Boris Johnson joked about Treasury being the ‘pro-death squad’ during pandemic, Covid inquiry told – UK politics live | Politics
At the Covid inquiry Stuart Glassborow, deputy principal private secretary to Boris Johnson during coronavirus, has been giving evidence.
Dermot Keating, counsel for the inquiry, was asking the questions, and he has just asked Glassborow about an entry in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary in which Vallance, the chief scientific adviser at the time, records Boris Johnson as referring to the Treasury as the “pro-death squad”. Johnson reportedly used the phrase in January 2021, when he wanted the Treasury to back him in arguing for an early lifting of lockdown measures.
Johnson was referring to the Treasury being in favour of prioritising the economy in internal debates on lockdown policy.
Glassborow told the inquiry he did not recall that phrase being used.
UPDATE: Reading from Vallance’s diary, Keating said:
There is an entry … at meeting on 25 January 2021 the PM is recorded saying he wants tier 3 March 1, tier 2 April 1 Tier 1 May 1 and nothing by September, and he ends it by saying the team must bring in the pro-death squad from HMT. Do you recall the phraseology by the prime minister referring to HMT as the pro-death squad?
As I say, this I think refers to a meeting from a couple of years ago. I don’t recall that specific phrase. I see that this is from Patrick’s notebook. I wouldn’t dispute what he’s recorded, but I don’t recall the phrase at all.
The Covid inquiry has also been shown private messages exchanged between Ben Warner, the data scientist and No 10 aide, and Lee Cain, the PM’s communications director, in September and October 2020. They were both frustrated by the government’s failure to take action in response to the rising number of cases. At this point scientists were calling for another lockdown.
“We are so fucked,” Cain wrote on 12 October. And on 30 October, the day before Boris Johnson announced a second lockdown (having resisted one for weeks), Warner said:
I feel like we have accidentally invented a time machine.
That was a reference to March 2020, when Johnson was also criticised for introducing lockdown late.
The Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke, who is normally seen as being on the right of the party, has criticised Suella Braverman’s proposal to stop charities distributing tents to homeless people. She posted this on X.
In all my years of helping people who are homeless, in cities like London and Manchester as well as my own local area in Dover and Deal, at no time, ever, has anyone said the answer lies in the removal of tents.
The Metropolitan police have confirmed that Just Stop Oil activists did not commit any offences linked to the Cenotaph. In a statement, the Met said:
Around 100 arrests were made by officers along Whitehall during another day of disruption by Just Stop Oil.
These arrests were made for breaching section seven of the Public Order Act at various points between Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, including near to the Cenotaph.
No protester glued themselves to the road.
There were no offences linked to the Cenotaph.
Plans for further strike action at UK universities have stalled after the University and College Union failed to get the required turnout in its latest strike ballot.
More than two thirds (68%) of UCU members at 140 universities who voted were in support of taking strike action over pay and working conditions, with 75% in favour of industrial action short of strike action.
Turnout, however, was only 43%, significantly below the required 50% threshold. It follows a prolonged period of disruptive industrial action in UK universities, including a marking and assessment boycott which meant many students had to wait for their final grades this summer.
The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, blamed anti-democratic trade union laws. She said:
The national ballot results show university staff support taking action over pay and conditions. However, anti-democratic restrictions, which single out trade unions for special treatment, mean no action can take place.
But Raj Jethwa, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said:
Now that the ballot is over, unions and employers need to find common ground on the issues that the sector is grappling with. For the sake of students and staff alike, it is now vital to work together to end the sector’s recent cycle of industrial disputes.
Ben Warner, the data specialist who worked in No 10 alongside Dominic Cummings during Covid, also told the inquiry this afternoon that he was concerned about the lack of scientific knowledge in the civil service. He said:
Throughout the pandemic I thought that there was a lack of scientific capability within the different teams and groups that I was working with.
He stressed that he was not talking about government scientists. He went on:
I do think that within the, let’s call it sort of Cobra/Cabinet Office, that I was continually concerned about their understanding of what Sage were saying and how that was being translated into the documents that were produced for ministers.
Here is John Crace’s sketch, where he imagines Suella Braverman making an unexpected lifestyle choice.
And the inquiry has just been shown these messages to Boris Johnson from Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser. They were sent on Saturday 14 March 2020, which is when advisers met in No 10 and realised a lockdown was required. Cummings told Johnson that, when people talked to him about the point at which Covid cases would peak in the future, they should have been telling him that they were talking about the point at which the NHS would collapse (assuming no change in policy).
Ben Warner, the data specialist who worked in No 10 alongside Dominic Cummings during Covid, is giving evidence to the inquiry this afternoon. As Peter Walker reports, he was asked about a line he wrote in his notebook after a meeting during the early days of the Covid crisis where he said the NHS was “fucked in any scenario”.
And this is what Warner says about the comment in his witness statement to the inquiry.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told the Guardian in an interview that levels of poverty are “simply not acceptable … in a rich country such as the UK”.
At the No 10 lobby briefing this morning the PM’s spokesperson said the government did not accept this. He said:
We simply don’t agree. We know that households are at least £6,000 a year better off in full-time work than out on benefits. And our record on this is clear – there are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty and there are almost 700,000 fewer children growing up in workless households since 2010.
And we have taken unprecedented levels of support post-pandemic in response to high inflation, not least paying half of people’s energy bill.
Just Stop Oil says claims that its protesters were targeting the Cenotaph this morning were wrong.
The Chairman of theis tweeting lies about protesters being glued to The Cenotaph.
The reality is that they were dragged off the road and arrested by police for protesting in the street, under legislation his corrupt party introduced.
Share and expose this lie
Great thatand deleted tweets accusing supporters of Just Stop Oil of “targeting” the Cenotaph when in reality, they were arrested for marching to Parliament Square.
But why aren’ttalking about the arrests of +100 peaceful protesters?
The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, followed by an urgent investigation by the international criminal court into whether genocide has taken place. He makes the proposal. Here is an extract.
On November 2, seven UN Special Rapporteursthey “remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide”. This followed the resignation of , the Director of the UN’s office in New York, who characterised the horrors in Gaza as a “textbook case of genocide” aimed toward “the expedited destruction of the last remnants of indigenous life in Palestine” …
Genocide is a term that should be used carefully. There are many horrors in history that are hideous enough on their own terms without warranting that label. The term has a legal definition, a legal basis and legal implications. That is why, when international experts in this field warn us about genocide, we should sit up and listen. And that is why we need an immediate ceasefire, followed by an urgent investigation by the international criminal court.
The ICC should not just investigate the crime of genocide, but every single war crime committed by all parties over the past month. The UK government has the authority and responsibility to call for this investigation. So far, it has refused to call out the atrocities unfolding before our very eyes.may be temporary, but impunity is permanent and our government continues to give the Israeli army the cover it needs to commit its crimes in darkness.
During his evidence his morning Stuart Glassborow, deputy principal private secretary to Boris Johnson during the pandemic, admitted that the government decided to go ahead with the “eat out to help out” subsidy scheme for restaurants in the summer of 2020 without getting scientific advice on the impact it might have on Covid transmission.
Rishi Sunak, the then chancellor, was personally associated with the scheme, and he was embarrassed byshowing it had led to a rise in the number of people getting Covid.
Glassborow told the inquiry that during July 2020, before the scheme was launched, he and others in No 10 “did become aware that there hadn’t been direct CMO [chief medical officer], CSA [chief scientific adviser], Sage [scientific advisory group for emergencies] analysis on this policy”.
Asked if a decision was taken to persist with the scheme anyway, without scientific advice, Glassborow said:
I can’t speak on behalf of all people who would have had an interest in this. I don’t recall significant representations being made to in some sense revisit the policy – that’s not to say some people didn’t have views one way or another at that time.
Last week the inquiry was told that Prof Chris Whitty, the CMO, called the scheme “eat out to help out the virus”.