PM 'said he would rather let Covid rip' than impose second lockdown, report claims

27 April 2021, 00:35 | Updated: 28 April 2021, 19:17

Boris Johnson allegedly said he would rather "let Covid rip" than impose a second lockdown
Boris Johnson allegedly said he would rather "let Covid rip" than impose a second lockdown. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson allegedly told advisers he would rather let Covid-19 "rip" than trigger a second lockdown, according to a report in The Times.

The accusation is the latest in a string of controversial claims that have been directed at the prime minister over the past week.

During a government debate last September, Mr Johnson reportedly argued that such restrictions were "mad" due to the economic damage they cause and because there was insufficient evidence that they worked.

However, a Downing Street spokesman immediately rubbished the claim made in the newspaper on Tuesday.

"These are gross distortions of his (the PM's) position," he said.

"Throughout this pandemic, we've done everything we can to save lives and protect livelihoods."

England ended up going into a second nationwide lockdown between 5 November and 2 December last year.

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It comes a day after Mr Johnson denied a separate allegation in which he reportedly said he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than go into a third coronavirus lockdown.

The prime minister called the accusation "total, total rubbish" during an election campaign visit to Wrexham on Monday.

"What I certainly think is that this country has done an amazing job with the lockdowns. And they've been very difficult. And they've been very tough for people. And there's no question about that," he said.

"Nobody wants to go into a lockdown but they've helped us. The discipline the public has shown has helped us to get the numbers of cases down very considerably."

The UK leader then suggested such stories were not important to most voters and were only relevant to those in Westminster.

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He insisted the public wanted ministers to focus on tackling Covid-19 as he faced questions about the bitter briefing war that has hit No10.

The Daily Mail reported the allegation on Monday, although the paper did not give a source.

Asked separately whether anyone else in No10 made the remark, the PM’s official spokesman said: "No. All I can confirm is that the prime minister did not make that statement.

"I'm not aware of anyone else making that statement."

Pressed on suggestions that Mr Johnson shouted the comment while in his study and that a number of people overheard it through an open door, the Downing Street official added: "We are denying it, that the prime minister said that.

"He has made that clear that he did not say it."

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM needed to "make a public statement" about the reports.

"I think, like everybody reading that, I was astonished to see those words," he said.

"It's for the prime minister, I think, now, to make a public statement about that.

"If he did say those things then he's got to explain it, if he didn't, go on the record and publicly explain what was said and what wasn't said.

"I think everybody will be deeply concerned, not least those all families that have lost someone during this pandemic."

Elsewhere on Monday, more details also emerged of how the UK leader was said to have paid for expensive refurbishments to his Downing Street flat.

No10 and the Conservative Party refused to deny an ITV report that said the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) paid the Cabinet Office to cover the initial costs of the work, with the PM now repaying the party.

A Downing Street spokesman said that the "costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the prime minister personally", adding: "Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns."

However, the Labour Party said "crucial puzzle pieces (are) missing", and that the "stench around who may have lent him up to £200,000 for the refurb... will only grow" unless he publishes the delayed list of ministers' interests.

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: "This is yet another panicked attempt by the Conservatives to cover up the truth behind the original donors for the luxury refurbishment of the Downing Street flat."

Later that day, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said he will review the payments for the refurbishment.

Mr Case, the UK's most senior civil servant, said he was asked by the prime minister to look into the issue.