Boris Johnson, the previous Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was said to be confused by science during the COVID-19 inquiry.

LONDON (AP) — Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, struggled to come to grips with much of the science during the coronavirus pandemic, his chief scientific adviser said Monday.

During his highly anticipated testimony to the nation’s public inquiry on the COVID-19 pandemic, Patrick Vallance stated that he and others encountered ongoing difficulties in trying to make Johnson comprehend the scientific aspects and that he frequently changed his stance.

“I believe it is accurate to say that the prime minister discontinued his studies in science at the age of 15,” he stated. “I think he would be the first to acknowledge that it was not his strongest subject and that he had difficulty grasping the concepts, often requiring repetition.”

Portions of Vallace’s diary from around the same time period were shared with the investigation. In these entries, he noted that Johnson frequently struggled to understand graphs and data, and it was difficult to witness him trying to grasp statistics.

Throughout the pandemic, Vallance was prominently seen in the U.K. He and fellow medical officer, Chris Whitty, frequently stood alongside Johnson during the daily COVID-19 press conferences held at the prime minister’s offices on Downing Street.

Vallance, who stepped down from his role as the British government’s chief scientific adviser earlier this year, said Johnson’s struggles were not unique and that many leaders had problems in understanding the scientific evidence and advice, especially in the first stages of the pandemic in early 2020.

During a gathering of European scientific experts, it was mentioned that a leader from one particular country struggled with understanding exponential curves. This caused the attendees to burst into laughter, as it was a relatable issue across all countries.

In April 2020, Johnson was admitted to the hospital due to the virus, just two weeks after implementing the country’s first lockdown. Vallance acknowledged that the prime minister struggled to focus while he was ill, but after recovering, there were no noticeable differences in his behavior compared to before.

The United Kingdom has seen a significant number of deaths due to COVID-19, surpassing other countries in Europe. The virus has been identified as the cause of death for over 232,000 individuals.

Johnson, who was compelled to resign as prime minister in September 2022 after news emerged of parties being held in violation of lockdown rules at his official residence during the pandemic, is scheduled to speak before the inquiry before the holiday season.

The investigation, headed by retired Judge Heather Hallett, is estimated to last for three years, with interim reports being released. Johnson finally agreed in late 2021 to launch a public inquiry due to intense pressure from the families of the deceased, who have expressed outrage over the revelations of his actions.

The investigation is split into four modules, with the current phase centered on political choices related to significant occurrences, such as when to implement lockdowns. The initial phase, which ended in July, examined the nation’s readiness for the pandemic.

The investigation will include a testimony from current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who served as Johnson’s Treasury chief during the time period and therefore had a specific focus on the economic consequences of the lockdowns in Britain.

Sunak will probably be asked about his “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign when he attends the inquiry. This campaign aimed to boost customer confidence and support restaurants in August 2020, during the initial easing of lockdown restrictions and before further lockdowns were implemented.

According to Vallance, scientists were not informed about the restaurant program until it was announced. He also stated that the communication surrounding the program went against the goal of reducing interactions between households.

Vallance stated that it would have been evident to anyone that this would inevitably lead to a higher risk of transmission.

Shortly after, there was an increase in positive cases and the government faced significant pressure to implement a second nationwide lockdown, which Johnson ultimately declared in late October 2020.

The investigation revealed a journal entry written by Vallance prior to the lockdown, which mentioned Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s main political advisor at the time. The entry stated that Sunak believed it was acceptable to allow people to die.

When inquired about the diary entry, the representative for the prime minister, Max Blain, stated that Sunak will “explain his stance” when he testifies in the investigation.

Blain stated that it is crucial for the public to consider all the evidence presented during the inquiry before making a decision.


This report was made possible by the contribution of Associated Press journalist Jill Lawless.