Boris Johnson set to back Matt Hancock and apologise for COVID complacency – report

Politics

Boris Johnson will reportedly tell the COVID inquiry that he “unquestionably made mistakes” during the pandemic, but his decisions helped save tens of thousands of lives.

The former prime minister is due to give evidence next week – and according to The Times, he will issue an “unreserved apology” and admit his government was “initially far too complacent” about the threats posed by the virus.

Mr Johnson is expected to express regret for boasting about shaking hands with patients on a coronavirus ward and defend the timings of the UK’s three lockdowns.

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March 2020: ‘I shook hands with everybody’

He is set to argue that failing to act would have caused thousands more “miserable and unnecessary deaths – some of them in hospital car parks and corridors”.

Last month, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told the inquiry that he believes the first lockdown in March 2020 came “a bit too late”.

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‘First lockdown was a bit too late’

But The Times is reporting that Mr Johnson will claim Prof Whitty was “instrumental in arguing for a delay” – and the possibility of a lockdown was first discussed three weeks before it was enforced.

The ex-PM is also expected to deny saying that he had a “let it rip” attitude towards COVID, with a view to achieving herd immunity.

Mr Johnson is expected to face difficult questions on multiple issues – including partygate, his communications with government colleagues, and the evidence heard so far.

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The report suggests that the former politician is preparing to argue that his WhatsApp messages have been taken out of context, meaning “dark humour is lost or morphs into mockery”.

Eat Out to Help Out is also likely to be discussed, amid claims that the government’s COVID-19 taskforce was “blindsided” when the controversial scheme was announced.

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‘Blindsided’ by Eat Out to Help Out

Mr Johnson is expected to argue that the policy was “properly discussed” with Prof Whitty and former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

According to the newspaper, then chancellor Rishi Sunak and de facto chief of staff Dominic Cummings are both set to be largely absent from Mr Johnson’s written testimony, which is likely to be published after his appearance in front of the inquiry.

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Cummings says PM was known as a ‘trolley’

Aides to Mr Johnson have said they were not responsible for briefing The Times.

A spokesman was quoted as saying: “Boris Johnson will be at the COVID inquiry next week and is looking forward to assisting the inquiry with its important work.”

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