Eddie Mair confronts minister over government's "forcefield of denial" during pandemic

30 April 2020, 19:51 | Updated: 30 April 2020, 20:05

By Fiona Jones

This is the moment Eddie Mair challenged the policing minister over the government's "forcefield of denial" about their strategy during the pandemic.

Eddie asked the policing minister Kit Malthouse why Cheltenham Festival was allowed to go ahead from 12-13 March while in this country and around the world sporting fixtures before and during that festival were being postponed or cancelled.

"We now know the postcodes surrounding Cheltenham Racecourse have had the highest number of coronavirus hospital admissions," he said.

The jockey club wrote to local councillors explaining why the festival was not cancelled, citing that "Boris Johnson had attended the England Wales rugby match on March 7."

"There is a direct link between Boris Johnson attending a rugby match, Cheltenham going ahead, and an increase of the number of people getting sick. Again, we need to trust his advice, and I wonder if you think that was wise?" Eddie asked.

The policing minister replied that it's "perfectly right" for Eddie to want to go back and examine these decisions: "A lot has changed since then and a lot has been learnt about the nature of the disease that means that decisions now will look very different to decisions then."

The PM returned to host his first daily briefing since recovering from coronavirus
The PM returned to host his first daily briefing since recovering from coronavirus. Picture: PA

Mr Malthouse said the Prime Minister has had to balance a number of competing concerns; a primary one was to achieve the objective of flattening the curve and "much of that was about timing."

"The ability of any population to maintain lockdown for a very long period of time was always in question so the time at which you start is critical...to make sure you hit the peak," Mr Malthouse said.

As it is a huge ask of the British public, it is essential to take the public with you, the majority of which are, the minister said.

"Do you think it would help keep people with you if there was an apology for mistakes? Or even admission of mistakes?" Eddie asked.

"The French government has admitted it wasn't sufficiently prepared. Two weeks ago Emmanuel Macron said mistakes were made, we thought we were sufficiently prepared, obviously not.

"Night after night when the government is asked to even acknowledge mistakes, it gives a general answer about well we all make mistakes, and we'll learn from some public inquiry in future.

"I wonder if some humanity instead of a forcefield of denial might help you bring people with you?" Eddie asked.

"If mistakes have been made then there is a willingness to learn," said Mr Malthouse, reminding Eddie he is not embedded deep within conversations of the government's strategy.

He said the time to learn from mistakes will be in the future when they are able to reflect.