Boris Johnson’s highly anticipated two-day hearing before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has begun.
Here are the key points from Wednesday’s evidence so far:
– An apology backfires with protesters
In opening remarks to the inquiry, Mr Johnson said he was sorry for the loss and the pain suffered by Covid victims but four people were removed from the hearing room after they held up signs reading: “The Dead can’t hear your apologies.”
– Mr Johnson accepts personal responsibility for all decisions
The former PM acknowledged that mistakes were “unquestionably” made by his administration in its response to the pandemic, and said he took full responsibility for all the choices made.
– He ‘should have twigged sooner’
Mr Johnson admitted ministers “should have twigged much sooner” that there was a need for action but argued Whitehall more broadly had underestimated the scale of the challenge.
– The former PM defends his No 10 from ‘toxic culture’ claims
The ex-PM admitted that his top team was male-dominated but played down claims of a dysfunctional work environment, suggesting that complacency and a lack of scrutiny would have been worse than some of the strongly worded criticism unveiled in WhatsApps shared between key figures.
– PM only read Sage minutes ‘once or twice’
Mr Johnson said he may have only read the minutes of hundreds of meetings held by the committee of scientists advising the government on Covid “once or twice”. He said he was provided with “summaries” but in hindsight hearing the full discussion might have been valuable.
– He denies taking a ‘long holiday’ in early stages of Covid
Mr Johnson told the inquiry he did not take a long break in February half-term 2020 and was still working.
– He defends not chairing Cobra meetings in early 2020
The former PM was questioned about whether five Cobra meetings chaired by then health secretary Matt Hancock should have suggested the situation was serious enough to require his “direct involvement”. He said that the virus, between January and February that year, had been a “cloud on the horizon” and it was unclear whether it would become a “typhoon”.
– His recollection of ‘tragic, tragic year’ brings up emotions
Mr Johnson looked on the verge of tears as he described 2020 as a “tragic, tragic” year.