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Boris Johnson is expected to face a tough grilling over more than 10 hours from Hugo Keith KC when he appears at the Covid inquiry on Wednesday and Thursday.
Here are 9 questions the former prime minister will have to answer:
Why did you not attend any of the Cobra meetings at the crucial early stage of the covid crisis?
The inquiry has heard how Mr Johnson missed all of the government’s emergency committee meetings throughout February 2020, when the virus was taking hold in the UK. Although the scale of the threat was underestimated at the time, the ex-PM has been criticised for not taking personal charge of Cobra until early March. This arguably fed through to a wider lack of decision-making from the centre of government in February.
Why did you go on holiday in February 2020?
Besides Mr Johnson’s lack of attendance at Cobra, the inquiry has heard how he took a 10-day holiday in February, around half term, during which he received no papers on the covid emergency. By that stage, there were already several confirmed cases of the virus in the UK and the government’s scientists were warning that measures may have to be taken.
Why did you not impose a lockdown earlier?
Witnesses, including Sir Patrick Vallance and Matt Hancock, have conceded that lockdown should have been introduced earlier than 23 March 2020. The former health secretary said it should have been imposed three weeks earlier. Sir Patrick, the former chief scientific adviser, has told the inquiry he personally urged the then prime minister to place London into lockdown around 16 March, because the virus had already taken hold in the capital, but this advice was rejected by Mr Johnson.
What was your role in the policy on care homes?
During his evidence to the inquiry, Mr Hancock was challenged over his statement from the time that the government had thrown a “protective ring” around care homes, even though it later emerged that elderly patients were discharged from hospitals into these settings without being tested for covid. While the policy seems to have come from the Department of Health and Public Health England, what did Mr Johnson know about this failure?
What did you do to rein in Dominic Cummings?
Several witnesses, including Mr Hancock, have given evidence about the extraordinary power that Mr Cummings, the PM’s then chief adviser, held at the heart of government at the height of the crisis. The former health secretary accused Mr Cummings of being a “malign agent” who contributed to a toxic culture inside Downing St. Mr Cummings in turn has accused Mr Hancock of “lying” to the inquiry. The nature of his role – and whether this affected the government’s covid response – is likely to be a big topic for Mr Johnson to respond to.
Did Carrie Johnson have too much power?
The inquiry has heard claims from some witnesses that Mr Johnson’s then fiancee also held sway inside Downing Street. Cabinet Secretary Simon Case sent a WhatsApp joking that Mrs Johnson was the “real person in charge”, while an entry in Sir Patrick’s diaries attributed this to Mr Case: “He says Number 10 is at war with itself. Carrie faction with Gove and another with spads downstairs. The PM is caught in the middle.”
Did you authorise the rewriting of official advice on social distancing?
Sir Patrick has claimed in his diaries that in June 2020, as the government was preparing for a full lifting of restrictions in the UK, No 10 had “completely rewritten” the scientific advice on the two metre social distancing rule so that it was “cherry picked” to suggest “one metre plus” was safe. Sir Patrick also wrote that by then, there was a “Sage is trouble vibe” appearing in No 10. What role did Mr Johnson play in undermining this scientific advice?
Do you think Eat Out To Help Out was an ill-advised policy?
The inquiry KC is likely to press Mr Johnson on his views of Rishi Sunak’s controversial meals discount scheme from August 2020, which scientists have blamed on fuelling a second wave of the virus. Several witnesses, including Mr Hancock and senior scientific advisers, have revealed they were not consulted in advance about the policy. Lady Hallett’s inquiry has already heard that in his statement, Mr Johnson said the scheme was “properly discussed, including with Chris [Whitty] and Patrick”. But it is not known what Mr Johnson now thinks of the plan itself and whether it contributed to the UK’s second wave.
Did you really want to “let the bodies pile high” and believe the old had had “a good innings”?
Mr Johnson has denied saying, in autumn 2020, that he wanted to “let the bodies pile high” rather than impose a second lockdown, but this was confirmed by his former chief of staff, Lord Lister in his witness statement to the inquiry. Sir Patrick’s diaries have also claimed that Mr Johnson believed, around the same time, that the elderly had had a “good innings”. Mr Keith is likely to ask him why he apparently regarded the lives of elderly and other people vulnerable to covid in such a callous manner.