I think – I think probably – certainly the biggest testing industries in Europe, and I want to thank Dido Harding very much for everything that she did, I think she did a tremendous job.

Mr Weatherby KC: Well, I’ve put the point to you –

Mr Boris Johnson: And I want to thank Paul Deighton for what he did on securing PPE –

Mr Weatherby KC: You’re deflecting again, Mr Johnson, aren’t you?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, I’m telling you what we did.

Mr Weatherby KC: I’m going to move on to a final point, if I may, and I’d like you to look, it’s a different point, jumping to September, 11 September.

Can we have up on the screen, please, INQ000280061, at page 153.

Now, this is September. Mr Keith’s dealt with much of this so I can deal with it very quickly. This is a page from Professor Vallance’s diaries relating to that day. I’ll read it just through quickly:

“11 [September] Schools data reviewed on dashboard.”

You say:

“… ‘what am I being told? Is this a great triumph’.”

Mr Hancock says:

“… ‘yes, a great triumph’.”

Professor Vallance comments:

“Care homes – upward spike in cases over the past few days. Here we go again.”

You say – and this is the critical point, or one of two critical points here. You say:

“… ‘We need to remember the grim history of March’.”

Then Professor Vallance “called for a package of actions”.

Mr Hancock refers to care home winter plan.

And then you say:

“… ‘everyone says rule of 6 is so unfair, punishing the young but FUCK YOU Daily Mail” –

Mr Boris Johnson: I apologise for my language.

Mr Weatherby KC: Okay, well, it’s in shouty capitals and underlined.

Mr Boris Johnson: Not by me.

Mr Weatherby KC: By Professor Vallance:

“… ‘… look this is all about stopping deaths. We need to tell them’.

“Hospital admissions clearly beginning to increase.”

First of all, do you recall this and the flavour of it being accurate?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, but what I can – what I can tell you, if indeed it is – it is accurate, is that what I would have been saying is that – this is the – this is September –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: – we’re in a – you can see the – as I was saying earlier to Mr Keith and to the Inquiry, you can see the risk that the virus is going to start taking off again, I’m –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: – extremely worried –

Mr Weatherby KC: That’s exactly what I’m putting it to you for.

Mr Boris Johnson: And with great respect to you, sir, it looks to me as though what I’m saying here is that the priority is to – and, you know, I’m sorry to have said this about the Daily Mail, but the priority is to stop deaths.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes. Well, wait for the question.

You were there recognising that we were back in a position not dissimilar to March, you’re also recognising, with the reference to part of the media, that you’ve got competing pressures, aren’t you? That’s what’s going on. So you’re saying, “Let’s look for a package of measures”?

Mr Boris Johnson: Just for the avoidance of doubt, I don’t think that this is meant to be a general criticism of that great organ of the press, the Daily Mail. There had presumably been something that they had said that had wound me up about the rule of six or whatever –

Mr Weatherby KC: Here, you’re –

Mr Boris Johnson: – and I – and what I was saying was we need restrictions. And I think probably what I’m saying is – which I then did, because on the 9th I say that we’ve got to have the rule of six.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, that’s where I’m going with this, Mr Johnson. You’re recognising – you’ve not got your head somewhere else, you’re recognising the problem, you’re back in a position not dissimilar to March, you’re recognising something has to be done, and you’re recognising there’s opposition to that, so you’ve got this tension; that’s right, isn’t it? That’s what this reflects?

Mr Boris Johnson: And that’s what was at the heart of the whole debate.

Mr Weatherby KC: And then –

Mr Boris Johnson: And of course –

Mr Weatherby KC: And then we get –

Mr Boris Johnson: – but I hope that, you know, everybody that you, you know, so ably represent understands, my priority was saving lives.

Mr Weatherby KC: But then we get to 21 September with SAGE recommending this circuit-breaker, just ten days later, circuit-breaker with attached package, and you reject it, you go with a tier system which you never refer back to SAGE, SAGE never gets to look at – look at SAGE –

Mr Boris Johnson: With great respect, you know, I think we – we – I can repeat, if you like, what I said to the Counsel for the Inquiry, but the gist of it is that I thought there were downsides to the proposed circuit-breaker, it wasn’t as simple as all that, it was immensely destructive, the risk was that you’d have to keep doing it, as they themselves acknowledge, the Health Secretary himself didn’t support it, and I thought that the best thing for – at least for a while was to see if we could intensify the national measures and then go to –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, you’ve said that.

Just this, before I sit down: what this demonstrates is that you understand the problem, you’re caught in this tension between two sides, and you delay and you’re indecisive –

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Mr Weatherby KC: – and the actual proper measures that bring R down eventually are punted off –

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Mr Weatherby KC: – until the infection had spread and more people die?

Mr Boris Johnson: If I may respectfully say, that’s total rubbish, and – but I’m – you know, and I’ve tried to deal with that argument. I don’t think it stacks up. I think if you look at both the – the timing of events in March, the sequence of things that we did, then the sequence of things that we did in September, October, November, they were – they were reasonable, our priority was to protect the NHS and save lives. And by the way, unlike some other countries, we did not have our healthcare system overwhelmed, and in that respect at least, in that respect, unlike the scenes we saw in some other countries, the healthcare system was not overwhelmed in this country, and in that respect I think the efforts of the British people paid off.

Mr Weatherby: Thank you.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much. We’ll break now, the stenographer has had too long a morning and I’m sorry for that.

Mr Johnson, this afternoon, if, when you do answer the questions – I appreciate it’s very difficult – but keep your answers slower, because the stenographer is trying to keep up.

The Witness: Okay, I will.

Lady Hallett: And I don’t want to have to repeat my warnings, please heed what I said this morning, because otherwise I’m going to have to ask other people to leave and that is the last thing I want to do.

(12.51 pm)

(The short adjournment)

(1.50 pm)

Lady Hallett: Ms Campbell.

Questions From Ms Campbell KC

Ms Campbell: Thank you, my Lady.

Mr Johnson, my name is Brenda Campbell and I ask questions on behalf of the Northern Ireland Covid Bereaved Families for Justice, which means that I ask questions on behalf of people who are members of a club that they never wished to be members of, but having become members by virtue of their bereavement, they have campaigned for this Inquiry, they have listened intently to all the evidence, including yours, in search for answers. I want you to understand that the questions that I ask are asked on their behalf, and so if I may, can I ask you, please, to answer with clarity and with brevity those questions on their behalf. To put it bluntly, Mr Johnson, where a one-word answer is sufficient, I’ll take it.

It’s plain from your evidence today and yesterday that you have followed a great deal of the evidence of this Inquiry and that her Ladyship has heard. You told us yesterday that you have seen the impact video that was played at the start of this module, and the impact of Long Covid was reflected powerfully in that. You’ll also recall, having watched that, that it captured the experience of our client, Martina Ferguson, who lost her mother, Ursula Derry, on 4 January 2021.

But can I ask you: have you also listened and watched the oral evidence of the bereaved in this module and in Module 1?

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, the question might be: why not?

Mr Boris Johnson: Because I’m afraid I haven’t been able to watch all the evidence in this Inquiry.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, had you watched it, in Module 1 you would have heard the evidence of Brenda Doherty about the loss of her mother, Ruth, and at the outset of this module on 5 October you would have heard the evidence of Catriona Myles, who lost her father, Gerry McLarnon, three years ago in fact this month. And if you continue to listen to further modules, you’ll hear further stories of bereavement that her Ladyship has invited to be told, understanding the pain and the distress that families feel.

One of Ms Myles’ points that she told us about was a galling juxtaposition of being told on 18 December 2020 that her father, aged 67, was going to die in the coming days from Covid, and that he died alone, his time of death is not known, five days later on 23 December. The juxtaposition that she told us about, that in her words was sickening, was that on 18 December there were one of several Christmas events in Downing Street and around the area to have taken place that month – this particular event was a wine and cheese party and a secret Santa during a so-called business meeting.

Do you understand and, on behalf of the bereaved, really understand the idea that many of those who were denied the possibility of saying goodbye to loved ones whilst at the same time those making the draconian rules were to be seen to be flouting them, is, as Ms Myles told us, galling and sickening? Do you understand that?

Mr Boris Johnson: Thank you, and the short answer is, as I told the Chair of the Inquiry, yes, I do understand people’s pain and people’s offence, of course.

Ms Campbell KC: You see, sadly her experience and that of her family is far from unique. The revelations of the unlawful parties and gatherings in Downing Street have, as her Ladyship has acknowledged this morning, compounded the distress and the grief felt by families who were denied the opportunity either to say a final goodbye or to host a wake or to host a funeral for their loved ones.

If you do understand that, as you tell us you do, why was it allowed to happen?

Mr Boris Johnson: Thank you. I’ve extensively tried to explain how I think that came about and why I think the people who were working in Downing Street for a very long time, and very hard, believed that they were operating, working within the rules at the time, though, as I say to you, to those you represent, and again to the – to my Lady, I understand fully the point that you are making, and I regret it very much.

Ms Campbell KC: I’m going to move on from this topic, but it’s perhaps important to note that by 18 December 2020 there had been 86,886 Covid-related deaths that year. This, I’m going to suggest, is not a matter of hindsight, it was plain that the country and that those who were bereaved were in extreme pain and distress. Could you have done more to stop it?

Mr Boris Johnson: To stop the pandemic?

Ms Campbell KC: The gatherings, the Partygate, the wine and cheese parties, the secret Santas, the pub quizzes or the Zoom quizzes.

Mr Boris Johnson: I had no knowledge of the event on the 18th, at the time –

Ms Campbell KC: That was not my question.

Mr Boris Johnson: – at the time that it took place.

Ms Campbell KC: Could you have done more to stop it?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that the trouble was, as I’ve said, that people were working extremely hard in crap circumstances and –

Ms Campbell KC: Mr Johnson, I’m going to – we’ve heard that. My question is –

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, please go ahead.

Ms Campbell KC: And this may be one where a “yes” or “no” answer would suffice. Could you have done more to stop it?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think the answer to that is that, given what I knew at the time about what was going on, the answer to that is no, but what I possibly should have done is issued a general instruction to everybody to be mindful of the rules and how things would appear. And, as I say, I think in one of the WhatsApps that was earlier quoted by Counsel to the Inquiry, that – that’s my view.

Ms Campbell KC: That WhatsApp was dated almost exactly one year later, on 17 December 2021.

Lady Hallett: Ms Campbell, you need to move on, you have gone beyond my permitted questions already.

Ms Campbell: Yes.

Keeping on the theme, if we may, of perhaps not doing quite enough, may I return to the issue of your communications with the devolved administrations, and you touched on this yesterday.

You told us why, in your view, COBRs at which the leaders of the devolved administrations attended were not working and we heard about the concern of leaks and so on. But you knew, when COBRs were stopped in May 2020, that that left no formal means by which you could meet the leaders of the devolved administrations in the middle of this global pandemic; you understood that, didn’t you?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t think that’s quite true. There were obviously plenty of opportunities in which I could meet the leaders of the devolved administrations. I had excellent relations both with Michelle and Arlene Foster, but as the Inquiry has heard, we tried to split the labour.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, in fact the decision, if you call it, to split the labour, and the consequence of it was that between May and October/September 2020, you didn’t have any direct meetings with the leaders of the devolved administrations; that’s a fact.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, meetings themselves were quite difficult.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, but the point that I’m making to you, Mr Johnson, is that the point of stopping the COBRs and replacing them with four nations calls, at which you would not be present nor participate, was a deliberate decision to manage the devolved administrations?

Mr Boris Johnson: It was my judgement that the DAs, with whom, you know, we had excellent relations, and I think that overwhelmingly things worked well across the UK, but I thought that the CDL was well placed to deal with them, and he did.

Ms Campbell KC: So the answer to my question, that it was a deliberate decision, is yes?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Ms Campbell KC: And it was deliberate because, we’ve heard yesterday, it was, in your view at the time, optically wrong. It was, as you told us in your statement, more importantly, because you, in that way, would not be communicating directly with the First Minister of Scotland, and it was deliberate, I think, as you told us yesterday, in order to have a mechanism that would avoid leaks or so-called divergence.

But there was an opportunity, wasn’t there, for some form of what you called integrated decision-making and direct communications that was, as you told us yesterday, in hindsight desirable, but you opted not to take it, and that was the Joint Ministerial Committee? Do you agree you opted not to take it deliberately?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think the problem with the – and I remember we covered this yesterday. The problem with that particular approach was that it was still vulnerable to some of the weaknesses you’ve just mentioned.

Ms Campbell KC: The benefit of that particular approach is that it would have been an independent stream, a committee, chaired by you in which you would have met and discussed with the leaders of the devolved administrations the great crisis that this country was facing at the time. It may have been constitutionally weird, to use your word from yesterday, or perhaps even imperfect, but it was an option available to you, wasn’t it?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, that’s certainly correct, though I want to stress that I think that the overwhelming result of the co-operation we had with the DAs was very productive and harmonious.

Ms Campbell KC: Your evidence yesterday, Mr Johnson, was that perhaps you should have done more, on reflection.

Mr Boris Johnson: I think what I said was that I would like a – what we need is some sort of leak-proof integrated system. That’s the grail.

Ms Campbell KC: Surely what you needed was better forms of direct communications with the leaders of the devolved administrations in an environment that best benefitted communication across all of the devolved administrations?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think we had excellent communications across all of the DAs, and I think that the overall performance of the UK in the pandemic as a single entity was remarkable, and every part of the UK played an important part – an important part in the effort. If you look at it, there was a huge amount of joined-up work going on across the whole – across the whole country.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, what credence, then, do you give to the complaints coming from the leaders of the devolved administrations, I mean across the board, not just in Northern Ireland, of a high-handed, incommunicative approach from Westminster?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t recognise that version of events.

Ms Campbell KC: So just to be clear, you reject the idea of a high-handed, incommunicative approach by Westminster as complained about by the devolved administrations?

Mr Boris Johnson: I do, and I think that we had a huge amount of contact between Number 10 and the DAs, between central government and the DAs, and every effort was made to bring along everybody together.

Ms Campbell KC: I’m going to move on, if I may, then, to what you suggested in your statement was a way in which we could have brought everybody together, and that is your proposal for a pan-UK Civil Contingencies Act. Although that is the position in your statement, should we understand that your updated position is that there are powerful arguments against that proposal?

Mr Boris Johnson: I’ve noticed in the course of these excellent hearings and the discussion that’s gone on that people think that the CCA is not the right framework. I’m listening to that. I think that maybe though something could be done under the 1984 Public Health Act, as I think I said yesterday. Somehow or other, I think we need to recognise that a pandemic presents a particular problem for the whole of the – a cross-boundary problem for the whole of the UK, and that there needs to be some sort of way of making sure that our messages are united. That was the point I was making.

And I’m sure the Inquiry will attach whatever importance to this it thinks is right, but I felt during the course of the pandemic occasionally that messages were being blurred and people were being confused because of a succession of press conferences from different parts of the UK.

Now, I may have – I may have been supersensitive to that, but I was getting quite a lot of echo about that.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, time permitting I would like to ask you some questions about that at the end, but just dealing with the issue of a pan-UK Civil Contingencies Act, you obviously now realise that your proposal for such a pan-UK Act achieved relatively rare cross-party unity in Northern Ireland against that proposal, in fact it was the united view that there is a need for a bespoke and devolved level response to the pandemic to take into account each administration’s social, political landscape. And you must surely agree, Mr Johnson, that given the regional and, indeed, significant geographical differences, particularly for the north of Ireland and the epidemiological reality of the island of Ireland, that any pandemic response must allow for regional flexibility and divergence?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, I see that argument, I think we’ve had quite a lot of discussion this morning about the downsides of regional divergence, and the downsides of different parts of the country taking a different approach. I think that was – there was quite a lot about that this morning.

Ms Campbell KC: The discussion this morning focused on the difference between Devon and Cornwall and the West Midlands or further north. I’m asking you questions on behalf of the bereaved families of Northern Ireland.

Do you not agree that particularly when it comes to the north of Ireland, on the island, that there is a need to recognise the particular geographical and regional features of that place?

Mr Boris Johnson: So when it comes to Northern Ireland, yes, clearly you’re right, there’s a – we have to take account of the greater epidemiological unity of the island of Ireland, and what you say has force, but –

Ms Campbell KC: Thank you, Mr Johnson.

Mr Boris Johnson: – but I still think that there’s a – you asked generally about the DAs. I think the more unified we can be the better.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, of course, but the suggestion of unity and of an integrated approach led by Westminster, be it either written in statute or achieved by more meaningful and direct communication, must assume, mustn’t it, that Westminster is capable of real leadership, both in public and behind closed doors, and that it is capable of taking timely and proportionate action in response to the pandemic in all corners of the UK?

Mr Boris Johnson: And indeed that’s what Westminster did. And I remember vividly going to Northern Ireland in early 2021 and seeing how very, very much faster the vaccines were being rolled out in Northern Ireland than they were in – and, you know, nobody will thank me for saying it, but I’ve got to say it, than they were over the border in the EU, and there were reasons for that, and I think that the Westminster –

Ms Campbell KC: Mr Johnson, again, brevity, please.

Mr Boris Johnson: – the Westminster approach that you’ve deprecated led to significant benefits for the people of Northern Ireland.

Ms Campbell KC: Does it follow from your agreement with that suggestion that you would not countenance binding the devolved administrations to a one-nation approach led by Westminster that flip-flopped, dithered, delayed, exercised indecision and/or poor judgement?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t think I agreed with your approach and it does not follow.

Ms Campbell KC: Divergence and clarity in messaging is something that you touched on – and, my Lady, it’s my final topic.

You blame divergence of the devolved administrations, some getting more blame than others, but you blame that divergence and differentiation of approach for the lack of clarity in messaging.

You know that the devolved administrations and the leaders, who have provided statements to my Lady don’t necessarily agree with you. That the concerns raised by Paul Givan, to take one example, is that: “If there is a need for divergence across the four nations, the communication around it simply needs to be managed. This was something that was not done well at the early stages of the pandemic. The Prime Minister tended to speak as though he was speaking for all four nations rather than giving space to the devolved administrations to manage communications.”

My Lady has heard a great deal of evidence about England-focused data being cited or about an England or even London-centric approach being adopted by Westminster.

To borrow the words of Professor Henderson, if you choose not to be clear in your messaging, Mr Johnson, do you accept that that’s your choice?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think the issue was that the – within the UK, and accepting the particular issues raised by the island of Ireland, it’s a single epidemiological unit, the trouble was that we were from time to time – and, you know, we mustn’t exaggerate this – from time to time there was a dissonance in the message, I think that when the message was so important, it would have been – ideally we would have had complete coherence, because I think sometimes people found it hard to follow, couldn’t see why one area was different from another.

Ms Campbell KC: Was a reason for that confusion, to the extent that there was confusion, because of your government choosing a lack of clarity in message and not respecting the clear a – and giving a clear understanding of the need for regional differences?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, I think the reason was the difference in the messaging and people being confused as to what exactly they were being asked to do.

Ms Campbell: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Campbell.

Ms Harris.

If you look around the pillar, Mr Johnson, Ms Harris is down the back.

The Witness: I see Ms Harris, yes.

Questions From Ms Harris

Ms Harris: Good afternoon, my Lady.

Good afternoon, Mr Johnson. I appear on behalf of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, representing bereaved families in Wales.

In the time I have available, I’d like to ask you some questions again about relations between the UK Government and the Welsh Government, this time, and including some questions relating to the different approaches during autumn of 2020.

I apologise in advance that there is some treading on ground which has already been covered. I will be approaching matters from, obviously, a Welsh Government perspective.

First of all, with regards to co-ordination and decision-making between the four nations, and I’d like to ask you a question about the approach to the arrangements for the four nations to communicate with each other and to seek to reach agreement on the way forward.

First of all, I’d like to refer to a passage in the report which has been commissioned by the Inquiry from, this has been mentioned, Professor Henderson. This records that at the early stage of the pandemic there was praise for the way that intergovernmental relations were conducted, and the report cites Mr Vaughan Gething, health minister for Wales, on 10 March 2020 saying about COBR the following:

“I don’t always agree with Matt Hancock, and I certainly don’t always agree with Boris Johnson, but, during our COBRA calls, there has been a genuinely serious and grown-up attempt to go through issues and to reach agreement on finding the best way through.”

That’s what he said. The report then goes on to say that by September 2020 enthusiasm had waned, and it was suggested that an absence of four nations meetings had not been helpful when it came to clarity in communications.

My second point of context for this question is that we know, of course, as has been mentioned, COBR did not meet at all between 10 May and 22 September 2020, and that of course included the period when the UK as a whole was coming out of lockdown. Having gone into lockdown together, it included the time – that period included the time when the UK and – of course the four nations together were coming out of lockdown.

So bearing that in mind, my questions are: do you agree that the type of endeavour that Mr Gething describes in the quote, ie genuinely serious and grown-up attempts to go through issues and reach agreement, do you agree that that is what was needed between the four nations during the pandemic? That’s the first part.

The second part of the question is: do you agree, and I think you may have indicated your opinion on this already, but I’d like to ask you for any further reflections on the point, do you agree that in order for this to be the best chance for that type of engagement having been sustained throughout the pandemic, that there needed to have been different arrangements after May 2020 to those that were in place at that stage? And I’m not asking about changing the responsibilities of devolved nations, I’m asking about the machinery for interactions given the framework that we have.

Mr Boris Johnson: I – so I think the answer is yes, and then no, if I’ve got your questions in the right order.

Ms Harris: Yes, you have got my questions in the right order. Yes.

So – and your answer “no” is to my suggestion that what was needed in order to sustain that kind of serious and grown-up attempt type engagement did not need, as has been suggested, a more predictable pattern of engagement with the Prime Minister for the devolved administrations than existed with the arrangements that were in place?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t think it – I don’t think it did. I think the UK effort was remarkable and there was far, far more that united us than divided us.

I have excellent relations and did have excellent relations with Mark Drakeford – I know he always wanted to have more meetings, but I did believe that Michael Gove was doing an excellent job, and I believe that Mr Drakeford recently told Mr Gove that actually he thought that the collaboration had been very good.

Ms Harris: In Mr Drakeford’s evidence he has said that there was a vacuum, in that there wasn’t the possibility of speaking directly to the Prime Minister sufficiently, and he’s referred to the need for regular check points with the Prime Minister.

Would you not agree that had there been a greater opportunity for that to happen, then that would have meant that it would have been more possible and more likely that differences could have been ironed out and there could have been a more coherent and co-ordinated approach forged between the four nations?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that the – every Prime Minister would like to do much more the whole time. I had to do whatever I could to fight Covid. I thought that the system we had going was pretty good, and it seem – and I felt that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was doing a good job of interacting with the DAs. If I’d felt that that wasn’t the case, if I’d felt that there was a serious breakdown of relations between the centre and the DAs, I would of course have intervened. But that didn’t happen.

Ms Harris: So, to summarise, then, Mr Johnson, you evidently felt that the arrangements that there were in place were sufficient to promote a forging of a co-ordinated four nations approach, I think that’s your indication?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that within the limits of what was going to be politically realistic, given the prerogatives of the DAs, I think that that’s entirely right.

Ms Harris: And you’re aware, of course, that that’s not a view that is shared across the devolved administrations?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I’m, as I said to you just now, I’m not certain that – quite how strongly your point is echoed. I think actually I’ve heard that Mr Drakeford in particular feels that the level of co-operation was good.

Ms Harris: Well, Mr Johnson, that’s not evidence that’s been submitted to Module 2 in this Inquiry, and that is certainly not consistent with the written evidence that’s been submitted on behalf of Mr Drakeford.

I’d like to ask you about the phrase that you used, and the point that’s made in your witness statement, where you stated:

“It is optically wrong … for the UK Prime Minister to hold regular meetings with other [devolved administration] … Ministers.”

This, of course, has been highlighted previously. It is a statement that you made not in – it’s not in a WhatsApp message or it’s not in somebody’s diary not intended to be published. This is in your witness statement.

Would you agree that, as a Prime Minister in the time of a pandemic public health crisis, that you should have decided on what were the appropriate arrangements for consultation with the devolved administrations solely on the basis of what would be best to further the aim of an effective response to the pandemic and not your views about optics, that optics should not have formed part of that decision-making?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think that – and that was the reason we did it, because I think that – I think that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was well – well placed to conciliate, to bring people together and to get on with explaining and co-ordinating the position.

Ms Harris: I understand that that’s your view, Mr Johnson, but with regard to the statement about optics, it can’t be right, can it, that optics are a factor when deciding on what’s the best set-up for engagement with the other devolved governments during a pandemic? You would agree with that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think – as I said, I think my considerations were prime – the risk of – to be absolutely frank with the Inquiry, the risk of pointless political friction and grandstanding, because the – of the – you know, the well known opposition of some of the DA administrations to the government and also to avoid unnecessary leaks, and I thought that the way to minimise divergence and tensions actually – and this, you know, you can quarrel with this judgement, but I thought the way to minimise divergence and tensions was to take the temperature down and to have business-like and practical meetings between the CDL and the DAs, and that’s what we did. And I think by and large it was extremely effective.

Ms Harris: Thank you.

I’ve heard your answer, Mr Johnson, I’ll move on to the next question, and I’d like to ask you now to address, please, how the United Kingdom Government regarded the Welsh firebreak which was in place from 23 October to 9 November 2020.

The first question is: when the UK Government was informed by the Welsh Government of its plan to enter a firebreak, which is as we know a short lockdown, did this trigger any consideration by the UK Government of alignment of England with Wales by which both nations would move forward together to a lockdown at the same time? And that’s bearing in mind that the UK Government announced a national lockdown for England on 31 October, so only a few days later, the duration of which was four weeks, to 2 December.

Mr Boris Johnson: Of course I gave con – I can’t remember the exact date when I saw the – to answer your question – the news of the Welsh firebreak or when I was informed about it. I’m sure that we would have thought about seeing if we could do things together. We’ve gone extensively this morning through my thinking around that issue, and that’s why we went for the option that we did.

Ms Harris: Was there any thinking that it would be better for both nations to be acting in a co-ordinated way together at that point?

Mr Boris Johnson: I’m sure that we would have – I don’t remember any specific conversations about this, but I’m sure we were thinking the whole time about the choice between firebreaks, lockdowns and intensifying tiering and all the other things that we’ve discussed today, and that might have meant England and Wales acting together or it might not, but I’m certain that, you know, that would have been – you’re right to make the point that that would have been one of the advantages had we chosen to have gone that way – to go that way, but we didn’t.

Ms Harris: Right.

One of the points that you’ve made in your witness statement is that you can understand why Wales decided on a firebreak, as the incidence in Wales was high and tiering was not working well. That’s your observation. And you go on to state your view that the Welsh firebreak was not effective. You say “it doesn’t seem to have made a difference in Wales”.

So I’d like to ask you, in hindsight, what do you think would have been the right course for Wales? Is it the case that Wales should have had, in fact, a longer lockdown? It was 17 days, and we know, of course, the English lockdown was four weeks. Should Wales also simply have had a four-week long lockdown, or should it have had its lockdown earlier?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think it was – it was striking that we ended up really doing pretty much the same sort of thing, and I think that the – it was an illustration of how the UK tended to – in spite of everything, to move more in step than sometimes the politics seemed to suggest.

Ms Harris: Thank you.

So I’d like to ask you now about clarity in messaging, and one of the points that you made in your evidence yesterday was that clarity and unity of messaging was very important, and I’d like to ask you about the change of message from the UK Government’s Stay at Home to Stay Alert, and how that was handled.

By way of context to the question, the change was related to the route out of lockdown.

And if I could ask to pull up on the screen, please, document INQ000256846. And that’s there, thank you very much.

So what you see there is a record compiled by the principal private secretary of the First Minister for Wales, and it’s in an email dated 8/5/2020 and it’s a record of a meeting with Mr Gove on 8 May of the devolved administrations’ First Ministers, and it precedes the COBR meeting, which was on 10 May, which dealt with the announcement or the discussion prior to the announcement of the road out of lockdown.

If I could refer to some passages briefly in this, just to introduce the question that I’d like to ask you, having looked at this document, and one other document, very briefly.

So first of all, we have the text:

“Key points from call today with CDL and FMs Scotland and NI …”

Obviously the Welsh First Minister was present as well. First bullet point:

“COBR expected Sunday afternoon.”

A little bit further down the page:

“Recognition that different jurisdictions may move at different pace depending on progress of disease, and practicalities eg different school calendars, but this does not undermine 4 nations approach.”

Then a little further down, if we go to the penultimate bullet point:

“DAs emphasised keeping core Stay at Home message – Gove will reinforce with PM.”


“CDL summarised:

“- Recognition that different pace of change reflects devolution and pace of disease.

“- He will make sure we have time to contribute to COBRA discussions.”

Then finally:

“- Will talk to PM re Stay at Home narrative.”

So it’s obvious of course from that document, Mr Johnson, just to confirm, that the devolved administrations wanted to stay with the Stay at Home message at that time. Thank you.

If I could now ask for this next document to be pulled up, please, it’s INQ000216537.

And this is a record that has been compiled of the COBR meeting on 10 May. This is the record compiled by the communications director for the Welsh Government. This record, if I can ask to go to the third page of this record, and just very briefly some of the observations that are recorded that were made, the issue about messaging relating to the change of message from Stay at Home to Stay Alert was raised by the First Minister for Scotland, but as we know it was a matter where there were concerns from all the devolved administrations. She has raised the point, and at the top of page 3, we see:

“[Prime Minister] responded that nothing will appear in Scotland that will cut across the stay at home messages.”

And then in the next paragraph we see that the UK director of communications, Alex Aiken, he makes some observations. I think it’s fair to say that the summary of what he’s saying is that he’s summarising the merits of the change to Stay Alert. He says:

“Stay alert encourages people to change behaviour and permissions, it has polled well. Monday into Tuesday we will start national advertising to start to change behaviours.”

Then if we look a little bit further on, it refers to, in the next paragraph:

“[The First Minister for Scotland] reiterat[ing] that they would not be moving to stay alert messages [and looking for] assurance[s] there will be no paid for ads on TV or elsewhere in Scotland – this will undermine [messages of the Scottish Government]. [Prime Minister] said they will deconflict messaging as far as possible. We can move forward as four nations. Now is the moment to recalibrate messaging …”

And then further text relating to what you then went on to say.

So the question that I’d like to ask arising out of looking at those passages is: as you can recall, what did the UK Government do to make sure that the change of message took account of the fact that the devolved administrations were not changing their message, they wanted to stay with Stay at Home as the main message, and what did the plan to deconflict amount to?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, if I may say so, and thank you very much for taking us through all this, I think, you know, you’re rather eloquently illustrating one of the problems that we had, and you’re perfectly correct that there was a divergence in the message, and in the advice. And in England, certainly, we felt that the people had been through an awful lot, there had been a huge sacrifice, effort by the public to get the R down below 1, people needed to know whether they should go back to work or not, we wanted to have a message to allow people to go back to work if they could, and to get things going, because of the very serious harms that we had seen.

Now, the difficulty was, as you rightly say, that in other parts of the UK, they had a slightly different approach, and it was – it was hard to get a message that everybody could agree upon.

Ms Harris: Yes, and a message wasn’t agreed on, that’s clear, isn’t it, there wasn’t agreement about the move to Stay Alert? The devolved administrations, as you’ve confirmed, wanted to stay with Stay at Home and my question is: what did the UK Government do, did it plough ahead with Stay Alert regardless, with very little adjustment, or did it do all that could sensibly be done that make sure that there was, and you’ve emphasised the need for clarity, that there was as much clarity as possible so that people who lived in each of the four nations knew what applied to them?

Did the UK Government do all it could sensibly do in order to bring about that outcome?

Mr Boris Johnson: The difficulty was, I think that we tried as much as we could to forge a consensus, I think it would be fair to say that in – certainly in Scotland and Wales, I’m not certain of Northern Ireland, but certainly in Scotland and Wales there was throughout the pandemic, under the Labour government in Wales and under the SNP in Scotland, a general – a greater degree of caution and a greater desire to keep within lockdown measures than there was in the UK Government as a whole. And I sympathised with that. I understood why people felt like that, and I think that went very much with the grain of a lot of public opinion, but we also had to try to reflect the fact that we’d got the R down below 1 and there was no point in doing that unless you were going to try to … not just to save life, but also to take advantage of the – of the freedom that that gave us. And it was … and this is a perfect example of the difficulty that we had of having public health messaging that was divergent across the – across the UK.

And frankly I –

Ms Harris: Mr Johnson, I –

Mr Boris Johnson: It would have been better –

Lady Hallett: I’m afraid there’s no more time, Ms Harris.

Mr Boris Johnson: It would have been better to have a unified approach, though I appreciate that – and I can – from all the questionings that I’ve had, the legitimate sensitivities that that raises in the DAs. We’ve got to find a way of doing this that doesn’t tread on people’s toes but produces a unified answer.

Ms Harris: The UK Government itself needed to be clear, didn’t it? You would agree with that?

Mr Boris Johnson: And the UK Government was clear. The problem was that we, within the UK, we have under our devolved settlement, we have the perfect right of people to announce policies that were divergent.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Harris.

I’m afraid everybody’s running over and we can’t have too long a day today. So could everybody else who is coming afterwards please stick to their time limits.

Ms Mitchell.

Ms Mitchell is over there, Mr Johnson.

The Witness: Yes.

Questions From Ms Mitchell KC

Ms Mitchell: Mr Johnson, I am instructed by Aamer Anwar & Company on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved. In his evidence to the Inquiry, Lord Edward Udney-Lister was asked about a chain of emails where the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was requesting a telephone call with you, and this was on 5 March 2020, an important day because it was the day that Covid was added to the list of notifiable diseases, so it was a landmark day.

In answer to asking why there was a reluctance to have the First Minister contact you, Lord Edward Udney-Lister gave the following evidence, and this is from the transcript of 7 November 2023, page 105:

“… well, I mean, as you can see from the exchange of emails, the meeting took place, so it – I certainly wasn’t trying to block that meeting taking place. But there was quite a lot of tension between the Prime Minister and the First Minister, they had no real personal relationship of any kind other than that they, I think, generally didn’t like each other very much.”

I would like to ask: is this a fair characterisation of the relationship between you and the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I’m sorry to hear Eddie said that. Actually, I had no ill will whatsoever towards the First Minister of Scotland. When I’ve talked to her we’ve got on – we’ve got on very well and had a friendly relationship. And as I think you just said, we did indeed have a meeting.

Ms Mitchell KC: Is it odd that such a close and senior person working for you got that impression?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think that – let’s put it this way, the – much as I love the SNP, you know, they weren’t – politically there was a certain amount of toing and froing between SNP and me as the Prime Minister. I think – and I wouldn’t like to, you know, produce everything that they’ve said about me over the years, but quite a lot of it –

Ms Mitchell KC: Let’s just focus on these particular questions.

You say you had plenty of opportunity to meet the leaders of the devolved administrations, but as one of my learned friends has already pointed out to you, between May and October you hadn’t.

If it were to be correct that you had a certain degree of reluctance to meet with the First Minister, does that play into the fact that there were so few meetings during this time?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think we have gone into the reasons for all this quite a – quite a lot, and I think we … there were – I think Nicola was at a COBR that we had quite shortly thereafter, I remember a conversation, a long discussion involving – and several discussions involving her at meetings throughout the pandemic, and genuinely my relations with her have always been friendly and professional. I think that the reasons for the approach that we took were, as I’ve been saying to others, that I thought a grown-up way of doing this, that would take the steam out of things, keep things focused on the needs of the UK public, would be to manage it in the way that we did.

Ms Mitchell KC: And why would, as you say, taking the steam out of things, why would that require Mr Gove to be appointed to the role?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, as I say in my statement, I think he was well suited to the job of bringing people together, hearing people’s opinions, conciliating, without, you know, people who are not necessarily my number one political fans feeling the need to chip paint off the government.

Ms Mitchell KC: Mr Johnson, I don’t need this up, but you say at paragraph 191 of your statement that you have given to this Inquiry that sometimes when you had to make political decisions about what was going to happen with the country:

“… sometimes decisions were urgent and needed to be made extremely quickly which could present a challenge: either we would need to convene [a] COBR, invite the DAs to a Cabinet meeting or a UK Government Subcommittee meeting (at which their role was not always completely clear) or we would need to take a decision ourselves and then bring the DAs on board. None of this was ideal.”

Now, as we’ve seen from this Inquiry as it’s taken place, a lot of government in the modern day appears to be done by way of very fast means of communication, text, email, WhatsApps, phone, video conferencing. Why do you consider that consulting the DAs would have prevented urgent decision-making?

Mr Boris Johnson: I’m sure there could have been – in an ideal world, perhaps we could have found a way of doing it. My concern was that the DAs would understandably use their legitimate prerogatives to do things differently and, from time to time, to come out of what were meant to be confidential meetings and, understandably, want to talk to their own media within the DAs about what was going on, and to explain the position.

Now, I think the Inquiry needs to reflect upon this – and, you know, it’s not for me to say what the Inquiry needs to reflect on – but I found that it was a difficulty during the conduct of the – of the pandemic. The virus – the virus doesn’t respect any borders within the UK. The virus doesn’t respect –

Ms Mitchell KC: Well –

Mr Boris Johnson: – administrative boundaries, and it – and what – and we saw this problem with the tiering approach, I think that we need to think as far as we possibly can about ways of getting a unified message.

And I say that –

Ms Mitchell KC: I’m coming on to –

Mr Boris Johnson: – with maximum respect to the DAs and to their prerogatives.

Ms Mitchell KC: I’m coming on to the issue of messaging, that will be a chapter I will develop. But at the moment I would like to stay with the issue of how to interact with the DAs in the times of, for example, a pandemic.

You have talked about the need to be a structure that should be put in place to allow for consultation between the UK Government and the devolved administrations during emergency situations, and you have indicated that what you would like is a leak-proof integrated system.

Can you help the Inquiry as to how that might be done?

Mr Boris Johnson: Not at present, no, because I think it’s very difficult, and I – it may be that it’s a contradiction in terms, but that’s the ideal.

Ms Mitchell KC: It has certainly, I think, been said earlier in the Inquiry that government leaks.

Mr Boris Johnson: It does. But what you don’t typically have in government is a mixture of politicians who are, by definition, adversarial to each other in wanting to remove each other from office in the sense they belong to different parties, and –

Ms Mitchell KC: But Mr Johnson –

Mr Boris Johnson: – that’s one of the complexities that the pandemic threw up.

Ms Mitchell KC: The questions that were being discussed in these meetings weren’t about that sort of thing, they were about dates and times and what should be used, whether we should use masks or … there wasn’t a necessity or scope for that in those meetings.

Mr Boris Johnson: I – well, I think what happened was that every topic rapidly became political, because of course different constituencies in different parts of the country had different views about things, and that’s the sad reality. I’m not saying this problem is insoluble, I’m just saying that within the time that we had available it was hard to manage. I thought the best way to manage it, given the urgency, was to try to take the heat out of things, to get CDL to bring people together, to explain and to conciliate, and if necessary I would come in and –

Ms Mitchell KC: We’ve heard that, Mr Johnson.

Mr Boris Johnson: – talk to people as much as I could.

Ms Mitchell KC: We’ve heard that, Mr Johnson.

I wonder if I could have INQ000136751 up, please.

This is an email from Imran Shafi to Chris Whitty, and it relates to a meeting on 14 March. There was a meeting on 14 March involving yourself, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, CDL, the CMO, the CSA, and other senior officials – there was no DA present at this meeting, so no one from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – which discussed the need for a cross-government signed-off package on shielding the vulnerable and elderly. It was noted that the decision on when to implement this package would be based on advice from the CMO and the CSA. The advice was to include “how to handle the DAs”.

You can see that in respect of the particular document at the very last entry, on number 1.

What did you understand or what do you understand by the phrase “how to handle the DAs”?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think that the Inquiry will know very well the context of this email within the timetable of –

Ms Mitchell KC: Indeed.

Mr Boris Johnson: – Covid. It’s coming the very day, in the early afternoon of the very day when we’ve realised that we’re behind in the curve, and that we have to take very urgent action. So –

Ms Mitchell KC: Mr Johnson, I think we’re clear on that.

Mr Boris Johnson: So what this email reflects is the view of my private secretary, Imran, that we’ve got to get on to the DAs as fast as possible.

Ms Mitchell KC: Well, what is meant “how to handle the DAs”? You say it’s his view, but you were there at this meeting and this meeting concluded with action points and it’s the first action point.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, the question would have been who to ring, how to set the ball rolling, how to bring people together.

Ms Mitchell KC: Earlier on in your evidence yesterday you were asked about mass gatherings, and I think it would be fair to say that broadly you accepted that had been the wrong call to allow mass gatherings to go ahead; is that correct?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think what I said was that the advice on mass gatherings was that the – was paradoxical in the sense that it was counterintuitive because the scientific advice was that they were – banning mass gatherings could be worse, because you would drive people into smaller locations, pubs and so on, where the transmission would be even higher. That was the logic.

Ms Mitchell KC: I think Mr Whitty described it as in a sense technically correct but logically incoherent to the general public.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think that it was put to me that it was logically coherent in the sense that we wanted to reduce the – we wanted to do what we could to reduce transmission and it was put to me that banning mass gatherings itself would not really help, because – for the reason I’ve given.

Ms Mitchell KC: Can I have the document INQ000129230. This is a WhatsApp message with yourself dated 11/3/2020. As we can see it reads:

“I spoke to Chris Whitty at length about your concerns about the comms tomorrow getting over complicated. He thinks there is a really simple way of describing what we want people to do in future based on: from Monday if you’re ill stay home.

“He is going to make sure that by Cobr we’re in a good … position.

“However, he also thinks the Scots are going soft on mass gatherings – and the Nicola has decided she definitely wants to move on some totemic cancellations.”

The reason I flag this up is this has been used as a possible reason for Scotland just doing things differently. Would it be fair to say that in fact, in retrospect, the correct call was to call off those gatherings and to send the correct signal to the public that this was an important thing and everybody had to be very careful about their health?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I can’t – I can’t say how much of a difference it would have made at that stage. What I’ve tried to tell you is the reasons why we, at a very early stage in our understanding of the pandemic, had gone for one option, and what you’ve clearly got here is – for what we thought were sound epidemiological reasons – and what you’ve got is Scotland using its prerogatives to do something different. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the epidemiology, you have a divergence of approach –

Ms Mitchell KC: Indeed, and what I’m asking you is retrospectively –

Mr Boris Johnson: – and the risk is that in the end you start to undermine public understanding –

Ms Mitchell KC: Indeed, the Inquiry has heard that and understands it. What I am asking you to reflect upon is, retrospectively, was that the right call?

Mr Boris Johnson: I can’t – I can’t say. I think that –

Ms Mitchell KC: I’d like to –

Mr Boris Johnson: – what certainly wasn’t helpful throughout was to have different messages.

Ms Mitchell KC: Well, that’s exactly the matter I’m coming on to.

The issue of differential messaging is one which has peppered your evidence so far. In your statement at page 30, I don’t need that brought up, but in your statement at page 30, paragraph 126, it says:

“Looking back, we should have thought much harder about the legal basis for the measures proposed. There is a respectable argument that we should have used civil contingencies legislation rather than public health legislation. By allowing for at least the appearance of a divergence in approach between the various parts of the UK, we were risking considerable public confusion and frustration – when clarity of message was crucial.”

Given, as you’ve already identified, the prerogative of devolved administrations, in particular Scotland, where health is a devolved matter in Scotland, where Scotland has access to its own data, its own government, its own CMO, its own DCMO, and it has, I suppose, the best view on what’s happening in its own area, ie the different spread of Covid perhaps between the Scottish islands and London, are your comments fair or proper?

Mr Boris Johnson: My comments on?

Ms Mitchell KC: Is your comment that the appearance of divergence in approach between the various parts of the UK were risking considerable public confusion and frustration when you wanted clarity?

Mr Boris Johnson: Obviously that’s for the Inquiry to decide, but I think I was – look, I’m really grateful to you for, you know, raising all this, but I was worried that there was a continual dissonance of messaging and I was worried that that would do two things: it would confuse people and, in the end, it would undermine people’s confidence in the message. One or other of these points had to be right, which one was it?

Ms Mitchell KC: And I would like to take you to that.

First of all – I’ve got two issues left. First of all, the Stay Alert message. You say clarity and consistency were important, you were sensitive to this, that the messaging was so important, and you were concerned that people found it hard to follow. The fact was that the message was Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives and it was changed by the UK Government, by itself, to Stay Alert, did you have any communications with the devolved administrations saying that you were going to change it?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think the previous counsel for, I believe it was, the Welsh bereaved families, indicated that there had been a consultation about that.

Ms Mitchell KC: If I may put this to you: if there was such a meeting and conversations were had, why was consistency of messaging not an issue when the UK Government decided to change its advice but the other three devolved administrations didn’t?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think perhaps I could put it this way. The pandemic changed and the virus changed and – its virulence, and we had to change our response. And I think that –

Ms Mitchell KC: The difficulty –

Mr Boris Johnson: – just to complete the point, I think the problem was that we would find sometimes that there was a difference in message. I’m not – I don’t want to make too much heavy weather of this, but I think sometimes it was a problem.

Ms Mitchell KC: That brings me to my last point, but just before I leave the issue of Stay Alert, Professor Halpern has given evidence to this Inquiry that the phrase that was changed was so bad because it told you to worry and it didn’t tell you what to do. He described it as the worst combination. And I would respectfully allow you to reflect upon that.

If I can take you on to my final point, and it’s in relation to a report, an expert report which has been heard detail of in this Inquiry, by Professor Ailsa Henderson, and it’s about confusing messages.

You have said in your evidence that messaging was incredibly important:

“Messaging, in the end, was the most important tool we had to deal with the virus. I don’t wish to – I don’t think we should deprecate the importance of messaging.”

So at the heart of what you were doing you thought messaging was a vitally – a critical tool in relation to the pandemic.

If we can have before us INQ000269372, the report by Professor Ailsa Henderson, page 49, paragraphs 151 and 152.

This was about advice given by the UK Government over communications with the public. About halfway down the paragraph it starts:

“An analysis of the texts of prepared speeches throughout 2020 shows that those speaking on behalf of the UK government did an incomplete job of outlining the territorial scope of their data, information or guidance. In the first months, there was almost no mention of the devolved administrations or their First Ministers. There was little attempt to outline what applied UK-wide and what applied only to England. The phrase ‘this country’ was employed frequently to mean England, or Great Britain or the UK. In general, spokespeople were slightly more likely to clarify if a UK-wide matter applied to the whole of the UK.”

And it goes on to give an instance.

Given, by your own admission, the critical nature of the communications and the fact that messaging was the most important tool the UK had to deal with the virus, was sufficient consideration given by the UK Government to ensuring that the geographical, jurisdictional – of their data and information and guidance was made clear?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I did my level best during the press conferences to try to make clear where the restrictions applied to, and I remember several times saying that they applied only in England and to trying to restrict what we were saying, but I think –

Ms Mitchell KC: Well, Mr Johnson, I have one example –

Mr Boris Johnson: – you can’t blame ministers for talking about this country or – when that’s common parlance. And if I may say –

Ms Mitchell KC: The difficulty is that ministers are talking on behalf of the UK Government to all the people that they are getting at, so if they say “this country”, it has to be made clear which country it refers to. For example –

Mr Boris Johnson: We’re all one country.

Ms Mitchell KC: For example, on 23 June 2020 you clarified that measures applied to England only, and that’s the one occasion it appears that’s been highlighted, and then set out rules to follow for the “British public”.

Is what was needed was clarity and isn’t it, in fact, that the problem was that the difficulty was created by the UK Government?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, no.

Ms Mitchell KC: Later on in this report it says that:

“Notwithstanding … efforts … throughout 2020, [the] UK COVID press briefings repeatedly failed to clarify … rules governing school closures, rules for social gatherings, funds for local authorities, funds for the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, the renewal task force, dedicated funding for mental health, bike voucher schemes, increased marshals on rail networks, the reopening of car showrooms or other retail were all England-specific.”

And they say – the report goes on to say:

“This is particularly important as in some instances government spokespeople were calling for individuals to change their behaviour, and such rules would not have applied throughout the UK. Indeed it was advice about rules, rather than data, that suffered from a particular lack of clarity …”

So given what is said in this report, Mr Johnson, did the UK Government fail to properly implement the most important tool the UK Government had to deal with the virus?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that if you look at the public understanding of what we were trying to say, it was remarkable how clearly people got the message considering the extreme complexity of the rules and considering the fact that there was divergence, as I’ve said, across the DAs.

Ms Mitchell KC: Mr Johnson, given the complexity –

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that what you’ve got here is, in all this conversation, a perfect example of how different messaging can be confusing for ministers, for people across the whole of the UK. The virus thinks – whatever the SNP may think, the virus thinks this is all one country. That’s the reality.

Ms Mitchell KC: I’m not asking questions about the SNP, I’m asking questions about you and your ministers’ messaging during the pandemic. You have said that what it was was extremely complex issues, and there may be no doubt that that is so, but wouldn’t that be all the more reason that you made absolutely clear every time you stood up and spoke to the four nations that you made it absolutely clear what the rules were for each nation in each country?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I could have done that, I think that – and that might indeed be a way forward. I think that it may be that you’ve hit on a solution, which is that in future it should be entirely the job of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to announce the different rules that apply in different places across the UK, rather than having those messages blurred or anticipated.

I happen to think that that would still be immensely complicated and people wouldn’t understand quite why there were differences.

All I’m saying is that the – I think there were – legitimate, democratic desire of the DAs to have their own approach to public health. I totally get that and I support that. But, in the particular context of a brutal, pitiless pandemic, there had to be some way of helping the public with greater unity of messaging. That’s all I’m saying.

Ms Mitchell KC: And the best way is not to look for unity but to look for clarity; would that be correct?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that clarity follows unity.

Lady Hallett: I think we have gone far enough.

Ms Mitchell: I’m obliged.

Lady Hallett: This is not going to become seminal, with respect.

I shall return at 3.15.

(3.03 pm)

(A short break)

(3.15 pm)

Lady Hallett: Mr Thomas.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Former Prime Minister Johnson, may I start by saying how much I appreciate your time here today. I’m Leslie Thomas and I represent FEHMO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations.

Now, I want to see what we can agree on. Can we agree that it’s important to acknowledge the collective sacrifice and dedication of healthcare workers, especially those from diverse ethnic backgrounds; can we agree on that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I certainly think it’s crucial to acknowledge the sacrifice of healthcare workers in the UK everywhere, absolutely.

Professor Thomas KC: Thank you. Thank you. We know that they tirelessly put their lives on the line during the pandemic. You remember, don’t you, the nationwide applause every Thursday at 8 pm; yes? Do you remember that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I do.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes. And indeed you yourself owe them a debt in relation to when you were hospitalised and ill; we can agree on that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I certainly do, and they put themselves in the frontline of danger in many cases and particularly, sadly, those from ethnic minority backgrounds paid a terrible price.

Professor Thomas KC: They did, they paid a terrible price.

So it’s in this context that FEHMO seeks insights into various aspects and understands the challenges faced by ethnic minority healthcare workers and communities during this unprecedented time.

Now, let me start – I’ve only got a handful of topics. Let me start with my first topic.

Mr Johnson, considering the expert testimony of the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, that disparate health outcomes based on vulnerabilities were “entirely foreseeable”, and the acknowledgement that pandemics exacerbate existing inequalities rather than creating them, I would like to focus on the period leading up to the first lockdown in March 2020.

During those critical days, why didn’t your government put any measures in place in anticipation to mitigate the potential harsher effects of the pandemic on vulnerable and minority groups? Can you help me with that, please.

Mr Boris Johnson: I certainly can. I think that the – we recognised that a pandemic, as Sir Patrick has said, was going to be brutal for the whole country, but I think that one of the things that I’d been told from the beginning was that – if you remember, in the conversations that we’d had about the downsides of lockdown – is that they were likely to be felt particularly by those from lower income groups, ethnic minority backgrounds, who would typically – typically, it’s a generalisation – be more vulnerable.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: So at that particular stage it was one of the reasons why we were so careful about the timeliness of the lockdowns that we’ve described.

Professor Thomas KC: Mr Johnson, just help me with this, because I may have missed this: bearing in mind that these, as you’ve just said, were anticipated in lower income groups, ethnic minorities, tell me what were the measures that your government put in place to protect these groups?

Mr Boris Johnson: What we – so I’ve described the disparate impacts of NPIs and lockdowns and the way that affected policy. What we didn’t at that stage know, and I think that’s what Patrick is talking about, but what we didn’t at that stage know is the extent to which the virus itself would impact different groups differently, and that was only really to become apparent in the course of the weeks ahead.

Professor Thomas KC: Well, you say in the weeks ahead, very early on it became apparent: the first ten doctors who died were from ethnic minority backgrounds. The first ten doctors were doctors of colour, Mr Johnson; you knew that, right?

Mr Boris Johnson: And that is correct, and –

Professor Thomas KC: Sorry, can I just clarify, you knew that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I – I – well, let me say what I knew.

I knew that from the – and I think that I’m right in saying that of the victims in the NHS, the NHS staff, I think in the – I may have got the figure wrong, but I think it’s something like 60% in the first year were from ethnic minority backgrounds. I may be wrong about that, but it’s something of that order. It was falling disproportionately on BAME staff.

And we did spot that very early on, I was very worried about it, and I tried to find out why as fast as we could.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes.

Mr Johnson, just so we’re clear, I’m not for one moment suggesting that you didn’t try to find out why. What my question was aimed at is what you did, what measures, protective measures, did you put in place to protect these vulnerable groups? That was my question.

But let me move on because time is short. Let me move on to talk –

Mr Boris Johnson: We put in all sorts of – it would be fair to say until we’d established the chain of causation and what was going on, it was difficult to put in specific measures for specific groups, but I – you know, clearly we needed to do more to protect NHS frontline staff, and they made a huge, huge and tragic sacrifice.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes, well, we can agree on that.

Let’s move on to my second topic. In your witness statement you acknowledge that there was a vast underestimation of the risks related to disparities in health outcomes, and you state this at paragraph 46.

Now, considering this acknowledgement, what were the specific factors or considerations that contributed to this underestimation in the context of disparities in health outcomes, particularly those based on ethnicity?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that to begin with, we were – I was looking at the data as it started to come in. We were – it was heartbreaking, and we were uncertain as to – as to the cause. And the question, bluntly, was whether there was some – whether there were medical reasons or whether there were, as it were, occupational reasons for the greater suffering. And I think it took us a while to try to get – to get to the answer. I mean, we tried to get the answer quite quickly, but a great deal of work was done on that subject. The answer, as I’m sure you of course know, is that it appears that there isn’t a – any medical grounds. What it must – what it, I’m afraid, tragically was, was fantastic NHS staff from ethnic minority backgrounds in the frontline dealing with patients and being exposed to the virus, and –

Professor Thomas KC: Well, forgive me, Mr Johnson.

Mr Boris Johnson: That’s what it seems to have been.

Professor Thomas KC: Forgive me, Mr Johnson, it’s more than that. We had your former Health Secretary, Mr Hancock, sitting where you are sitting, I believe last Friday, and he agreed with me, and I’m sure you will agree with me, that we can also agree that part of the disproportionate impact on the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, including healthcare workers, was as a result of institutional racism within the NHS and within the system. Can we agree on that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I’m not certain, I’m afraid to say, that I’ve seen evidence to support that.

Professor Thomas KC: Well –

Mr Boris Johnson: I’d be –

Professor Thomas KC: You are unaware of the report done by Public Health England into the NHS, that Mr Hancock was telling us about, where it was talking about institutional racism? You’re completely unaware of that as Prime Minister?

Mr Boris Johnson: I haven’t, I’ve got to confess to you, seen that report. The information that I had was that it was – that wasn’t the – the information that I had did not mention that as a factor.

Professor Thomas KC: All right. Let me move on.

Mr Johnson, the June 2020 Public Health England report has been cited as a pivotal moment in the understanding and addressing the disparities and risks and outcomes relating to the Covid pandemic. Would you consider this report to be your first substantive opportunity for engagement on this crucial issue?

Mr Boris Johnson: On which issue?

Professor Thomas KC: I’ll repeat the question: on the issue of addressing disparities and risks and outcomes related to the Covid-19 virus.

Mr Boris Johnson: Right. Well, what we did was to try to make sure that everybody had the best possible protection, and to do whatever we could to stop infection of those particularly black, Asian, minority ethnic groups who were in the frontline of the fight against Covid. And sometimes, tragically, we didn’t have PPE that was good enough but we made a huge effort to equip our country with what was necessary.

Professor Thomas KC: Sometimes you didn’t have PPE, but there was an issue at times, was there not, in relation to PPE not being culturally appropriate, you know, people with beards, religious outfits, things like that? Were you aware of that?

Mr Boris Johnson: That wasn’t escalated to me. I was concerned that everybody should have the best possible protection.

Professor Thomas KC: Let me move on. Can you share with us your reflections on how the findings of this report influenced subsequent actions and policies aimed at mitigating these disparities?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that what we wanted to do was to make sure that the incredible frontline staff of the NHS had greater protection, above all by being less overworked, and one of the things that we – and, you know, the pandemic was a terrible time, but one of the things that we did was not only to embark on a programme of – big programme of hospital building, but recruiting 50,000 more nurses, and I think we’re well on the way to – the subsequent government is well on the way to achieving that now. And if you’re a nurse or a frontline worker, then clearly one of the best ways to mitigate the risk that you face, and the disproportionate risk that you face as a black, Asian and minority ethnic frontline care worker, is having an extra pair of hands to help you, and that was one of the key objectives of the programme, and it was – it’s a very large programme.

Professor Thomas KC: Thank you.

Mr Boris Johnson: There are plenty of other things that the NHS now has, I believe, or certainly did when I was minister, many people than it’s ever had –

Professor Thomas KC: Sorry –

Mr Boris Johnson: Forgive me.

Professor Thomas KC: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: They have limited time, Mr Johnson.

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry, I’m not trying to talk you out.

Professor Thomas: I’m sure you’re not trying to talk me out –

Mr Boris Johnson: I wouldn’t dream of it.

Professor Thomas KC: You wouldn’t dream of that, would you, Mr Johnson?

Mr Boris Johnson: I wouldn’t.

Professor Thomas KC: No. Right, I have two more topics and I’ve finished.

Given the first indications of starkly disproportionate rates of infection and mortality in ethnic minority communities which began to emerge in late March/early April, can we agree on this: can we agree that there were earlier opportunities for more substantial engagement? Can we agree on that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t know what you mean by that.

Professor Thomas KC: Well, let me be blunt. Your government could have done a lot more, a lot earlier.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, we did whatever we could to get all our staff the equipment that we –

Professor Thomas KC: It wasn’t enough, Mr Johnson, was it?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, we worked incredibly hard and fast to get people the equipment we needed. That doesn’t mean that I’m not conscious of the immense effort and sacrifice –

Professor Thomas KC: People we were clapping for; do you remember?

Mr Boris Johnson: I do, and I am deeply conscious of the sacrifice that they made.

Professor Thomas KC: Fine. Last topic and then I’ll sit down and I’ll shut up.

At paragraph 656 of your witness statement, you say:

“… I was not provided with and did not consider any ‘Equality Impact Assessments’ when making decisions about imposing, easing or making exceptions to NPIs but that is not to say I did not receive and consider many documents containing details of the effects of lockdowns across society or ‘Equalities and Distributional Impacts’ …”

Question: in the absence of such assessments, and that’s the equality impact assessments, can you shed light on the sources of intelligence or information that informed you, informed your understanding, of the disproportionate impact of NPIs on ethnic minority groups? What were the sources of your intelligence and information?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, there was data that I saw – I can’t tell you exactly the provenance, but there was data that suggested that, I think, when you come to lockdowns, people from the Bangladeshi community were four times more likely to be engaged in closed sectors, people from the Pakistani community were, I think, twice as likely to be engaged in closed sectors. From my own extensive work as chairman of Transport for London, and all the work I did as mayor, had taught me the massive disproportionate impact measures such as closures of retail, hospitality and so on were likely to have on those very groups.

So in a way I didn’t need –

Professor Thomas KC: You didn’t need the intelligence?

Mr Boris Johnson: I knew that –

Professor Thomas KC: You knew? Thank you.

Mr Boris Johnson: I was getting data, but I also knew that these measures were likely to be disproportionately – disproportionate in their –

Professor Thomas KC: Thank you, Mr Johnson.

My Lady, I concede another 30 seconds under my time. Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Thomas.

Mr Metzer.

That way, Mr Johnson.

Questions From Mr Metzer KC

Mr Metzer: Thank you, my Lady.

Mr Johnson, I ask a small number of questions on behalf of the Long Covid groups.

Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings have said they were advised in early 2020 about the possibility of longer term sequelae of Covid-19 by both Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty.

On 17 May 2020, you shared an article – we needn’t go to it – about people reporting prolonged symptoms of Covid-19 in a WhatsApp group with them all. In short, did you also receive advice about long-term sequelae from Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty at that time?

Mr Boris Johnson: Not as far as I can remember at that time. I do remember repeatedly asking for advice, and I think that I finally got a paper, from memory, in summer of 2021.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes, we’ll come to that.

You were never provided with scientific advice doubting the existence of Long Covid, yet you said that you were only persuaded that Long Covid existed in June 2021. You’ve referred to that.

Mr Boris Johnson: I didn’t say that. I was only given scientific advice on Long Covid in June 2021.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes. I’m asking you questions about when you were persuaded. You were only convinced by him – that’s Chris Whitty – that Long Covid was a serious problem when, from July 2020, you had been receiving letters from patient advocates and Members of Parliament asking for formal recognition of Long Covid. In September 2020, Mr Hancock reminded you about Long Covid. In October 2020 the NHSE announced a five-point plan for Long Covid. And on 13 October 2020, Sir Patrick Vallance advised you about considering Long Covid at a Cabinet meeting, and he said in evidence here that he described Long Covid to you, and you were sceptical about it.

Mr Boris Johnson: When was this?

Mr Metzer KC: 13 October 2020, Sir Patrick Vallance was.

So I’ve given you a sequence of from July to October. Why wasn’t this overwhelming body of advice and correspondence in 2020 sufficient to persuade you that Long Covid was a serious problem at that time?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t want you to think – so, first of all, I don’t want anybody to think that I didn’t think that it could be a serious problem. What I wanted to know was the evidence, and I wanted to understand the – how – what exactly the sequelae consisted in, and how I should explain it to people, what the symptoms exactly were, and what kind of a syndrome it really was. And I was having some difficulty getting a clear picture, and that was the – that was the reality.

Mr Metzer KC: So this was a question, it appears, in relation to formal advice, written advice. But the box grid of October 2020 – and we needn’t go to it, it’s at INQ000251910 – that you scrawled “Bollocks” on was referring to the first NIHR report into Long Covid, a research paper that had already been published on Long Covid by that time. It laid out symptomatology on Long Covid. If you wanted advice, why didn’t you simply ask for that report to be provided to you?

Mr Boris Johnson: I did ask for the evidence and I did ask for reports to be provided and eventually one was provided. I think that, it’s – you know, I think it was a slight conceptual – first of all, I wish to again recognise the hurt that those words must have caused to people suffering from Long Covid and the very real suffering that they endure, and – but what I was – when I referred to Gulf War syndrome, I was making a – I think a reasonable question, and I’m sure you wouldn’t say that everybody suffering from Gulf War syndrome is mistaken.

Mr Metzer KC: Mr Covid(sic) – Mr Johnson, I don’t want to develop about Gulf War syndrome. I just want to ask you: do you agree you never asked for the NIHR report to be provided to you?

Mr Boris Johnson: I certainly asked for a report to be provided for me in to Long Covid and it was eventually provided but much later on.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes. So not that report, do you agree?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Mr Metzer KC: Thank you.

In July 2021 the Cabinet Office planned a policy which accepted high prevalence of Covid-19. It noted that the strategy was to continue to live with Covid without restrictions. One risk was noted as high rates of Long Covid. The autumn/winter plan of 2021/2022 published in September 2021 emphasised building defences through pharmaceutical interventions and, for Long Covid, only acknowledged the need for treatment.

There was no effective treatment for Long Covid, as there were no pharmaceutical interventions to prevent its development, and you agree the best way to prevent Long Covid is to prevent infection of Covid-19?

Mr Boris Johnson: Correct.

Mr Metzer KC: Did the government choose to adopt a policy which you knew would result in a significant number of people, including young people, suffering from Long Covid?

Mr Boris Johnson: What we did was to try to fight Covid, to try to fight infection and mortality in people of all ages by stopping the spread of the disease, and I thought that by fighting Covid a fortiori you could fight Long Covid.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes, but you understand in relation to the decisions in relation to Covid and Long Covid, they have different symptomatology.

Mr Boris Johnson: And that was precisely what I wanted to understand, and that was why I requested the report and the advice that I did. And when I spoke about Gulf War syndrome, what I meant literally was: can somebody explain to me, because Gulf War syndrome, as I’m sure you – you know, nobody would say, I’m sure you wouldn’t, that everybody suffering from Gulf War syndrome is mistaken, so –

Mr Metzer KC: Mr Johnson, I want to move away from Gulf War syndrome, with the greatest of respect.

A choice was taken to allow high rates of transmission which brought more cases of Long Covid, and you’ve said a number of times that messaging was incredibly important, messaging in the end was the most important tool we had to deal with the virus. Why didn’t you therefore communicate the risk of Long Covid to the public so they could take measures to protect themselves?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, the way to protect yourself against Long Covid is to avoid getting Covid.

Mr Metzer KC: That’s not the simple – it doesn’t follow, does it? They’re not – there are other specific features to Long Covid.

Mr Boris Johnson: Unless I’m much mistaken, I don’t believe there is a way of contracting Long Covid without getting Covid.

Mr Metzer KC: But it has a different risk profile; do you appreciate that?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, forgive me, and look, I don’t wish in any way to, you know, to minimise the importance of what you’re saying, but I – I thought that the best way to fight the possibility of people having long-term sequelae from Covid was to stop them getting Covid in the first place.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes. Do you accept there is an indiscriminate risk to all people, children and the young, which has a different risk profile specific to Long Covid?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, that was one of the things I was very interested to understand. I think that may very well be the case.

But it is still also true, logically, that the best way to stop those individuals contracting Covid is to stop the spread of the disease full stop.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes. So can I take from that that people do need to know about Long Covid specifically, they can suffer from prolonged symptoms of Covid-19 and that nothing specifically was done about the risk of Long Covid; do you accept that?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t accept that nothing was done about the risk of Long Covid because the government did everything that we could to stop the spread of Covid.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes.

Last question, last topic. Yesterday you said in your view some people thought they may be suffering from Long Covid but there was in fact another cause. The NIHR report, summarised in the October 2020 box return, addressed those very concerns that:

“The lack of recognition of the pattern of symptoms by the public and by healthcare services meant people frequently felt their experiences were not believed and this left many feeling isolated and alone in coping with their disease.”

Mr Boris Johnson: And that’s the same with Gulf War syndrome, by the way.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes. I haven’t asked the question yet.

It concluded, did the report, that more recognition and more support was needed. Having come to accept, as you have now, that Long Covid is a debilitating and disabling illness causing almost 2 million adults and children to suffer, do you now recognise that your prolonged disbelief in Long Covid –

Mr Boris Johnson: No.

Mr Metzer KC: – contributed to the delay in recognising Long Covid, led to unwell people not being believed, and has meant decisions were taken on releasing NPIs without consideration of Long Covid?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, I don’t think that. I think that if you look at what actually happened, from a very early stage we start investing in research into Long Covid, and I think 50 million followed by another £75 million, into trying to establish the exact pathology of the illness.

Mr Metzer KC: But the decisions were taken on releasing NPIs without consideration of Long Covid; do you accept that?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, I think that we – there were going to be risks involved in releasing the NPIs. They were going to be basically the risk that the disease would spread, and that was the thing we wanted to fight.

Mr Metzer KC: Yes.

Mr Keith: Thank you, Mr Metzer.

Mr Metzer: Can I just complete the question please, my Lady. It’s the last question, I promise you.

Do you accept that widespread transmission of the disease without public communications on the risk of Long Covid, and without other mitigation measures, meant people could not take steps to protect themselves from Long Covid? Do you accept that?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, I think that people were given plenty of advice to protect themselves from Covid, and as soon as we began to understood what Long Covid was and its risks, we also publicised the risks of Long Covid as well.

Mr Metzer: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Metzer.

Mr Menon, you’ve moved, trying to confuse me.

Questions From Mr Menon KC

Mr Menon: Thank you, my Lady.

Good afternoon, Mr Johnson, I ask questions on behalf of a number of children’s rights organisations.

Can I start by seeing if we can agree on two matters, which I hope are uncontroversial.

Firstly, in March 2020, when schools were closed for most children, you believed that schools should only close as a last resort if necessary to save lives and protect the NHS; is that right?

Mr Boris Johnson: I certainly believed that the closure of schools was a very, very damaging thing for kids, particularly, as I said earlier on, for kids on lower incomes.

Mr Menon KC: Secondly, the reason that you believed that schools, I suggest, should only close as a last resort was that you recognised at that time, when we went into lockdown in March 2020, that school closures would have a devastating lasting harmful impact on many children, particularly vulnerable children, in terms of their development, their socialisation, their educational attainment, their life chances, their physical health and their psychological wellbeing; is that fair?

Mr Boris Johnson: We did recognise that.

Mr Menon KC: Now, given those answers, can we also agree that the primary problem in March 2020 was not the fact that schools were closed for most children to save lives and protect the NHS, the problem was that prior to schools being closed there was no proper plan, there was no clearly established framework, there was no guidance for schools on remote education, and no arrangements for delivering face-to-face education to vulnerable children under the new social distancing restrictions? That was the problem, wasn’t it, in March 2020?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that the difficulties we had in delivering education remotely, and the other things that you’ve mentioned certainly compounded the problem, but the basic problem, the prior problem, was that kids were deprived of the vital education that they needed at a critical time in their development. They were deprived of the society of other kids, they were unable to socialise, it was a terrible, terrible time. And the evidence is, as I’m sure you know, that this was felt most keenly by those on lower incomes, and they basically received about 30% less education as a – than kids from wealthier backgrounds.

Mr Menon KC: So we agree on impact, can we also agree there was no proper plan?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think it would be fair to say from everything that the Inquiry has heard so far, certainly from me, that this was a once-in-a-century event and we were not prepared suddenly to be forced to close schools for the length of time that we did. I think that’s – that’s fair.

Mr Menon KC: Thank you.

In your witness statement, Mr Johnson, I don’t want to ask for it to be put the screen, the reference is page 107, paragraph 397, you say that the re-opening of schools was one of your key priorities in the summer of 2020, when the first lockdown was easing, putting it ahead, in your words, of the need to lift social and economic measures.

Why, then – this is the question: why then were hospitality and cultural venues, including pubs, bars, cafés, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty salons, allowed to re-open on 4 July 2020, dubbed “Independence Day” by some in government, but not schools?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that the – I think I gave the answer earlier in a previous discussion. The reason was that we – two things. I think we thought we would go through till the resumption of the normal school term. But secondly, schools are big potential reservoirs of risk, and younger people can easily transmit the virus to older and more vulnerable people.

Mr Menon KC: You think schools are larger reservoirs of risk than pubs and restaurants and hairdressers and beauty salons, and non-essential retail for that matter?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think that we were thinking about how to do things, how to sequence things, and I’d have to go back and look at some of the discussions, but I think that we thought it sensible, given where we were in the school calendar, to resume with the normal return of school.

Mr Menon KC: But the reality is that, contrary to what you’d indicated earlier, schools were not the last to close and the first to re-open, were they? Because priority was given in your budget of risk to amongst other things pubs and hairdressers. That’s the reality, isn’t it?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, as I say, the – we faced an unlocking which went on until July, the school holidays normally began then, there were reasons for thinking that it might be sensible to resume school when school normally resumes.

Mr Menon KC: Rather than, for example, as an alternative, keep schools open into August because schools had been closed for so long beforehand?

Mr Boris Johnson: I think we did – we did look at that. I’m not sure that it was practically very easy to do.

Mr Menon KC: Moving then, Mr Johnson, from school closures to the social distancing restrictions. Why did your government largely ignore calls from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, and numerous children’s rights organisations, to exempt children in England from the social distancing restrictions that became law on 1 June and 14 September?

Mr Boris Johnson: Why did we ignore calls to exempt them from social distancing?

Mr Menon KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: I would have to look back at the discussions, and forgive me, but I think it would – my instinct is it would have been because we wanted to minimise the risk of transmission.

Mr Menon KC: Let me just remind you of what the position was:

1 June, outdoor gatherings of up to six people from more than one household became law.

4 July, so-called Independence Day, all outdoor restrictions lifted except in Leicester.

14 September, when numbers began to rise again, the so-called rule of six reintroduced at that stage.

So the position was that in England children weren’t exempted, but in Scotland and Wales younger children were exempted from the social distancing restrictions, as I’m sure you’re aware. Yes?

Mr Boris Johnson: And I think – well, that takes us back to the conversations we were having just now with the counsel for the DAs, and I think in an ideal world we would be able to proceed as one epidemiological unit with one set of messages.

Look, I hated all the restrictions that we had to place on schools, and I wanted to get them open, and – but we faced a really, really awful pandemic and the judgement was that – and this was one of the areas where the scientific emphasis changed, because it wasn’t quite as clear back in March, but the judgement was, I remember, in – later on in 2020 that schools really did present a considerable addition to the budget of risk.

Mr Menon KC: Mr Johnson, I moved on from schools to the social distancing restrictions.

Mr Boris Johnson: I thought you were talking about social distancing restrictions within schools.

Mr Menon KC: Not within schools.

Mr Boris Johnson: Oh, forgive me.

Mr Menon KC: Generally.

Mr Boris Johnson: Sorry.

Mr Menon KC: Just to be clear about this, just to remind you, the position was that in England children under the age of 12, in other words children who can’t go out from their homes independently, were not exempt from the restrictions, they were not given, to use the government’s language, that freedom and independence that children in Scotland and Wales were. So I’m asking: why did England pursue a more draconian approach than Scotland and Wales as far as younger children were concerned?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think the – I’d refer you to what I said just a moment ago. I think that we were – we were trying to reduce transmission, trying to reduce risk, but clearly there was a divergence between the various parts of the UK. I’m not certain in future whether we would want to do it that way.

Mr Menon KC: Just to be fair to you on this, so you know, the Inquiry has not heard any scientific or medical evidence from either the CMO or the GCSA to the effect that what Scotland and Wales was doing was somehow dangerous and that the English approach was better. Just so you understand the position.

Now, opposition to the decision not to exempt younger children from the social distancing restrictions was not confined to the Children’s Commissioner and children’s rights organisations. Members of your own government and political party were expressing concerns about this. And I’d like to show you one particular WhatsApp exchange, if I may.

The reference is INQ000176785, page 24.

And if you could indicate when you have that on your screen, it would be appreciated. I think so you have it now.

If we could turn to 11 October, please, the entry at 15.46.59. This is a WhatsApp exchange between Matt Hancock and Helen Whately, who, as you know, was minister of state in the DHSC at the time.

Helen Whately says this:

“Wish we could loosen on children under 12 on rule of 6 for tier 1.”

Then about an hour later she says:

“It would make such a difference for families and there isn’t a robust rationale for it. Now is a really good chance to show we have listened. (Lots of MPs were pushing on this during last weeks’ debates).”

Matt Hancock replies:

“They don’t want to go there on this.”

She asks:

“Are we they?!”

Then this from Matt Hancock:

“As in No10. Also on curfew – they don’t want to shift an inch.”

In respect of that, first question: were you aware at this time in –

Mr Boris Johnson: So this is October?

Mr Menon KC: Yes, mid-October, so this is about a month after Scotland and Wales have exempted children from the rule of six, were you aware at that time that Helen Whately and “lots of MPs”, to use her words, were calling for children to be exempt from the rule of six? Were you aware of it at the time?

Mr Boris Johnson: I just want to say how grateful I am to you for bringing this to my attention, because I hadn’t clocked this, but what it – so it’s a great example of the kind of thinking and the kind of debate that was going on at a time when, as everyone knows, and we have been discussing this extensively this morning, the R was going up, and we were about to announce the tiered system.

So 11 October, we’re literally days away from having to ask the country to go back into – parts of the country to go back into lockdown. And we are – the – so the last thing – to explain why it might have been a – difficult for us to signal any kind of relaxation at that stage, to suddenly to say that we were going to relax the rules on social distancing for kids, for young people, would have been a very, very peculiar signal to send out at the very moment when we were trying to get – we were desperately trying to get the existing measures to work and we were on the point of toughening them up. So I think that probably explains – that probably answers the – your question.

Mr Menon KC: So I think what you’re saying is that Matt Hancock was right? When he said to Helen Whately in this WhatsApp exchange that Number 10 doesn’t want to shift an inch, that he’s right about that?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t remember – to be frank, I don’t remember a conversation about it, but I can see why we would have been reluctant at that stage, given what was going on in the pandemic.

Mr Menon KC: Finally, Mr Johnson, I hope, again, this is uncontentious, taking a global view of the position, although children had fewer health risks from Covid than adults, particularly older and more vulnerable adults, do you agree that children suffered disproportionately from the government’s non-pharmaceutical interventions to contain the virus, both in the short and the long term? Taking an overall view of the pandemic.

Mr Boris Johnson: I absolutely do, and that’s why we put a lot of money into CAMHS, into children’s mental health services, that’s why the government decided to have a big catch-up programme – a big tutoring programme, not as big perhaps as I would have loved to see, but I do think it was an important thing to do, and the short answer is: yes, I do think that the educational detriment was a huge, huge consideration, the loss of life chances for young people has to be put in the scales when you’re making these appalling choices, as you say, about NPIs, and kids were very much in our minds. But the priority was to save life.

Mr Menon KC: Mr Johnson, much as I’d like to challenge you on the nature of the government response, the Inquiry has understandably decided that that is a matter to be properly explored in 2025 in a separate module. So I don’t accept what you’ve just said, in particular in relation to the catch-up programme, but I’m going to have to deal with that on another occasion. Do you understand?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think I – I think I’ve conceded that it wasn’t as – I wanted a totally massive one, it was pretty big, but I think that it – we had – it was a big, big priority of mine to get –

Mr Menon KC: I understand your answer.

Lady Hallett: You’ve put your marker down, Mr Menon.

Mr Menon: I have.

Mr Boris Johnson: I’m sure you’ll come back to it, sir.

Mr Menon: Thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Menon.

Mr Friedman.

Questions From Mr Friedman KC

Mr Friedman: Mr Johnson, I act for four national disabled people’s organisations. They too want to ask you about your repeated comments in meetings and on WhatsApp messages about older people, for example that they’re going to die anyway, have had a good innings and should accept their fate rather than destroying the economy.

Now, please leave aside for a moment what was done by your government, and what you say you truly care about, and no doubt the Chair will look at all that evidence.

Our first question: in your choice of words to your government and advisers, were you not being shamefully ageist against those in later life and normalising their premature death?

Mr Boris Johnson: Thank you very much.

No, I was doing my best to reflect what was, I’m afraid, a debate that was very live – and live, I may say, with a great number of older people who would make these points to me. And I wanted to get the answers. And we’ve discussed earlier on today the downsides of the segmentation approach, that wasn’t really going to be enough, but people found that very counterintuitive, they didn’t understand why segmentation wouldn’t be enough and you really had to explain it to them.

Lady Hallett: Mr Friedman, can I just put a marker down, I did not give permission for you to ask the question “shamefully ageist”, just so that people understand. Can we please avoid – everybody avoid language which I haven’t approved which could be considered emotive.

Mr Friedman: Absolutely, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr Friedman: Yes, I accept and I apologise, it wasn’t my Lady’s choice of words, it was mine.

Lady Hallett: It’s what I call a forensic flourish, Mr Friedman. Thank you.

Mr Friedman: So be it, my Lady.

Let me nevertheless reflect on your answer just now, and your answer to Mr Keith this morning about these various comments, that I know you feel very sensitive about. I just want to paraphrase what we understood to be your answer: “as the layperson in the room, I as the Prime Minister, who had to take the ultimate decision was voicing these ideas about older people to deal with counterarguments out there in the public domain that only the elderly should be shielded”.

Mr Boris Johnson: No, not only the elderly. Sorry, forgive me.

Mr Friedman KC: Yes.

Mr Boris Johnson: No. So from the beginning, we had a massive programme of shielding for the vulnerable, as you know, and went up from about 1.3, 1.5, to about – ultimately about 2.5 million people, some of whom were shielding for an incredibly long time. And it was a miserable, lonely business. Given all the detriments that people endured, their inability to get the medical healthcare that they might need, that – all the downsides of that, it was, I think, reasonable to think about other approaches and whether the continued lockdowns were effective –

Mr Friedman KC: Yes, of course, Mr Johnson –

Mr Boris Johnson: – but in the end we had no alternative.

Mr Friedman KC: Of course, Mr Johnson, forgive me for interrupting you, but I have to take you back to these comments, however one puts them emotively or otherwise, once we get into August and September and these comments are mostly made in October, you have had those discussions about how a more dedicated form of segregation for the elderly and their households is not going to work essentially because the virus will break out of the shielding system, and you were taken to the WhatsApp messages by Mr Keith.

So how does your answer to Counsel to the Inquiry this morning and to me just now about you putting arguments for only older people being segregated in some form of supershielding therefore have anything to do with your repeated assertions that old people are going to die anyway, that they’ve had a good innings and we should not sacrifice the economy because of them?

Mr Boris Johnson: So what I’m trying to put to the scientific opinion is the – I want to understand, first of all, who is – who the potential victims of Covid are at that particular moment and, as everybody knows, it’s people of all ages, and I’ve seen it for myself, because I’ve seen some figures, I think, for the average or the median age of Covid victims.

I’m trying to understand what alternatives we have, and I’m reflecting a widespread view that there must be some twin-track strategy. There must be some way in which we can somehow avoid this damage to the entire economy and society whilst looking after the interests of the elderly. And what I’m trying to get from the scientists is, you know, and from everybody in the room is, well, what is the answer to this? And the answer is, as everybody knows, that there is no alternative approach. If you let – if you – there is no way of sequestering the elderly population or the vulnerable sufficiently and they will die, tragically, in great numbers when the R gets uncontrollable.

Mr Friedman KC: Well, let me then ask you about your knowledge and your words around the broader population of disabled people that were dying. Did you know then, as of autumn of 2020, that Covid posed risks to a wide range of disabled people of all ages? And in that I include people with learning disability, people with Down’s Syndrome, and the like?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, we certainly knew that people with a huge variety of syndromes were particularly vulnerable, and that’s why we had a shielding scheme.

Mr Friedman KC: Well, that being the case, we do not find you repeatedly raising at this juncture with your government and your senior advisers in WhatsApps and notes and meetings about that problem, in a sense, leading from the front with words and actions to let your government know in no uncertain times that disabled people’s lives are worth living. Why is that?

Mr Boris Johnson: Actually, that’s not true. What we did was to try to stop the spread of the virus and to protect those who were shielding and vulnerable from a break-out.

Mr Friedman KC: Well, lastly, and standing back, my Lady, if I may, and it does follow from what’s been said.

The public know, you know, that sometimes you use language, florid language, and one way to conclude about your use of language is that’s just Boris Johnson being Boris Johnson. It’s a matter for my Lady, but is that the kind of conclusion you would want her to reach, or would you rather her reach a conclusion that language of that florid kind of nature, even if said in jest, should not be used by a government official and especially one who had the power that you enjoyed in autumn 2020?

Lady Hallett: Sorry, which language, Mr Friedman?

Mr Friedman: Well, the kind of language, whether I describe it emotively or not, that old people have had a good innings –

Lady Hallett: Oh, I see what you mean.

Mr Friedman: – that they’re going to die anyway.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, let me –

Mr Friedman KC: I think you understand the question I put to you.

Mr Boris Johnson: I do understand.

Mr Friedman KC: You’ve probably heard it before.

Mr Boris Johnson: I do understand that, so let me give you a straight answer on that. I think, first of all, I regret all hurt and offence caused by publication of language that was not intended for publication, whether it’s been recorded in someone’s notes or diaries or whatever. These were private conversations with officials.

Secondly, a lot of what has been reported is incorrect, and there are words that are ascribed to me that I simply don’t recognise.

But the third thing is, insofar as it’s obviously true that I was from time to time speaking bluntly and in an unpolished way about these issues, it was for two reasons.

First of all, I wanted to, as I say, represent the layman and to get an answer that was intelligible.

Number two, I wanted everybody in the room to feel that they could also speak freely. Because I think when you’re sitting in a room full of conversations conducted in learned or bureaucratic language about these complex phenomena, you do need people to feel that they have the space, without being embarrassed, to say things simply, even if, taken out of context, they can be made to look unfeeling or uncaring – when people really aren’t being unfeeling or uncaring; they’re trying to express ideas as simply and as concisely as they can.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Friedman.

Mr Friedman: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Ms Davies is over that way, Mr Johnson.

Questions From Ms Davies KC

Ms Davies: Can you see and hear me, Mr Johnson?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, I can, thank you.

Ms Davies KC: I ask questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid, who, as you will know, are part of the violence against women and girls sector.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, yes.

Ms Davies KC: So my two topics are on domestic abuse –

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: – which is something that you told us yesterday you were personally very alive to that issue.

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: And you will know that the regulations, the stay at home regulations, contained a number of exemptions. One of them was that you could leave because of risk of injury, and we’ve heard from Mr Hancock, and it’s obvious, that that was intended to include risk of domestic abuse besides anything else. Yes.

I want to ask you about messaging. My first topic is on messaging, which you’ve told us is not just an important part of an NPI but actually an important NPI in itself, and the messages are your addresses to the nation when you announced lockdown, and there were five in total: 23 March, the first lockdown; 31 October, when you say there’s going to be the second lockdown; 5 November when the details of the second lockdown are announced; 19 December, which is Tier 4; and then 4 January 2021, when you announced the third lockdown.

In all those addresses you emphasised, quite rightly, that people must stay at home throughout and you also refer to some of the exemptions. So on 23 March you say people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes, and those four purposes are: shopping, exercise, medical need, travelling to and from work if that’s absolutely necessary. And you conclude that part by saying, “That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home”.

On the other occasions, 31 October, 5 November and 19 December, you give similar lists. On 31 October, you do include the words “[escaping] risk of injury or harm”. But on none of those addresses throughout 2020 do you say that people can leave if they’re at risk of domestic abuse. You do say that on 4 January 2021. You say that explicitly, where you say “or to escape domestic abuse”.

So why was domestic abuse not mentioned earlier than January 2021?

Mr Boris Johnson: Thank you. I think that you’re making a very good point, and I think in retrospect we should have given consideration to mentioning that issue explicitly earlier. That didn’t mean we were silent or inattentive to the problem. We put money into helplines almost immediately, I think in April. We set up the Ask for ANI scheme, I think there was – so people could go – under the rules people could go out to the chemist, for instance, and –

Ms Davies KC: I’m going to stop you because I will probably come on to that –

Mr Boris Johnson: Forgive me.

Ms Davies KC: – and I’m interested in messaging for the moment.

Would you say that the failure to mention it, which you’ve just acknowledged in hindsight was an error, is compounded by that phrase of 23 March saying, “That’s all, these are the only reasons you should leave your home”?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I think that – I hope that people would have understood that to report a criminal offence was also a reason to leave your home, but clearly it was something we should have – we should have made explicit.

Ms Davies KC: In her evidence to the Inquiry, Dame Priti Patel, your Home Secretary at the time, said that she and her department had raised the need with Downing Street to refer to domestic abuse amongst the exemptions. So why did you or your team not respond to those representations sooner than January 2021?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t remember her raising that with me.

Ms Davies KC: My second topic is about the hidden harms, which is I think what you were referring to a moment ago when I stopped you, and you say at paragraph 542 of your statement:

“We had learned many lessons from the first lockdown … We considered such things as the ‘hidden harms’ like increased domestic abuse and child abuse and [we] wanted to ensure it was essential that services supporting women and children remained available and steps were taken to tackle these crimes.”

So that’s post first lockdown, learning lessons, and of course there was a hidden harms summit in May 2020 as we’re beginning to come out of the first lockdown.

In fact, during the second and third lockdown the same thing happened with domestic abuse as had happened with the first lockdown: rates of domestic abuse increased during lockdown.

So what lessons were learned and implemented for the second and third lockdowns in order to protect women and girls from domestic abuse?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, the – in addition to the investment in the helplines, which I think, as I say, began almost immediately, and the Ask for ANI scheme where a victim of domestic abuse could go to the chemist and say that she –

Ms Davies KC: That was in February 2021.

Mr Boris Johnson: – say that she had a problem. In, I think, March 2020 and April 2020 the Domestic Violence Bill is going through the Commons.

Ms Davies KC: That’s got nothing to do with lockdown.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, it was actually, I think, a useful tool against DV, giving new statutory powers against coercive behaviour of one kind or another, and other measures. We put money into independent – I think right from the beginning of the government, we put more money into independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers, and across Whitehall – so people you could ring up or people who could, who would help you address the appalling issues that you face.

But what we also did across Whitehall was to try to solve what in my view is still a chronic problem, which is the inability of the criminal justice system to deal with crimes of rape, domestic violence, sexual violence of all kinds, and to get enough prosecutions.

Ms Davies KC: All right.

Mr Boris Johnson: So that the government, as a whole, was working a great deal on this issue and specifically trying to address the needs of women in lockdown.

Ms Davies KC: The Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent in April 2021 –

Mr Boris Johnson: Correct.

Ms Davies KC: – and started to come into force in July 2021.

Mr Boris Johnson: Correct.

Ms Davies KC: So that doesn’t help us with –

Mr Boris Johnson: But you asked me what we were doing and –

Ms Davies KC: In respect of the second and third lockdowns. Did you not hear that part? I apologise.

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, as I said, we put money into helplines almost immediately, and did our best to encourage people to come forward.

Ms Davies: Thank you very much.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Davies.

Mr Jacobs, are you hiding? Where is he?

Mr Jacobs: At the back this time, my Lady.

Mr Keith: He’s usually over there. Yes, Mr Jacobs.

Questions From Mr Jacobs

Mr Jacobs: Mr Johnson, I ask questions on behalf of the Trades Union Congress, okay.

My first topic for you is on the approach that you engendered in your government as to consultation with key partners such as unions, and I’m going to ask you about a meeting in July 2021. You will recall, I’m sure, that at that time there was discussion about return to workplaces and the unions that I act for were calling for various measures to advance workplace safety.

If we have on screen INQ000273901 and page 478, we will see a note from Sir Patrick of a meeting on 2 July 2021, and towards the middle of that entry you will see some quotations attributed to you, Mr Johnson:

“‘Are we going to encourage people to wear masks?’ ‘Are we going to continue this bollocks?’ he says. Wants everyone back at work. ‘We can’t have the bollocks of consulting with employees and trade unions. They need to all come back to work.’ ‘All the malingering work shy people’ says how much of [civil service] is back …”

Mr Johnson, was it wrong for you, as the Prime Minister, to set such a dismissive approach towards consultation with the unions?

Mr Boris Johnson: I don’t believe that we would ignore the interests of working people at any stage, and I think that the difficulty that we faced was the colossal damage to the interests of people on – particularly on – people on lower incomes, of continuing with lockdowns. And –

Mr Jacobs: Mr Johnson –

Mr Boris Johnson: – I was very keen to get people back if we possibly could.

Mr Jacobs: I understand you’re keen for people to work –

Mr Boris Johnson: If you look –

Mr Jacobs: No, no, I’m sorry, Mr Johnson, I’m going to put my question again. I’m asking you specifically about the approach you engendered in your government towards consultation with the unions. A Prime Minister who says “We can’t have the bollocks of consulting with employees and trade unions” is setting a dismissive approach; surely you agree with that, Mr Johnson?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I’m – not necessarily. I think what I didn’t want to see was – well, this is July 2021, we’ve vaccinated a huge proportion of the population, I think by July well over 50%, faster than any other European country. I’m determined to get people back to work if I possibly can. I think that we’ve – by the superhuman exertions of the vaccine roll-out programme, we’ve put ourselves in a very good position to stage a strong bounceback from Covid, it is vital that we take advantage of the sacrifices that we’ve made both in lockdowns and in rolling out the vaccines, I want to –

Mr Jacobs: Mr Johnson –

Mr Boris Johnson: – see people back in work.

Mr Jacobs: – do any of those matters sensibly mean that you don’t consult openly with key partners such as trade unions?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I don’t – I’ve nothing against consultation. What I didn’t want to see was a drag anchor put on people getting back into the workplace after the colossal changes that we’d been able to make in the epidemic, in the pandemic. The vaccination programme had radically changed our relation to the virus, and I – my worry was, to be absolutely frank with you, that people were going to be slow to acknowledge that, and that they were – there was going to be an inertia and a desire to stay with the working from home pattern, which was not, in my view, necessarily going to be beneficial for a strong economic recovery which would benefit Trades Union members and their families.

Mr Jacobs: If we move, Mr Johnson, from the slightly more general to the more specific, an issue on which you may recall a similar difference of view between unions, education unions in particular, and government was on the issue of masks in schools. In the summer of 2020, if you recall, education unions were generally advocating guidance requiring masks in schools, government policy was permissive guidance in communal areas, and Scotland and the World Health Organisation took a different approach.

If we have on screen INQ000283369 and page 41, we will see a text message exchange between you and Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, and at the very bottom we see, 25 August, a message, a WhatsApp from you, you say:

“I am on a train trying to make sense of our totally fucked up face mask policy.”

If we just hold that in our mind, Mr Johnson, in terms of your assessment of the face mask policy in schools, if we go to INQ000048313, page 53, we see some messages from the following day with Lee Cain again, Mr Cummings again, and this time Mr Case. At the top Mr Cummings asks, in language with which we’ve become familiar:

“What’s the true reason for the uturn on masks? We just slow catching up? WHO and Scotland bounced? Gavin fucked up? PM dithering?”

Then Simon Case, your soon to be Cabinet Secretary, offers an explanation, and point 5 is:

“5) weeks ago, we recommended to PM that we create permissive guidance around masks, because we could foresee it was going to be a drama in [September]. Gavin discussed at a Covid [committee meeting]. Because at that stage it was Unions pressing for masks (no science back-up), Gavin was in ‘no surrender’ mode and didn’t want to give an inch to the unions, so said we should hold firm. PM gave him full support in this approach.”

Then in his conclusions, his third conclusion is:

“at every turn, PM backs bullshit ‘no surrender’ ideas from Hancock/Williamson/Shapps and then totally regrets it later.”

Mr Johnson, when it comes to consultation, working with unions, do we see here the proof in the pudding, in that we have a 1policy that you obviously saw as wrongheaded arrived at further to being pointlessly oppositional with unions?

Mr Boris Johnson: No, the reality is that the advice on masks – as the Inquiry knows very well, the position on masks changed during the pandemic, and the advice initially from Chris, and particularly from Patrick, was that masks were of – were thought to be of limited benefit. They might be thought to be of some symbolic benefit. That changed as the scientists thought that, in the end, it was a powerful signal to people, to wear a mask, that you were taking precautions and that you felt that the virus was still something that was very dangerous, and there were also – as time went on, there was more evidence about droplet spray and so on and the potential of masks to interrupt transmission.

So what you’re seeing there in that exchange is the natural political result of a change in advice and a change in understanding of the virus eventually bringing about a change in policy, and that’s what you’d expect.

Mr Jacobs: Mr Johnson, is what we’re seeing here in fact quite simply what’s on the page, in that you describe – well, I’m not going to repeat your words – but a wrong-headed mask policy? There is then an exchange with –

Mr Boris Johnson: No, no, sorry –

Mr Jacobs: Sorry, Mr Johnson, let me – if you’re going to dispute that I will repeat it. Your phrase was totally –

Lady Hallett: Mr Jacobs, you’re running out of time. So if you want to pursue this, I think you’ve got an answer.

Mr Boris Johnson: I think the adjective I use, which I won’t repeat, was intended to convey my sense that a mask policy which had been in position, one, was going to have to change because of changing scientific advice and changing appreciation of the value of masks, and that was the reality. It was going to be politically difficult to execute, but we were going to have to do it.

Mr Jacobs: Mr Johnson, I’ll try to deal with my final and different topic very quickly.

You’ve described your concern as to lockdown hitting the poorest. Do you think it’s right to say that self-isolation also hit the poorest hardest, and was it understood by you that financial support for self-isolation was one way of mitigating the unequal impacts of the pandemic?

Mr Boris Johnson: Yes, and, well, that’s why we had the – not just the £500 for self-isolation payment but also we increased Universal Credit by £1,000, working family tax credit by £1,000, and gave councils a very large budget to deal with those who were most in need of help.

Mr Jacobs: Finally, if that’s the case, Mr Johnson, why was it not until the end of September before that payment to which you refer was introduced?

Mr Boris Johnson: Because, for the reasons I think that we discussed earlier, I was anxious – we’d spent a huge amount supporting the country already through the pandemic. I was anxious about some of the distorting effects of payments to isolate. We discussed the punitive approach, but eventually I thought, well, we’d better go with some more support as well, and we did.

Mr Jacobs: My Lady, thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Jacobs.

Now, Mr Stanton is hiding in that corner, I can see him. Mr Johnson, he chose to sit over there or was put over there; so don’t worry, he’s used to seeing a back – because we need you to face towards the microphone, Mr Johnson, sorry. Address your answers to me then.

Questions From Mr Stanton

Mr Stanton: Thank you, my Lady.

Good afternoon, Mr Johnson. I’d like to ask you a question on behalf of the British Medical Association about the removal of legal limits on social contact during the summer of 2021, which has been described as freedom day.

Mr Boris Johnson: Right.

Mr Stanton: In his witness statement to the Inquiry, Professor Philip Banfield, the current chair of the BMA, raises concerns about the government’s framing of the removal of restrictions in the context of freedom, which sent the wrong message that the threat of the virus had been fully contained. And in Sajid Javid’s witness statement, he states that by late autumn and early winter of 2021 many people felt that the pandemic was over, only for protective measures to be needed once again on 8 December 2021, in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, which you’ve discussed earlier with Mr Keith.

Mr Johnson, the question is: to what extent do you think that this mistaken belief that the pandemic was over was influenced by government messaging which framed the removal of public health protections as freedom?

Mr Boris Johnson: Well, I accept the, you know, the – people are going to quarrel with some of the language that we chose, and I have a massive respect for the BMA, but I think if you look at the curve of the pandemic and where we are, where we were, then in the – in that period of July 2021 what was to go on, the subsequent movement of the epi curve, I think it wasn’t an irrational choice of expression.

We had been able to get a huge amount of resistance into the arms of the British public but we’d, I think by that stage, vaccinated all the elderly and vulnerable. It was an amazing achievement and I didn’t think it was an inappropriate way to talk about it and, as I said in my answer to the gentleman from the TUC, I was concerned that we were going to remain too much, too cautious for too long. I think we needed to understand that we’d achieved a great deal and that, if it wasn’t quite the end, it was at least the beginning of the end.

Mr Stanton: Thank you, Mr Johnson.

Could I just ask quickly in follow-up: accepting that the slogan “freedom day” wasn’t a government communication strategy, but once it had taken hold in public consciousness, do you think more should have been done to counter that belief, having regard to the need for a precautionary approach?

Mr Boris Johnson: Honestly, no.

Mr Stanton: Thank you, Mr Johnson.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Mr Keith, does that complete – Mr Altman, no questions that you wish to add?

Mr Altman: No, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: No. That completes the evidence for today.

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Johnson. I know how difficult it must be to have two days giving evidence.

The Witness: No, no, I’m rather sad it’s over, because I –

Mr Keith: My Lady, there is an issue that I wanted to put.

The Witness: – I wanted to – please.

Mr Keith: No, no, I was –

Mr Boris Johnson: I may not see you again, so I just wanted to say one thing, which is that I do think all the testimony and evidence is incredibly valuable, but I do – I do hope that at the end of all this, there’s one – there’s a few things in particular that I hope that the Inquiry will be able to think about, and not just the governmental stuff that we’ve discussed exhaustively in this module, but I do think that when you come to – I think the issues of health and social care are absolutely critical, and the government that I led was embarked on a big programme to try and bring them together. I think the fact that we had those delayed discharge patients was very, very difficult in the NHS. I hope that this Inquiry will give a kick to the powers that be to make sure that we really address that.

Lady Hallett: Don’t worry, we have specific modules both on health and on social care.

The Witness: A final, final point, I absolutely promise you. I do think that – I know it’s outside your scope, but I do think that the British public and future governments will need to be elucidated about how exactly this thing originated and I think some – even if you can’t – and I don’t think you can look into it, the Inquiry can look into it yourselves, but some sort of prod to the world to get the answer to the real origins of Covid I think is going to be very, very important.

Lady Hallett: Mr Johnson, you set my terms of reference; so I’m afraid I can’t go there.

The Witness: All I’m asking you to do is encourage others.

(The witness withdrew)

Lady Hallett: Right, thank you very much. 10.30 on Monday.

(4.36 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10.30 am on Monday, 11 December 2023)