Boris’ former PPS Martin Reynolds has been speaking to the Covid Inquiry today. Apart from saying Boris blew “hot and cold” on lockdown decisions, Reynolds apologised “unreservedly” multiple times for organising bring-your-own-booze parties at Number 10 despite what Lee Cain said posed a “rather substantial comms risk“. Hugo Keith KC wrote that “for the public whose loved ones were dying in their droves this caused incredible offence“. Reynolds: “As I say I’m deeply sorry for that“. Sobering…
According to The Times:
The Cabinet Office has passed concerns to the Metropolitan Police and Thames Valley police after several visits to the prime minister’s grace and favour residence — as well as new allegations about his behaviour in Downing Street — were highlighted during preparations for a public inquiry into the pandemic.
The privileges committee, which is investigating claims that Johnson misled parliament over lockdown-breaking parties, has been informed. Johnson was made aware of the concerns last week and has since written to the Cabinet Office denying rule breaking.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Information came to light during the process of preparing evidence for submission to the Covid inquiry. It was identified as part of the normal disclosure review of potentially relevant documents being undertaken by the legal team for inquiry witnesses. In line with obligations in the civil service code, this material has been passed to the relevant authorities and it is now a matter for them.”
No one is above the law, nevertheless this reeks of political vindictiveness. The Cabinet Office answers to the Prime Minister. Is it really conceivable they would act without Rishi’s knowledge?
UPDATE: Statement from Boris’s office is combative:
Glasgow Sheriff Court has whacked ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier with a 270-hour community payback order for boarding a long-distance train during the pandemic while knowing she had Covid. The MP pleaded guilty last month, having already lost the SNP whip and been sitting as an independent. Given she’s only been given community service, this doesn’t necessarily mean a by-election is on the cards after all...
Rishi Sunak has finally managed to grab the agenda during the leadership race, and finally not for a u-turn or a strategic cock up. Interviewed in The Spectator Sunak argues SAGE made bad predictions based on botched modelling and No. 10 never allowed a debate to be had on the cost-benefit of lockdown measures – particularly on closing schools. A culture of fear was decided on by the top of government and their scientific advisors, which was then set in stone. “Dissenting voices were filtered out and a see-no-evil policy was applied.”
While lockdown was known to be “by necessity, a gamble”, Rishi, echoing Steve Baker, says cost-benefit analyses were never made:
“I wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off,’ says Sunak. ‘The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: oh, there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy.”
The main problem, he appears to diagnose, was in elevating SAGE to “a committee that had the power to decide whether the country would lock down or not.” The problem was even more concentrated than the entire SAGE committee, however. Rishi observes that, whoever wrote their meetings’ minutes – deciding what discussions and facts to include – was essentially setting the nation’s entire public health policy.
“For a year, UK government policy – and the fate of millions –was being decided by half-explained graphs cooked up by outside academics.”
Rishi concludes “This is the problem… If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed… We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did.” He concludes had we not done so, and had we acknowledged trade-offs from the beginning “we could be in a very different place… it could have been shorter. Different. Quicker.”
He doesn’t name names when accusing fellow cabinet colleagues of not speaking out, which is probably why those in the know aren’t calling him out for rose-tinted hindsight. Guido asked a source close to discussions happening around the first lockdown, who said the above is indeed what Sunak was saying internally at the time. The source also agreed with the problem of giving unelected officials so much power in deciding what ministers saw and what options they were given:
“There were often times the officials would do a “pre-meeting”, decide what they wanted to push through, then ram it through in the main meeting with the PM/ministers”
This process wasn’t helped when, on occasion, ministers would go into the key Covid meeting and be handed a set of 100 papers by officials, with no chance of being able to ingest them before a decision was taken. Guido can barely wait for tonight’s Julia Hartley-Brewer-hosted husting in East Anglia…
Read the full account on the Spectator here.
Now that Nadhim Zahawi has said the government made “a mistake” in closing schools during the pandemic, the Labour frontbench is confused over how to oppose them given their own record throughout the last two years. Appearing on Sunday Morning, Ashworth was asked whether, in hindsight, he agrees with Zahawi that schools should have stayed open throughout the lockdowns:
“We were always very clear that school closures had to be absolutely the last resort. We never wanted to see schools closed… we always wanted schools to stay open where they could.”
A brief history lesson for Jon: just hours before the third January 2021 lockdown was introduced, Sir Keir told both Sky and ITV in January 2021 that while school closures “should be a last resort”, it was “inevitable” that they would and “[their] closure should be part of the national restrictions… as soon as possible”. For Sir Keir, that meant primary schools too.
Both Ashworth and Starmer claimed closures should be a last resort, yet now the dust has settled, the party doesn’t seem willing to say if they made the right call – especially during the third lockdown. Zahawi’s admitted he thinks it was a mistake. What does Starmer think?
Following yesterday’s three-hour Cabinet meeting that decided nothing, details are now emerging of who opposed and supported the SAGE-desired lockdown. The Times and Telegraph have the most comprehensive write-ups, reporting Rishi, Steve Barclay and Grant Shapps were those leading the sceptics’ charge. The Times reports Jacob Rees-Mogg had a prolonged argument with Vallance about their modelling, telling Boris to trust the people rather than the scientists. Truss, Kwarteng, Alister Jack, Nadhim Zahawi and Nigel Adams are all also reportedly sceptical about the threat of Omicron…
On the other side of the divide backing restrictions, according to The Telegraph, are (unsurprisingly) Javid and Gove; Nadine Dorries and Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke. We can only presume the PM also errs towards this group. There’s set to be one more Cabinet before Christmas day that could still decide to recall MPs before New Year. The one Cabinet meeting it could be acceptable to have wine and cheese at…