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Covid Inquiry: Emotional Boris Johnson insists 'I do care' in defence of premiership

Boris Johnson has launched an emotional defence of his leadership during the Covid pandemic, saying it was “simply not right” to say he didn’t care about people’s suffering.

Having come close to losing his own life to Covid, Mr Johnson appeared close to tears as he told the Covid Inquiry he knew from experience “what an appalling disease this is”.

His voice faltered as he recalled his time in hospital in April 2020 and he appeared to be welling up as he addressed Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the Inquiry.

“You have gone particularly on WhatsApp exchanges and various things that I’m supposed to have said which indicated that I didn’t care,” he said. “I did care and I continue to care passionately about it.”

Mr Johnson added the  popular conception of the Partygate scandal is “a million miles” away from what actually happened in Downing Street during the pandemic.

He described some of the media coverage and “dramatic representations” surrounding parties held in Downing Street as “absolutely absurd”.


04:55 PM GMT

Goodbye from us

We are ending live updates of the Covid Inquiry after Boris Johnson finished giving evidence after two days of questioning.

For the latest news and analysis visit the Telegraph website.


04:49 PM GMT

Covid Inquiry should 'prod world' on how virus originated

After he finished answering questions, Mr Johnson addressed Baroness Hallett and asked her to “give a prod to the world” to find out where Covid had really come from.

He said he was “rather sad” that his two days in the witness box were over, and went on: “The issues of health and social care are absolutely critical and the government I led was trying to bring them together. I hope that this Inquiry will give a kick to the powers that be to make sure that we really address that.

“And I do think that the British public and future governments will need to be elucidated about how this thing originated. Some sort of prod to the world to get the answer to the real origins of Covid is going to be very, very important.”


04:48 PM GMT

Johnson feared unions would place 'drag anchor' on people returning to work

Boris Johnson feared the unions would place a ‘drag anchor’ on people getting back to work after lockdown ended, holding up economic recovery.

In notes shown to the inquiry made by Sir Patrick Vallance on July 2 2021, Mr Johnson allegedly said: “We can’t have the b*llocks of consulting with employees and trade unions.

“They need to all come back to work, All the malingering work shy people.”

Asked about his comments, Mr Johnson said: “I have nothing against consultation what I didn’t want to see a drag anchor put on people getting back into the workplace after the colossal changes we had been able to make in the pandemic

“The vaccination programme had radically changed our relation to the virus and my worry was, to be absolutely frank with you, that people were going to be slow to acknowledge that and there is going to be an inertia and a desire to stay with the working from home pattern which has in my view, not beneficial for a strong economic recovery which would benefit trade union member and their families.”


04:42 PM GMT

Johnson described own face mask policy as 'f----- up'

Boris Johnson described his own Government’s policy on face masks as “f----- up” in a WhatsApp message to Dominic Cummings, the Covid Inquiry heard.

The text message, sent to his then chief adviser on August 28 2020, read: “Yeah got that cab (sic) you call Martin and Sedwill and sort it all out.

“I am on a train trying to make sense of our totally f---ed up face mask policy.”


04:29 PM GMT

Domestic abuse should have been considered more in pandemic

Domestic abuse should have been afforded more consideration by the Government during the coronavirus crisis, Boris Johnson has admitted.

Asked by Liz Davies KC, representing Solace Women’s Aid and Southall Black Sisters, why domestic abuse was not mentioned earlier than January 2021, Mr Johnson said: “Thank you, I think you’re making a very good point.

“And in retrospect, we should have given consideration to mention that issue explicitly earlier. That didn’t mean we were silent or inattentive to the problem.”

The former prime minister said money was put into helplines in April 2020, and that the “Ask for Annie” scheme was also set up for victims.


04:17 PM GMT

Lawyer apologises after asking Boris Johnson is 'shamefully ageist'

Mr Johnson is again being asked about his comments about old people, and says that the elderly were themselves having the same conversations about prioritising the health of younger people.

Danny Friedman KC, acting for disabled people’s organisations, put it to Mr Johnson that in his choice of words in conversations with advisers, when he talked about people who had had their time, he was being “shamefully ageist against those in later life and normalising their premature death”.

Mr Friedman was upbraided by Baroness Hallett for the wording of his question, which she said went beyond what she had agreed to. He then apologised to Baroness Hallet.

Mr Johnson said: “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.”

Mr Johnson added that he regretted “all hurt and offence” caused by the publication of language that was not intended for publication, though some of what had been published was “incorrect”. He said he wanted people to feel they could speak freely in meetings, without being embarrassed, and “to say things simply”.


04:16 PM GMT

Children ‘disproportionately impacted’ by Covid restrictions

Children were ‘disproportionately impacted’ by the government’s Covid restrictions despite being a lower risk from the virus, Boris Johnson has admitted.

Answering questions posed by Rajiv Menon KC, who is representing children’s rights organisations, Mr Johnson conceded that youngsters had lost life chances and suffered detriment to their education.

Mr Menon asked: “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 NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) to contain the virus both in the short and the longer term?”

Mr Johnson said: “I absolutely do and that’s why we put a lot of money into mental health services, why the government decided to have a big catch up programme.”

He added: “The short answer is yes, 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 are making these appalling choices as you say about NPIs and kids were very much in our mind,  but the priority was to save lives.”


04:05 PM GMT

Schools kept closed because they are 'reservoirs of risk'

Mr Johnson said he chose to reopen pubs and hairdressers but keep schools closed in July 2020 because schools are “big potential reservoirs of risk”.

“The reason was two things. I think we thought we would go through til 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,” he told the inquiry.

Rajiv Menon KC, representing three children’s organisations, pressed the former PM on the issue, asking: “You think schools are larger reservoirs of risk than pubs and restaurants and non-essential retail for that matter?”

Mr Johnson replied: “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.”


03:59 PM GMT

No evidence to NHS institutional racism had impact during pandemic

Boris Johnson giving evidence at the Covid Inquiry
Boris Johnson giving evidence at the Covid Inquiry

Boris Johnson has told the Covid Inquiry he had not seen any evidence to show institutional racism in the NHS had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority health workers during the pandemic.

Leslie Thomas KC, representing The Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations (FEMHO), asked the former prime minister: “We had your former Health Secretary Mr Hancock, sitting where you were sitting, I believe, last Friday, and he agreed with me.

“I’m sure you will agree with me that part of the disproportionate impact on the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities including health care workers, was as a result of institutional racism within the NHS and within the system. Can we agree on that?”

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


03:35 PM GMT

Westminster was not 'high-handed' or 'incommunicative' during pandemic

Boris Johnson has rejected the suggestion there was a “high-handed, incommunicative approach from Westminster” in the pandemic, insisting the Government had “excellent communications” with the devolved nations of the UK.

The former prime minister did however accept that there had been “blurred” messaging on occasion because of “a succession of press conferences from different parts of the UK”.

Mr Johnson said there had sometimes been “a dissonance in the message” when ideally there would have been “complete coherence”.

On the second day of questioning as part of module two of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, the former Conservative Party leader said: “I think we had excellent communications across all of the DAs (devolved administrations).

“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 in the effort.

“If you look at it, there was a huge amount of joined up work going on across the whole country.”


03:14 PM GMT

Covid messaging was not England-centric

Boris Johnson has denied accusations messaging during the Covid pandemic was primarily aimed at residents in England.

Mr Johnson said it was “remarkable” how people understood the rules given the “extreme complexities” across the devolved administrations.

Referring to Scotland, Boris Johnson said: “Whatever the SNP may think, the virus thinks this is all one country.”

The remark was made while Claire Mitchell KC, representing the Scottish Covid Bereaved, was asking the former prime minister about claims that the Government’s messaging during the Covid crisis was England-centric.


02:48 PM GMT

'I had friendly relationship with Nicola Sturgeon'

Mr Johnson denied claims that he did not like the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, in his evidence.

The inquiry was reminded of testimony by Lord Edward Udney-Lister, Downing Street’s former chief of staff, that he and Ms Sturgeon had “no real personal relationship of any kind other than they, I think, generally didn’t like each other very much.”

Mr Johnson replied: “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.”


02:34 PM GMT

Welsh Covid rates 'blamed on singing and obesity'

Boris Johnson allegedly blamed high rates of Covid-19 in Wales on “singing and obesity”, the Covid Inquiry has been told.

The apparent comments were included in the diary of Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s former chief scientific adviser.

They were dated September 2020.

Sir Patrick wrote: “Wales very high - PM says ‘It is the singing and the obesity... I never said that’.”

The full context of the alleged comments is unclear.

Mr Johnson was presented with the diary extract by Pete Weatherby KC, who represents Covid Bereaved Families for Justice, at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Thursday, but he was not asked about the entry.

Parts of Wales in September 2020 were among the areas of the UK hardest hit by the virus.


02:28 PM GMT

Analysis: Johnson yet to be questioned on 'let the bodies piles high'

More than three quarters of the way through his time in the witness box, Mr Johnson has still not been asked whether he ever said “let the bodies pile high”.

Given that it was perhaps the most memorable alleged utterance to come out of Downing Street during the pandemic, it would be remarkable if Mr Johnson was not challenged about it at all during two full days of evidence.

Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the Inquiry, has finished his questions, so it will be left to one of the lawyers for interested parties to raise it with him, if at all.


02:24 PM GMT

I remember EU vaccine rollout was slower than the UK's

Mr Johnson said he noted how much faster the vaccine rollout in Northern Ireland was compared to over the border in the EU.

Questioned by Brenda Campbell over Westminster’s communications with the devolved nations during the pandemic, Mr Johnson said: “I remember vividly going to Northern Ireland in 2021 and seeing how very, very much faster vaccines were being rolled out in Northern Ireland than they were in - and I don’t think you will thank me for saying it - but I’ve got to say that they were over the border in the EU.”


02:22 PM GMT

Watch: Emotional Boris Johnson insists 'I do care' in defence of premiership


02:21 PM GMT

I couldn't have done more to stop Partygate events, Inquiry hears

Boris Johnson has suggested he was powerless to stop “several Christmas events” held in Downing Street and across Whitehall in December 2020.

Brenda Campbell KC, who is representing bereaved families from Northern Ireland, challenged Mr Johnson on whether he could have done more to stop Partygate events.

But Mr Johnson said: “Given what I knew at the time, the answer to that is no.

“What I possibly should have done is issued general instructions to people to be mindful of rules and how it might appear.”

Ms Campbell had made reference to a wine and cheese party, a Secret Santa event and a Zoom quiz - which one family from Northern Ireland had described as “sickening”.


01:57 PM GMT

Boris Johnson resumes evidence

Boris Johnson is back in the witness box as he continues to give evidence to the Covid Inquiry.

Mr Johnson is facing questions from Brenda Campbell KC, who represents bereaved families from Northern Ireland.


01:48 PM GMT

Johnson tells Covid Inquiry he never said he wanted to ‘let it rip’

Boris Johnson has denied saying during the Covid pandemic that he wanted to “let it rip” as he insisted his focus was always on saving lives.

On his second day in the witness box at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, the former prime minister was also challenged over allegations that he had said old people who had “had a good innings” should be left to die.

He insisted that as the only lay person in meetings with scientific experts, it was his job to test their arguments for lockdowns by presenting the opposing view before he had to announce new lockdown measures to the public.

Read more.


01:34 PM GMT

Telegraph readers: Boris Johnson is yielding too much to the Inquiry

Telegraph readers have given their verdict following Boris Johnson’s evidence to the Covid Inquiry this morning.

Let’s look at some selected comments from those who have posted comments on our live blog.

Peter Dixon said: “If Johnson’s default position was to tell the truth, rather than to lie, perhaps he’d be worth listening to. As it is, we cannot believe a word he says. Asking him to explain himself is not a witch hunt (invoking Trump), although you can see why those who should be held to account feel it’s a dog whistle worth using.”

Wim Kotze wrote: “Boris Johnson is still yielding too much to the inquiry, just like he yielded too much to his power hungry colleagues. He should not fall in with questions with shaky premises.

“For all his many flaws he is treated unfairly, but I can also see why Gove, Cummings and the lot ran circles around him to get their agendas through.”

SJ XTl: “Writing from Europe, I have to say the general view over here is the UK did fairly well with Covid. Best in class for vaccines. In the pack for the rest. Why all the hand-wringing?”


01:21 PM GMT

Analysis: Does UK worst excess death rates data stack up?

Pete Weatherby KC, representing the bereaved families, has finally revealed the data Hugo Keith KC was relying on when he said Britain had one of the worst excess death rates in Europe.

Bizarrely though, it comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing the UK is mid-table - coming 15th out of 33 countries.

Despite this clear problem Mr Weatherby pressed on insisting that it was only right to compare the UK to countries such as France, Belgium and The Netherlands, rather than, say, Bulgaria or Poland.

Attempting to dig himself out of a hole, Mr Weatherby added: “I’m not deprecating, Bulgaria, I’m not being…”

Mr Johnson shot back: “Not being what? What are you doing with Bulgaria then?”

The former Prime minister added: “I don’t believe that your evidence stacks up. This shows exactly what it says . If you look at European tables we come about halfway down. A Lancet study shows we come halfway down.”

As the Telegraph pointed out yesterday, a major report published in The Lancet calculated the Covid excess death rates for 191 countries and territories and found that the UK was roughly in the middle at 102.

European countries that did worse than us included Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Bulgaria, Poland and Lithuania.

Mr Weatherby, not content with the depth of his current hole, kept digging, inviting Mr Johnson to comment on how South Korea had managed to keep deaths so low.

“The answer is well known to people who have followed it, in no way to detract from the wonderful efforts of South Korean healthcare, they already had substantial experience of Sars and other such diseases and were well prepared,” Mr Johnson said.


12:55 PM GMT

Covid Inquiry breaks for lunch

Baroness Heather Hallett has adjourned the Covid Inquiry for lunch.

Before breaking for proceedings, she asked Mr Johnson to speak slower when giving his answers and warned members of the public gallery not to make noises again after jeers were made earlier.


12:48 PM GMT

Johnson clashes with KC representing bereaved families

Following the end of Hugo Keith’s questioning, Boris Johnson is now being addressed by Pete Weatherby KC, who is representing the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice UK group.

In a heated exchange, Mr Johnson told the barrister that his evidence “didn’t stack up”.

The former prime minister was shown a graph by the lawyer showing the UK’s position on Covid excess deaths compared with other countries during the pandemic.

When challenged on his “sweeping assertion” that the UK “defied most of the gloomier predictions”, Mr Johnson responded: “Well I don’t believe that your evidence stacks up”.

The response drew jeers from the public gallery leading Baroness Heather Hallett, chairwoman of the UK Covid-19 public inquiry, to urge observers to stop making noise.


12:41 PM GMT

Emotional Boris Johnson insists 'I do care' in defence of premiership

Boris Johnson has launched an emotional defence of his leadership during the Covid pandemic, saying it was “simply not right” to say he didn’t care about people’s suffering.

Having come close to losing his own life to Covid, Mr Johnson appeared close to tears as he told the Covid Inquiry he knew from experience “what an appalling disease this is”.

His voice faltered as he recalled his time in hospital in April 2020 and he appeared to be welling up as he addressed Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the Inquiry.

“You have gone particularly on WhatsApp exchanges and various things that I’m supposed to have said which indicated that I didn’t care,” he said. “I did care and I continue to care passionately about it.

“I haven’t talked about this before in public. But it goes back to what you were saying earlier about elderly people and what you would claim as my indifference to them, to the pandemic.

“I went to intensive care. I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly. In fact, they were middle aged men, and they were, they were quite lonely.

“And some of us were going to make it and some weren’t. And what if I tell you in a nutshell, 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 - It’s simply not right.”


12:37 PM GMT

UK was 'lucky' with Omicron variant

Boris Johnson has said Britain was ‘lucky’ with Omicron which he admitted was ‘absolutely terrifying.’

Omicron was first identified in Botswana and South Africa in late November 2021, and cases quickly spread to other countries, leading many experts to call for another lockdown in Britain.

Mr Johnson denied that Rishi Sunak had threatened to resign if the country had locked down again, and said that data from South Africa had persuaded him that stringent measures could be avoided.

“Omicron was absolutely terrifying because it was very transmissible and there seemed a real risk it would do a huge amount of damage to people,” he said.

“We were all watching this very closely, I thought that the data we were seeing from South Africa seemed to me to suggest that Omicron was less deadly.

“Around the middle and end of that month, I started to think that maybe it is less deadly and that did indeed turn out to be the case. We were lucky with Omicron.”


12:30 PM GMT

Partygate is a 'million miles' from Downing Street reality, Inquiry told

The popular conception of the Partygate scandal is “a million miles” away from what actually happened in Downing Street during the pandemic, Boris Johnson has claimed.

Mr Johnson said he accepted that the behaviour for which he and others were fined took place on his watch and that he took ultimate responsibility for everything that happened in Number 10.

He said: “I wish to stress that I continue to regret very much what happened, but I really want to emphasise when we talk about the impression, the version of events that has entered the public consciousness about what happened in Downing Street is a million miles off what actually happened in Number 10.

“I speak on behalf 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 characterised by some of the, not just the media coverage but the dramatic representations that we’re now having of this are absolutely absurd.

“I want to repeat that, they’re a million miles from the reality of what happened.”


12:16 PM GMT

Barnard Castle scandal was 'bad moment'

Mr Johnson said the scandal of Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules to go to Barnard Castle was a “bad moment”.

Then the prime minister’s chief adviser, Mr Cummings drove 250 miles to Durham with his family at the end of March, when the country was in the middle of a strict lockdown.

Asked if was regrettable to have such blow to public confidence at the time, Mr Johnson said: “It was a bad moment, I won’t pretend otherwise.”

Mr Johnson told the Inquiry he stands by his claim that Mr Cummings never told him of his rule-breaking journey to Barnard Castle.

The former prime minister called Mr Cummings a “total and utter liar” in a Whatsapp exchange with another No 10 official, saying he never told him he had gone to Durham during lockdown and that he only discovered it when the stories in the press came out.

Asked if this is still his position, Mr Johnson said: “That’s what I remember”.


12:10 PM GMT

'I fought with heart and head to keep schools open'

Mr Johnson said thee was a fight “in my heart and head” to keep schools open in January 2021.

He told the inquiry: “It was terrible, it was just inevitable, because we’d kept schools open in the October/Nov lockdown, we’d kept schools open, because of the massive detriment to people, and it’s always the most vulnerable families, it’s the poorest kids 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 a runner and we had to lock everything down.”

The Government performed a major U-turn in January 2021, when it announced that schools would remain closed after the Christmas break.


12:04 PM GMT

Covid was under control before emergence of Alpha variant

Covid was under control before the Alpha variant emerged in December 2020, Boris Johnson told the inquiry.

Mr Johnson said that measures introduced in September and October, which included local tiers, curfews and eventually a second lockdown on November 5, had changed the shape of the epidemiological curve.

“If you look at what happened with the second curve, the second wave, it’s very interesting that it’s in two parts, and the first wave you can see that the collective impact of what we’re doing from September onwards, does bend the curve,” he said.

“But then what happens is you get Alpha and that we hadn’t budgeted for which is why the second curve has the shape it does.

“It looks as though we started to get the numbers under control again and it was unbelievably depressing when we got Alpha. It was much more transmissible than the original virus.”


11:58 AM GMT

Tier system became 'very invidious'

Boris Johnson said the tier system on restrictions in 2020 had ended up proving “divisive and difficult” and he told the Covid inquiry he was sad it had not worked but felt it had been “worth a try”.

Inquiry counsel Hugo Keith put it to the former prime minister that the tiers had not worked.

Mr Johnson said: “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 (2020), 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 (the lesser tier) 1, while the incidence of the virus was exactly the same.

“Local politicians of all kinds became very worked up, sometimes quite paranoid about the tiering approach. It clearly was proving divisive and difficult to implement.”


11:52 AM GMT

I can't remember Matt Hancock telling me Tier system wouldn't work

Following a short break, Hugo Keith has returned to the theme of regional restrictions imposed in the run-up to the second national lockdown

Matt Hancock did not tell Boris Johnson the Tier system would not work prior to its introduction, the inquiry heard.

The former health secretary wrote in his witness statement of the regional restrictions, which were introduced in autumn 2020: “I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.”

Asked if Mr Hancock told him he knew these restrictions would fail, the former prime minister said: “Not to my knowledge, I can’t quite remember.”


11:36 AM GMT

Cost-benefit analysis needed for lockdown restrictions

Lockdown restrictions should be subjected to a proper cost-benefit analysis as there  remained “too much uncertainty” around the issue, Mr Johnson told the Covid Inquiry.

“The Treasury does a phenomenal amount of cost/benefit analysis as you can imagine, but as I’ve said already, what we really need to have is some proper, quantified analysis of the benefits of NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) and the epidemiological benefits of NPIs, because I think there’s still too much uncertainty about it, as well as a proper understanding of the economic cost.

“So yes, I think if there could be some way of putting those two things together in a formalized way that that might very well be useful, but that was effectively what I was doing the whole time,” he said.


11:30 AM GMT

'I never believed it was acceptable to let the virus rip'

Boris Johnson has denied he wanted to “let rip” the virus or that he believed elderly people should be left to die as he was shown diary entries from Sir Patrick Vallance.

In a tense exchange, the former prime minister looked visibly frustrated as Hugo Keith KC read out a series of extracts from Sir Patrick’s notes taken during meetings in 2020.

In an impassioned defence, Mr Johnson said that Mr Keith, lead counsel for the inquiry, should “never mind the accounts that you have culled from people’s jottings from meetings that I have been in.”

“If you look at what I actually said and what I actually did,” he said, “and there is an abundance of quotations from me, millions of words that I spoke in Parliament or in press conferences or whatever, if you look at what we 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.”

“I think frankly 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.”


11:21 AM GMT

Scientific advice around circuit breaker was 'not clear'

Boris Johnson said that scientific advice regarding a circuit breaker was unclear in September 2020.

Previously the inquiry has heard how Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Sir Chris Whitty called for a ‘fast and hard’ two-week lockdown to get Covid-19 under control and avoid a steep winter wave.

But Mr Johnson told the inquiry that he believed a regional approach was more ‘just’ because many people were living in areas where the virus was not causing problems.

Asked why he had not followed the advice of his scientific and medical experts, he said: “First of all because the scientific advice was not clear.

“Yes there was a push for a circuit breaker but that was not supported by the health secretary, as he has testified to you and he was normally amongst the toughest in wanting to impose lockdowns.

“There were question marks about the circuit breaker and its efficacy and where a circuit breaker was tried in Wales, it’s not clear that it actually worked. There were perhaps legitimate grounds for thinking that a circuit breaker was not a panacea.

“I was keen to continue a local or regional strategy which continued to have scientific support for being reasonable.”

He added: “It seemed to me given the disparity in the prevalence across the country that a local approach was worth pursuing and in justice and fairness a lot of people thought the same: the disease is not prevalent here,  it is not circulating in my community, why am I being locked down?”


11:08 AM GMT

'Let it rip' was commonly used term in government

Mr Johnson said the phrase “let it rip” was not one that he had coined, the inquiry was told.

He was shown entries from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary in which he Sir Patrick said Mr Johnson had argued for “letting it rip”.

He said: “I’m sad to say there are plenty of people who had used the phrase in conversation with me, I was trying to represent a view that was sadly quite widespread, that the approach might be to segment the most vulnerable and protect them and to allow the vast majority of the population to gradually acquire immunity.”

He later added it was “common parlance” at the time.


10:45 AM GMT

Regional approach to restrictions were 'worth a try'

Imposing localised restrictions in 2020 were “worth trying” in order to prevent a second national lockdown, Boris Johnson told the inquiry.

He said the decision to follow a regional approach, which led to the tier system, seemed a “sensible” way forward.

“Some parts of the northwest, they barely came out of restrictions throughout 2020 and so the question would have been: do we continue with national measures the whole time?,” the former prime minister said when explaining the reasoning behind the tier system, which saw different parts of the country have different lockdown restrictions imposed.

“I think it was worth a try, because of the difficulties with the circuit-breaker concept which Patrick and Matt (Hancock) have alluded to,” he added.

“I thought that a local approach was a sensible way to go, and it was worth trying.”

Mr Johnson then added: “So I am not going to pretend that this was an easy decision, and it certainly was one I agonized over, but I thought the regional approach could still save us and could still help us.”


10:34 AM GMT

Analysis: Eat Out to Help Out caused 'significant rise' in new infections, research finds

Boris Johnson said he was ‘surprised’ when Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, criticised the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme saying he could not see how it had been ‘smuggled past the scientific advice.’

Research from Warwick University did find that the scheme caused a ‘significant rise’ in new infections in August and early September of 2020.

Participating restaurants saw an increase in visits of between 10 and 200 per cent compared to 2019 with up to 17 per cent of the newly detected Covid-19 infection clusters attributed to the scheme.

Areas with high uptake saw a decline in new infections a week after the scheme ended.

Dr Thiemo Fetzer of Warwick University concluded:  “‘Eat Out to Help Out’ may in the end have been a false economy: one that subsidised the spread of the pandemic into Autumn and contributed to the start of the second wave.”


10:27 AM GMT

'Eat Out to Help the Virus' criticism was surprise to me

Mr Johnson was surprised when Sir Chris Whitty later called the scheme “Eat Out to Help the Virus”, he told the inquiry.

The former prime minister was questioned on why he said in his witness statement to the inquiry that the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer were both “properly consulted” on the scheme. Both Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have since claimed they were not consulted at all over the scheme.

“It was 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,” he told the inquiry. “I understand that they don’t feel that they were properly consulted, 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 said this is “Eat out to help the virus” and I thought, you know, I thought that’s funny, because I didn’t remember any previous controversy about it.”


10:25 AM GMT

Analysis: The science around social distancing

Yet more dodgy science from Hugo Keith KC this morning.

The inquiry barrister claims that there was ‘no doubt that epidemiologically the two metre rule was the best way to proceed’

Mr Johnson replied: “It was also true that three metres would have been better, four five. It was a question of where to draw the line.

“There was plenty of evidence from around the world that other countries had gone down to 1 metre, there were other international comparators that had done it safely.”

The two-metre social distancing rule dates back to experiments by Harvard scientist Willam Wells, who was looking at the contagiousness of tuberculosis in the 1930s.

At the beginning of March 2020, the Department of Health released guidance on social distancing warning that Covid-19 can be spread when people have “close, sustained contact”, which typically means “spending more than 15 minutes or longer within two metres of an infected person”.

However, the 15-minute rule got lost in the guidance, even though there is no evidence to suggest anyone has ever caught the virus by briefly passing someone when out and about.

The University of Dundee also said there was no indication that distancing at two metres was safer than one metre.

A University of Dundee study suggested that 78 per cent of the risk of infection happens below one metre and there is just an 11 per cent chance of any increased distance making a difference.

The World Health Organisation advised a distance of one metre


10:21 AM GMT

I didn't think Eat Out to Help Out was a gamble

Boris Johnson has told the Covid Inquiry he did not think the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme was a “gamble”.

Questioned about the policy to help restaurants recover from the pandemic, Mr Johnson said the rationale of the policy was to allow the hospitality industry to “take advantage of the freedom that our collective efforts had won them”.

He said he did not think at the time that the scheme was a “particular gamble”, and that he is not confident it added to the R rate.

“The thinking was that the country had made a huge effort, that we’d got the R down, 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.”

“I don’t think I thought the scheme in itself was a particular gamble at the time - and it certainly wasn’t presented to me as such - nor am I confident that there is a very substantial evidence that it did indeed at to the R, though I defer to what your inquiry has discovered.”


10:07 AM GMT

Boris Johnson giving evidence

Boris Johnson resumes his evidence at the Covid Inquiry
Boris Johnson resumes his evidence at the Covid Inquiry

Boris Johnson has begun giving evidence after returning to the Covid Inquiry for a second day.

First up, he is being asked about social distancing rules.


09:45 AM GMT

Comment: Boris was too indulgent of his staff. His evidence to the Covid Inquiry proves it

Without apparent irony, Boris Johnson described his government as containing “challenging and competing characters”. Well, that’s one way of putting it, writes Janet Daly.

The former prime minister reiterated throughout his testimony to the Covid Inquiry that the puerile viciousness of those WhatsApp communications which have been exposed to public view were really just the common currency of political life.

People were always demanding the sacking of other people in government. The language that was used, even at its most shocking and misogynist, may have been regrettable but it was not altogether surprising under the exceptional circumstances.

Read more here.


09:38 AM GMT

Rishi Sunak to appear at Covid Inquiry on Monday

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give evidence at the Covid Inquiry on Monday, the inquiry said.


09:23 AM GMT

Watch: Boris Johnson apologises for calling long Covid 'b-----ks'

Boris Johnson apologised for remarks he had scribbled in notes about long Covid, in which he called the condition “b-------“ and compared it to Gulf War Syndrome.

“The words that I described in the margins of submissions about Long Covid have obviously been now publicised and I’m sure that they have caused hurt and offence to a large number of people who do indeed suffer from that syndrome, and I regret very much using that language and should have thought about the possibility of future publication, and I regret it very, very much.

“What I was trying to do,” he said, “was get to the heart of the matter, get to the truth of the matter, and to try to get my officials to explain to me exactly what the syndrome was, and it actually took quite a long time before I got a proper paper on it.”

He later defended his description of the condition as Gulf War Syndrome, saying that while he meant “no disrespect to Long Covid patients”, “there are also people who think they may be suffering, I think this is now accepted, from something associated with the Gulf War.

“So what I was trying to say was - where is the line, and please can someone explain to me what this is?”


09:08 AM GMT

Analysis: Tearful Boris Johnson is a shadow of his former self as he recalls Covid memories

He was attending as the former prime minister, but it was another side of Boris Johnson - the Covid survivor - that briefly showed itself as painful memories welled to the surface during his evidence to Baroness Hallett’s Inquiry.

Nearly three hours into the public dissection of his decisions during the pandemic - and, more importantly, their consequences - tears pricked Mr Johnson’s eyes as he spoke of the “tragic, tragic” events of 2020.

Whether it was regret at the loss of life he was unable to prevent, or a flashback to his own near-death experience that made him briefly choke on his words, Mr Johnson was genuinely forlorn.

Read more here.


08:38 AM GMT

Recap: Expletive-ridden WhatsApps were a ‘creatively useful’ tool

Boris Johnson has said that expletive-ridden WhatsApps were a “creatively useful” tool at the height of the Covid pandemic as he denied deleting thousands of messages.

The former prime minister said that similarly “fruity” exchanges of views would have happened face to face during the Thatcher and Blair administrations before the era of text messaging.

He also said multiple accusations of incompetence made about him by ministers and senior advisers during the pandemic were “to be expected” in such a high-pressure environment.

Read more here.


08:23 AM GMT

Emotional Boris Johnson describes ‘tragic, tragic 2020’ at Covid Inquiry

Boris Johnson fought back tears as he spoke of the “tragic, tragic” events of 2020 in his long-awaited appearance at the Covid Inquiry on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson, who almost lost his life to the virus, became emotional during the first of two days in the witness box at the public hearing he set up while he was still prime minister.

He also told bereaved families he was “deeply sorry” for the loss of life, the pain and the suffering that the pandemic caused and apologised for any mistakes that were made.

Mr Johnson arrived at 7am - three hours early - for the hearing in London before protesters had arrived holding up placards accusing him of killing their loved ones.

Baroness Hallett, the inquiry chairman, ejected four bereaved relatives from the public gallery after they refused to sit down while holding up placards reading “the dead can’t hear your apologies”.

Read more here.


07:59 AM GMT

Watch: Key moments from Mr Johnson's first day of testimony

As we await Mr Johnson’s return to the witness box on Thursday, let’s recap some of the key moments from his appearance on Wednesday.

The former prime minister answered questions about lockdown, Matt Hancock and the “toxic” culture in 10 Downing Street.


07:48 AM GMT

Picture: Protesters arrive early after Johnson's early appearance

Protesters arrived at Dorland House under the cover of darkness on Thursday after Mr Johnson appeared early on Wednesday before families had gathered.

A woman protests ahead of the arrival of Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the Covid Inquiry on December 7, 2023 in London, England. Britain's former Prime Minister will be questioned during phase 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry over government decision-making during the pandemic.
A woman protests outside Dorland House ahead of Boris Johnson's second day of evidence - Carl Court/Getty Images/Carl Court/Getty Images

07:42 AM GMT

Good morning

Boris Johnson arrives at the Covid Inquiry on Thursday
Boris Johnson arrives at the Covid Inquiry on Thursday

The Telegraph will be providing live updates as Boris Johnson prepares to give evidence for a second day at the Covid Inquiry

The former prime minister arrived at Dorland House just after 7am - three hours before he will be questioned - again on Thursday following his surprise early appearance on Wednesday.