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Johnson to reportedly admit mistakes in pandemic handling during Covid evidence

Former prime minister Boris Johnson is due to give evidence to the Covid inquiry next week (Victoria Jones/PA)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson is due to give evidence to the Covid inquiry next week (Victoria Jones/PA)

Former prime minister Boris Johnson is reportedly set to tell the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that he “unquestionably made mistakes” in his handling of the pandemic.

But according to The Times, the British leader during the coronavirus outbreak will argue that decisions he took, including ordering three lockdowns in England, ended up saving “tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives”.

He is expected to say that without such restrictions, thousands more people would have had “miserable and unnecessary deaths, some of them in hospital car parks and corridors” due to the health service becoming overwhelmed by the virus.

Mr Johnson is due to appear next week before the inquiry, which he set up while still in Downing Street.

Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, has been critical of his former boss (James Manning/PA)

Aides to the former Conservative Party leader said the briefing to the newspaper had not come from them.

A spokesman said: “Boris Johnson will be at the Covid inquiry next week and is looking forward to assisting the inquiry with its important work.”

The Times said Mr Johnson’s written statement, which is likely to be published after his appearance before the public inquiry, is set to barely mention his former senior aide Dominic Cummings.

Acting as his de facto chief of staff in Downing Street until late 2020, Mr Cummings has been an outspoken critic of Mr Johnson’s since their acrimonious split.

Mr Johnson is reportedly set to back under-fire former health secretary Matt Hancock, who has been singled out for criticism by a host of inquiry witnesses, saying he did a “good job in very difficult circumstances”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who served as chancellor during the pandemic and whose resignation in July 2022 helped trigger the end of Mr Johnson’s premiership, is set to be largely absent from the former premier’s written testimony, according to the newspaper.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme is said to have blindsided the Government’s scientific advisers (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

The Times said he is planning to defend Mr Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, a government-backed discount provision that was designed to support the hospitality sector following the first lockdown.

Mr Johnson will reportedly say the proposal was “properly discussed” with England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty and former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance despite both saying they did not know about it until it was announced.

It is likely Mr Johnson will be quizzed on accusations that his No 10 operation was dysfunctional — a claim made by former chancellor and health secretary Sajid Javid this week at the inquiry.

Mr Javid said it felt like “key decisions were being made by Mr Cummings and not the prime minister”, something the experienced politician said he had never seen before under other prime ministers.

It comes as Mr Hancock, in written evidence to the inquiry published on Friday, said Mr Johnson had apologised for hiring Mr Cummings to work in Downing Street.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Baroness Hallett is leading the Covid inquiry (James Manning/PA)

He said that “the then-prime minister has apologised to me for appointing his chief adviser and for the damage he did to the response to Covid-19”.

It is not clear when the alleged apology was made.

Mr Johnson is also likely to be asked about lockdown-breaching parties that were held in Downing Street.

Dubbed the partygate scandal, it helped lead to Mr Johnson’s exit from high office last year and eventual decision in June, following a probe by law makers into whether he misled Parliament over the gatherings, to quit as an MP.

Mr Sunak is expected to give evidence in person before Christmas, with chairwoman Baroness Hallett currently looking into UK decision-making during the second phase of her inquiry.