Covid Inquiry as it happened: Rishi Sunak apologises and says 'Eat Out to Help Out' was 'designed to save jobs'

11 December 2023, 07:56 | Updated: 11 December 2023, 17:13

Rishi Sunak is facing the Covid inquiry today - right, protests outside
Rishi Sunak is facing the Covid inquiry today - right, protests outside. Picture: Covid Inquiry/Alamy

By Asher McShane

Rishi Sunak faced allegations that his Eat Out to Help Out scheme fuelled the spread of coronavirus as he gave evidence at the Covid inquiry on Monday.

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The Prime Minister began his evidence by saying he is "deeply sorry" to those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

According to a new poll, the amount of people who think Mr Sunak performed badly during the pandemic is nearly double the number who think he did well.

Among his most high-profile interventions was the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, when the government subsidised people's restaurant meals in a bid to kickstart the hospitality industry after the first lockdown.

See all the developments from Rishi Sunak's evidence below

Thank you for following along with LBC's coverage of the Covid inquiry

The hearing has now concluded for the day.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave evidence. 

Read more:

Rishi's Covid D-Day: Sunak faces inquiry grilling as British public 'turns against his handling of the pandemic'

Sunak leaves Covid Inquiry

Rishi Sunak has left the Covid Inquiry after giving evidence. 

Sunak asked about government ‘blunder’ on free school meals campaign

The Prime Minister was asked about how Lee Cain, the former Downing Street director of communications, said the Government’s initial resistance to Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign was a “huge blunder” in 2020. 

The government later u-turned on the issue. 

Asked whether he felt the government's first response was a blunder,  Sunak said he “can't remember the exact decision making around that in any great detail".

"My overall approach during the pandemic was very much focused on those on the lowest incomes," he told the inquiry.

"People would always like you to do more, always like you to do things slightly differently, but in the round I think it is hard to argue with the proposition that the support we put in place was incredibly comprehensive."

Sunak was opposed to circuit-breaker in September 2020

Sunak said while he was not necessarily opposed to lockdown in this period, he was opposed to a circuit-breaker. 

This was because he “didn't think it would have achieved its stated objectives, something that I think most people now acknowledge to be the case”. 

"I've seen in evidence, people now accepting that it wouldn't have prevented the need for a second lockdown," he says.

"Indeed it didn't work in Wales when it was tried."

Sunak was ‘not aware’ of Treasury ‘pro-death squad’ joke

Hugo Keith KC pressed Sunak on whether he was aware that some Number 10 officials had been referring to the Treasury as the “pro-death squad”. 

Sunak said he was not aware and that the term was not “a fair characterisation on the incredibly hard working people that I was lucky to be supported by”.

Science behind Covid approach was ‘uncertain’, Sunak says

"This was uncertain science, as the scientists themselves say," Sunak has told the inquiry. 

"It would be too simplistic to say that there was one answer on these things".

Advice on matters such as face masks and schools was “prone to change”. 

"I am not sure that nuance was communicated perhaps as much as it should have been so people could understand the decisions we were making.”

Eat out to Help out was ‘always meant to be temporary’

Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked why the scheme was not extended beyond August 31 2020. 

Sunak said it was “always meant to be temporary” and was designed to safeguard the jobs of two million people. 

Sunak says advisors had a month to ‘raise any concerns’ about scheme

The Prime Minister has said there was almost a month between the announcement of the scheme and its actual commencement.

He said anyone with concerns could have raised them within this time frame. 

"They had ample opportunity to raise those concerns."

Sunak says scheme was primarily to ‘protect jobs of vulnerable people’

The Prime Minister has been asked whether he wanted to “encourage people to come together” with the Eat out to Help out scheme to ensure  Brits would not become too afraid to return to normal life.

“My primary concern was protecting millions of jobs of particularly vulnerable people who worked in this industry," Sunak replied. 

He said if he did not introduce the scheme, there would have been “devastating consequences”. 

Sunak defends not consulting scientists on Eat out to Help out

Sunak has been asked why scientists were not involved in the decision to introduce the Eat out to Help out scheme.

He said when the UK returned to indoor hospitality generally, scientists had signed off a package, and the scheme was then introduced to operate within this package. 

The scheme was a “micro policy” designed to operate within the overall return to hospitality, he added. 

“We had already made the collective decision to return to indoor hospitality and this was a policy that sat within and beneath that”. 

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