Boris Johnson denies Dominic Cummings’ claim that ministers ‘fell disastrously short’ of expectations on Covid response as he insists ‘at every stage we tried to minimise loss of life’ but Keir Starmer claims PM’s ‘inaction led to needless deaths’
- Boris Johnson has hit back after Dominic Cummings’ bombshell evidence to MPs
- Ex-aide said ministers ‘fell disastrously short of the standards’ public expects
- But the PM rejected the claim and said ‘none of the decisions have been easy’
- Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer claimed the PM’s ‘inaction led to needless deaths’
The Prime Minister hit back at Mr Cummings after his former chief aide made a series of bombshell claims about the Government’s handling of the pandemic in a lengthy evidence session with MPs this morning.
The evidence was seized upon by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions as he claimed Mr Johnson’s ‘inaction led to needless deaths’ at the start of the crisis last year.
But Mr Johnson defended himself and said ‘none of the decisions have been easy’ and the Government’s focus has always been on trying to ‘minimise loss of life’ at every stage.
Boris Johnson has rejected Dominic Cummings’ claim that ministers ‘fell disastrously short’ of public expectations in their response to the coronavirus crisis
The Prime Minister hit back at Mr Cummings after his former chief aide made a series of bombshell claims about the Government’s response to the pandemic in a lengthy evidence session with MPs this morning
Mr Cummings told a joint session of the health and science select committees: ‘The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this.
‘When the public needed us most the Government failed. I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.’
Sir Keir began PMQs by asking Mr Johnson if he agreed with Mr Cummings’ claim that ministers had ‘failed’.
The PM replied: ‘The handling of this pandemic has been one of the most difficult things this country has had to do for a very long time and none of the decisions have been easy, to go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country to deal with a pandemic on this scale has been appallingly difficult.
‘We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life, to save lives and protect the NHS and we have followed the best scientific advice that we can.’
Sir Keir pointed out that Mr Johnson had previously referred to Mr Cummings as someone who acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’.
The Labour leader continued: ‘This morning that same adviser has said that senior ministers fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government and that lives were lost as a result.
‘Does the Prime Minister accept that central allegation and that his inaction led to needless deaths?’
Mr Johnson hit back and said: ‘No, Mr Speaker, and of course all those matters will be reviewed in the course of the public inquiry that I have announced.
‘I noticed that he is fixated as ever on the rearview mirror whilst we on this side of the House are getting on with our job of rolling out the vaccines, making sure that we protect the people of this country and that I think has been the decisive development on which people are rightly focusing.’
Mr Cummings claimed during his evidence that in February last year Mr Johnson regarded the coronavirus crisis as a ‘scare story’ and the PM had ‘described it as the new swine flu’.
Sir Keir said this was ‘one of the most serious points’ made by Mr Cummings because it suggested Mr Johnson had ‘failed to recognise the severity of this virus until it was too late’.
The Labour leader asked the PM if he recognised the ‘account of his own behaviour’ and Mr Johnson replied: ‘I don’t think anybody could credibly accuse this government of being complacent about the threat that this virus posed at any point.
‘We have worked flat out to minimise loss of life, to protect the NHS, while they have flip flopped from one position to another.’
Sir Keir Starmer claimed at PMQs that Mr Johnson’s ‘inaction led to needless deaths’ at the start of the crisis last year
Sir Keir also asked Mr Johnson about an allegation that he said ‘Covid is only killing 80-year-olds’ when he delayed a national lockdown last autumn.
The Labour leader asked the PM: ‘Now having been told of the evidence, does the Prime Minister accept that he used the words Covid was only killing 80-year-olds or words to that effect?’
Mr Johnson appeared to dodge the question as he said: ‘Mr Speaker, we saw what happened during the pandemic and particularly, he talks about the September lockdown and my approach to it and the vey, vey difficult decision that the country faced and of course this will be a matter for the inquiry to go into.
‘But we have an objective test in the sense there was a circuit breaker of the kind he described in Wales, it did not work and I am afraid Mr Speaker I am absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interests of the British people.’
Sir Keir replied: ‘I note the Prime Minister is careful not to refute these allegations.
‘What we are seeing today is the latest chapter of a story of confusion, chaos and deadly misjudgements from the government, from a Prime Minister governing by press release, not a plan.’