Conservative MP accuses Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty of scaremongering: 'They want to make your skin creep'

Watch: Tory MP accuses Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty of COVID scaremongering

  • Sir Desmond Swayne says Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty want to “terrify” Britons with their warnings about COVID-19

  • Tory backbencher adds scientists have “abducted” Boris Johnson

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A Conservative MP has accused Boris Johnson’s top coronavirus advisers of trying to “terrify” Britons as he said the prime minister has been “abducted” by scientists.

In a vociferous House of Commons speech, Sir Desmond Swayne attacked chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty for their dire warnings about the resurgence of the coronavirus on Monday last week.

This included Sir Patrick saying the virus is doubling every week, and that if this continues unabated, there could be just under 50,000 new infections a day by mid-October. Sir Patrick insisted this was not a prediction.

The graph presented by Sir Patrick Vallance showing how coronavirus infections could double. (UK government)
The graph presented by Sir Patrick Vallance showing how coronavirus infections could double. (UK government)

In a debate about COVID-19 on Monday, backbench MP Swayne rounded on Johnson and his advisers, saying: “I am left wondering if the prime minister hasn’t been abducted by Dr Strangelove and reprogrammed by the Sage over to the dark side.

“The purpose of politicians is to impose a measure of proportion, a sense of proportion on science, and not to be enthralled to it.”

He went on to say Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty’s Downing Street briefing last week “should have been a sacking offence”, before claiming: “Not once, not on one day since March, have there been infections on that day that were double that of the day of the week preceding. Not once. Where did this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph?”

Sir Desmond Swayne has accused Boris Johnson’s top coronavirus advisers of scaremongering. (
Sir Desmond Swayne has accused Boris Johnson’s top coronavirus advisers of scaremongering. (

However, there have been occasions when the government’s official figures showed infections have nearly doubled from seven days before. For example, infections jumped from 3,395 on 17 September to 6,634 on 24 September.

On the other hand, 4,044 cases were announced shortly before Swayne spoke in the Commons on Monday, compared to 4,638 seven days ago.

Swayne continued: “It was the purpose of the Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers: ‘I wants to make yer flesh creep’. It was project fear, it was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they haven’t been terrified enough.”

Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L) and Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance, both wearing face coverings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leave from 11 Downing Street in central London on September 21, 2020. - The UK government on Monday upgraded its coronavirus alert level, as its senior scientific advisor warned that England was on track for about 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October and a surging death toll unless action is taken immediately. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance following last week's briefing. (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

He went on to say that the government is “telling us who we may meet, when we may meet them and what we must wear when we meet them”.

Labour MP Angela Eagle, who spoke straight after Swayne, said she agreed with “precisely zero” of his claims.

Another backbencher, Conservative MP Lucy Allan, also cast doubt over the government’s direction, with the PM having hinted at the possibility of a second lockdown last week.

“It’s widely accepted that COVID is here for the long-term and this being the case, we do have to learn to live with it. As the chancellor [Rishi Sunak] said so eloquently last week, we have to learn to live with it without fear.

“We know lockdown is not a cure. The restrictions give us temporary respite, but we are waking up now to the full cost of what that temporary respite means.”

The latest criticism from his own MPs once again highlights the difficulty Johnson has in striking a balance during his handling of the COVID resurgence.

Watch: People in England face £10,000 fines for not self-isolating

On the one hand, many Tory backbenchers are angry about the economic pressures that could be exacerbated by more stringent restrictions.

On the other, health experts – including government adviser Prof John Edmunds – have argued his current measures don’t go far enough in restricting the spread of the virus.

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