Apologies, missing messages and describing Covid as bulls**t: What we learned from Boris Johnson's Inquiry evidence

6 December 2023, 17:48 | Updated: 6 December 2023, 17:53

Boris Johnson gives evidence at the Covid-19 Inquiry
Boris Johnson gives evidence at the Covid-19 Inquiry. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Boris Johnson has just finished giving evidence at the Covid Inquiry, so what did we learn from the former prime minister's evidence?

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Mr Johnson, who was prime minister during the entire pandemic, acknowledged that the government had made mistakes and handling Covid, but insisted it got the big calls right.

Here are some of the key things were learned:

Government made mistakes, Johnson admits

The former Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry
The former Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. Picture: Getty

As we expected, Mr Johnson admitted that he and the government made mistakes during the pandemic.

He apologised for all the "pain and loss and suffering", though four women held signs during his statement which read: "The dead can't hear your apologies".

Four women were removed from the inquiry as a result.

While he apologised and admitted mistakes, he would not be drawn on anything specific.

Mr Johnson said there were broad issues "around messaging and particularly different messaging coming from Number 10 and the devolved administrations" which should be "sorted out in the future".

"I take personal responsibility for all decisions made," he added, which included when lockdowns were called and the failure to prevent a huge spread of Covid across care homes.

'Not going too early with lockdown' compelling to Johnson but admits he 'should have twigged sooner'

Mr Johnson also said he was initially very convinced by the idea that the UK should not enter lockdown "too early".

These arguments were "made powerfully" and had a "big effect on me", the former prime minister added.

Mr Johnson also said that he was cautious not to go too early on lockdowns due to their negative effects, especially on education and mental health.

Eventually, however, Mr Johnson said he realised by around mid-March - weeks after Covid had started spreading in the UK - that he had no other choice but to impose a lockdown.

"I had no other tool...literally nothing else," he proclaimed.

Mr Johnson also went on to say that the government should have 'twigged' about the dangers sooner and admitted he was 'rattled' by scenes coming out of Italy.

Where did his WhatsApp messages go?

Hugo Keith KC, the lawyer for the inquiry, says 5,000 WhatsApp messages are missing.

Mr Johnson could not get access to an old phone which was "activated by some technical people".

He said the app "went down" and when it came back up, the messages were gone.

Johnson disputes idea mortality rate was worse in UK than rest of Europe

Boris Johnson leaves Covid Inquiry

Since the pandemic ended, data sets have indicated the UK had one of the worst mortality rates from Covid.

But for Mr Johnson, this was not the case.

Read More: Boris Johnson defends lockdowns and admits 'damage was done' as he apologises 'for pain and loss' of Covid

The former prime minister said he had seen data that put the UK further down the league tables.

Mr Johnson argued that the UK had an "extremely elderly population", as well as a high rate "COVID-related morbidities" and high population density, which he says skewed death rate statistics.

Johnson denied there was a toxic culture but said there should have been more women

Johnson leaves the Covid Inquiry
Johnson leaves the Covid Inquiry. Picture: Getty

Mr Johnson says he was not aware people didn't want to work in his government due to toxic atmosphere

Mr Johnson says he was unaware and did not see any sign of that, with him being able to fill roles in his administration.

He says the gender balance of his team should’ve been better – too many meetings were too male dominated.

Read More: Boris fights back tears and says 'we should have twigged sooner' as four hecklers ejected from Covid Inquiry

No10 staff became 'very frazzled'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street
Then Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street. Picture: Alamy

Johnson was asked if is he lost confidence in certain members of his team.He says his cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill, stepped aside in May 2020.

He also says that Dominic Cummings stepped aside.

"It was a very difficult, very challenging period. People were getting very frazzled because they were frustrated," he says.

"Covid kept coming at us in wave after wave and it was very, very hard to fight it. People were doing their level best."

Johnson only looked at SAGE minutes from 'time-to-time'

Johnson says he was content with clear summaries he was receiving from the Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer.

There were hundreds of minutes from meetings SAGE had held but Johnson admits he only read a fraction of them.

He says he was "very very much impressed by and dependent upon" Professor Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, who have already given evidence at the Inquiry.

Johnson described long COVID as bulls**t

The inquiry also saw evidence showing the former PM described Covid as bulls**t, comparing it to Gulf War syndrome.

He said he regretted his language choice.

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