Rishi Sunak believed the government should just “let people die” during the coronavirus pandemic, the Covid inquiry was told.
In one of the most explosive claims heard at the inquiry so far, the prime minister, who was chancellor at the time, is said to have believed it was time to “just let people die and that's fine” in the autumn of 2020.
The accusation made by former chief of staff Dominic Cummings was documented in Sir Patrick Vallance's diary. The former chief scientific adviser made the note after a “symbolic” meeting on Covid restrictions in October 2020.
According to the diary, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson had claimed he “let it all rip”. Mr Cummings, who was then Mr Johnson's senior adviser, then shared Mr Sunak's alleged comment.
Although Sir Patrick said he had not personally heard Mr Sunack express such a view, he told the inquest: “That's what Dominic Cummings said.”
The revelation came as follows:
- Sir Patrick said Boris Johnson was ‘clearly confused' by science and didn't understand graphs
- Boris was described as “broken” with his “head in his hands” at the meeting, adding: “We are too devastated to come to an agreement.”
- Sunak was accused of saying it was more important to control scientists than Covid
- Vallance admitted there was no scientific evidence to justify the Covid ‘rule of six'
- The top scientist claimed the UK did not lock down hard enough during the first wave
A spokesman for Mr Sunak said he would not “respond to each allegation piecemeal” following the new allegations, but said the public would “hear from the prime minister when he gives evidence” to the inquiry.
Mr Cummings' bomb claim was just one of many damning claims about Mr Sunak's role during the Covid crisis – as Sir Patrick accused him of helping fuel a second wave with the Eat Out scheme to Help Out.
The controversial policy, which offered guests a 50% discount on meals to boost the recovery of the hospitality industry, was widely blamed for the spike in Covid transmission in the late summer and fall of 2020.
Sir Patrick said it was “very difficult” to see how Eat Out to Help Out would not have increased transmission and revealed that he and chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty were not told about the scheme until it was announced.
In a damning assessment, Sir Patrick told the inquest that the health messages were “very clear” that mixing with people you didn't live with in a closed environment was a “high-risk activity”.
“This policy [Eat Out to Help Out] he completely reversed it by saying we will pay you to go into an environment with people from other households and mingle in an indoor environment for periods of a few hours or more.”
Asked if Mr Sunak knew the policy would boost Covid infections before he rolled it out, Sir Patrick said he would be “very surprised” if not, directly contradicting a claim in the now prime minister's witness statement.
Mr Sunak said he had “no recollection” of any concerns about the scheme, including from Sir Chris and Sir Patrick.
In another embarrassing diary entry, Sir Patrick revealed the former chancellor said Covid “is all about handling the scientists, not handling the virus”, in a push to open the economy after the first lockdown.
Mr Sunak made the claim during an online meeting in July 2020, not realizing that Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris was present on the call.
Sir Patrick's diary entry of a meeting on October 25 – as the country headed for a second national lockdown – said Mr Johnson opened the meeting by arguing to “let it all rip”, accepting that there would be more casualties and saying, “They had a good turnout.”
The chief scientific advisor also wrote that “DC [Dominic Cummings] he says “Rishi thinks just let people die and that's fine.”
The diary entries also refer to the October 2020 meeting with Mr Johnson, in which he argued that most people who die “have arrived on time anyway”. The then prime minister said: “I really don't want to do another national lockdown,” according to Sir Patrick's diaries.
In one column Mr Vallance said Britain had “a weak, indecisive prime minister”. Chief scientist Mr Johnson found it “a real struggle” to make sense of some Covid graphs and was “misled” by the scientific modelling.
In an entry from May 2020, Sir Patrick wrote: “The Prime Minister is still confused about different types of tests. He keeps it in his head for a session and then leaves.” In another disparaging passage about Mr Johnson, Sir Patrick wrote: “To see the Prime Minister get his head around the statistics is appalling.”
Mr Johnson questioned whether Britain was “licked as a species” ahead of the second lockdown. Frustrated by the lack of progress in controlling the virus at a meeting in September 2020, Sir Patrick said he “looked broken:” and had “his head in his hands a lot”.
The then prime minister said: “Maybe we are being licked as a species… We are too weak to act together.”
Mr Vallance also said the Johnson government did not go “hard” or early enough with the first national lockdown. “The most important lesson I learned … was that you had to go earlier than you'd like, harder than you'd like and wider than you'd like.”
But Sir Patrick admitted that the so-called ‘rule of six' – regulations which banned gatherings of more than six people in autumn 2020.
“We were pretty clear that we didn't actually think this had a huge basis in anything. Why six? Why not eight? Why not ten? We couldn't tell anyone who was better or worse,” he told the inquiry.
Mr Vallance also claimed former health secretary Matt Hancock “had a habit of saying things he had no basis for” during the pandemic.
The top scientist also revealed a cabinet video call in which one participant failed to mute, leaving the sound of a crying baby and “the wheels on the bus”. He said it was “symbolic of the crashes.”
Sir Patrick's diaries have yielded some of the most striking evidence Covid research has seen so far. Asked about them on Monday, he said they were a daily “dump” to help him “decompress”, stressing they were “never meant to see the light of day”.