Boris Johnson at the Covid inquiry: key takeaways | Covid inquiry #Boris #Johnson #Covid #inquiry #key #takeaways #Covid #inquiry

Boris Johnson has been giving evidence at the UK’s public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic, where he was questioned on the decisions he made as prime minister during that time.

The appearance of Johnson, who was prime minister for three years between 2019 and 2022, has been the most eagerly awaited moment so far in an inquiry overseen by a former judge.

It has implications both for Johnson’s legacy and, potentially, for the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who served under him as Britain’s finance minister, or chancellor of the exchequer, during the pandemic and he will give evidence to the inquiry next week.

Johnson resigned in disgrace in September 2022 after a series of scandals including reports that he and other officials had been present at alcohol-fuelled gatherings during 2020 and 2021 at Downing Street, the official residences and offices of Britain’s prime minister.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the first day of two days of evidence:

Johnson began his appearance by issuing an apology, as expected, for what he describe as the “pain and the loss and the suffering” during the pandemic.

However, even as Johnson was attempting to deliver the words, four people who staged a protest inside the inquiry and were removed said they “didn’t want his apology”.

“The dead can’t hear your apologies,” read signs held up by those who were removed.

“Can I just say how glad I am to be at this inquiry and how sorry I am for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the Covid victims,” Johnson had said, in remarks which he had been expected make.

About 5,000 WhatsApp messages on Boris Johnson’s phone from 30 January 2020 to June 2020 were unavailable to the inquiry, it emerged.

The disappearance of the messages, which Johnson has previously denied deleting, has been a long-running controversy.

A barrister acting for the inquiry, Hugo Keith KC [King’s Counsel], said a technical report provided by the former prime minister’s solicitors suggested there may have been a factory reset at the end of January 2020 followed by an attempt to reinstate the contents in June 2020, but Johnson denied knowledge of that.

“I don’t remember any such thing,” he said.

Johnson said he took responsibility for all decisions made but the first mistake he admitted to concerned the “mixed messages” from the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We were relying so much on messaging to help contain the virus and we needed the public to understand the message in as straightforward a way as possible, and they really did, by and large,” he said, but sometimes there would be one message from his own office “a slightly different one from Scotland or wherever”.

Asked about allegations by former advisers and ministers who alleged that there was a “toxic cultureat Downing Street when he was prime minister, Johnson likened it to previous governments of Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher.

A toxic culture of backstabbing and misogyny has already been laid bare at the Covid public inquiry. A key figure has been Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former and now estranged chief adviser, who was accused in October of “aggressive, foul-mouthed and misogynistic” abuse towards others working in government.

Johnson said he would make a distinction between the language used and the decision making. The Blair and Thatcher governments also had “challenging and competing characters whose views about each other might not be fit to print” but they got “an awful lot done”,

Johnson defended Matt Hancock, who was Britain’s health secretary for much of the pandemic and who became a lightning rod for criticism by others in government, despite internal calls to sack him

Asked about WhatsApp messages from Cummings to dismiss Hancock, Johnson said: “If you’re a prime minister, you are constantly being lobbied by somebody to sack somebody else. It is just what I’m afraid happens. Everybody’s constantly militating against some other individual for some reason. It is perfectly true that this adviser in particular had a low opinion of the health secretary. I thought he was wrong. I stuck by the health secretary. I thought the health secretary worked very hard and whatever he may have had [in] defects, I thought that he was doing his best in very difficult circumstances and I thought he was a good communicator.”

Covid decision-making was too male-dominated, Johnson admitted

“The gender balance of my team should have been better,” Johnson told the inquiry. The inquiry previously heard from Helen MacNamara, a senior civil servant who held the role of the deputy cabinet secretary, that there was “institutional bias against women” in Covid decision-making.

Johnson, who was the mayor of London between 2008 and 2019, appeared to accept this. He said: “When I was running London, it was 50/50, and it was a very harmonious team. I think sometimes during the pandemic too many meetings were too male-dominated.”

The inquiry chair rebuked Johnson for leaks of his witness statement

Before Johnson’s evidence began the chair of the inquiry, Lady Hallett, complained about media briefings about what he would tell the inquiry.

She said: “I’d like to express my concern about reports in the press over the last few days of the contents of Mr Johnson’s witness statement to the inquiry and what his evidence will be.

“Until a witness is called and appears at a hearing, or the inquiry publishes the witness’s statement, it’s meant to be confidential between the witness, the inquiry and the core participants … Failing to respect confidentiality undermines the inquiry’s ability to do its job fairly, effectively and independently.”

#Boris #Johnson #Covid #inquiry #key #takeaways #Covid #inquiry

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