Boris Johnson, the former Prime Minister of Britain, stood by his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic at a public inquiry on Wednesday. He acknowledged that his government made mistakes, but maintained that they did their utmost.
Johnson was questioned for two days by lawyers from the judge-led inquiry regarding his initial hesitance to implement a national lockdown in early 2020 and other significant choices.
Johnson began his statement by expressing regret “for the distress, harm, and agony experienced by the victims of COVID,” but did not apologize for his own actions. As he spoke, four individuals stood and displayed signs stating: “The deceased cannot hear your apologies,” and were subsequently removed by security personnel.
“During the challenging time of managing a pandemic, we were faced with difficult decisions that had consequences on both sides. It is possible that we may have made errors in our efforts to balance these harms,” stated Johnson. “However, we were doing our utmost to make the best decisions at the time.”
Johnson arrived at the investigation location early in the morning, hours before his scheduled testimony, in order to avoid a demonstration by family members of the victims.
Some individuals seeking information from the investigation include relatives of the 230,000+ individuals in the United Kingdom who passed away after being infected with the virus. A crowd gathered outside the designated office building for the inquiry, with some displaying images of their deceased loved ones. One banner read: “Allow the corpses to stack up” – a comment reportedly made by Johnson’s aide. Another sign stated: “Johnson celebrated while lives were lost.”
In the middle of 2022, Johnson’s own Conservative Party forced him out of his position due to several instances of unethical behavior. This included the disclosure that he and his team had hosted parties in the prime minister’s Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021, disregarding the government’s lockdown regulations.
Previous coworkers, assistants, and counselors have depicted a negative portrayal of Johnson and his administration through numerous testimonies.
Previous Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance stated that Johnson was “confused” by science. In notes that have been viewed as proof, Vallance also mentioned that Johnson was fixated on older individuals accepting their destiny. Former adviser Dominic Cummings, who is now a strong critic of Johnson, revealed that the former prime minister inquired with scientists about the possibility of using a hair dryer up his nose to eradicate the virus.
Helen McNamara, a former high-ranking government official, characterized the culture within Johnson’s government as “toxic” and excessively masculine. Simon Case, the top civil servant in the country, referred to Johnson and his inner circle as “feral.”
Johnson stood up for his administration, stating that it consisted of individuals with differing perspectives who may not have the most favorable opinions of each other, but were able to accomplish a great deal.
The United Kingdom has reported one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths in Europe, with over 232,000 fatalities attributed to the virus.
Johnson expressed uncertainty about whether the actions of his government had resulted in a higher number of deaths. He also stated that the process of determining when to implement lockdowns and other measures was difficult.
“It is correct to acknowledge the negative consequences of lockdowns, such as the impact on education, economy, and missed medical appointments for conditions like cancer and heart disease,” he stated. “The decision to impose lockdowns was a delicate balance between protecting the public and preserving the integrity of the health service, and it was a challenging one.”
In late 2021, Johnson was pressured by grieving families to hold a public investigation. This inquiry will be led by retired Judge Heather Hallett and is estimated to last three years, with interim reports being released in the following year.
The investigation is split into four parts, with the current phase centered on political decision-making. The initial phase, which ended in July, examined the nation’s readiness for the pandemic.
Johnson has presented a written statement as evidence for the investigation, but has not provided approximately 5,000 WhatsApp messages from important weeks between February and June 2020. These messages were on a phone that Johnson was advised to stop using after it became known that the phone number had been accessible to the public online for several years. Johnson later claimed to have forgotten the password to unlock the phone.
A spokesperson for Johnson stated that the former PM did not intentionally delete any messages. However, a technical problem resulted in some messages not being retrieved.