From Eat Out to Help Out to ‘let it rip’: The key Covid revelations from Boris Johnson today

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Boris Johnson fell silent for three minutes at the Covid inquiry on Thursday morning as he was confronted by all the times he talked about “letting it rip” through the population.

The former prime minister has been in largely good spirits responding to questioning from Hugo Keith KC, the probe’s lead counsel.

But Mr Johnson looked distinctly uneasy as he was shown five damning diary extracts by Sir Patrick Vallance.

The extracts included Sir Patrick’s recollection of Mr Johnson saying the elderly have “had a good innings” and should be allowed to catch the virus. They also showed Mr Johnson saying “get Covid, live longer”, in reference to the average age at which people died from the virus.

On a brutal morning for the former PM, here are the key takeaways from his second day at the Covid inquiry:

Boris Johnson has backtracked on his witness statement

Mr Johnson, who quit as an MP before he could be booted out for lying to parliament, has backtracked on his witness statement to the official Covid inquiry.

He was grilled by Mr Keith over the claim he knew the controversial Eat Out to Help Out scheme was discussed with top scientists Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty before it was launched.

Having claimed in his written submission to the probe that it was, when questioned he backtracked, saying instead that he “assumed” it must have been.

Both Sir Chris and Sir Patrick have said they were blind-sided by the hospitality scheme.

Boris Johnson called his own rules “stupid”

Covid inquiry counsel Hugo Keith referred to a diary entry in Sir Patrick Vallance’s evening notes “where you (Mr Johnson) exclaim in frustration, but plainly perhaps not to be taken too seriously, ‘Who made these stupid rules?’”

Boris Johnson replied: “Yeah.”

Mr Keith asked about any debate or discussion around the workability of regulations and any confusion which arose around them.

Mr Johnson said: “We did try to make the rules as simple as we could but the problem was the effort to get people to self-isolate, to avoid contact – because of the complexities of human life – became extremely complicated.”

Boris Johnson believes Partygate has been misrepresented

Mr Johnson mounted an incredible defence of his lockdown-breaching behaviour - and that of Whitehall officials - during the pandemic, saying the Partygate scandal has been mis-represented by the media.

The former prime minister said the way repeated gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic have been presented is a “travesty of the truth”.

And Mr Johnson told the Covid inquiry: “The version of events that has entered the popular consciousness about what is supposed to have happened in Downing Street is a million miles from the reality of what actually happened in No10.”

He added that some of the representations of what happened have been “absolutely absurd”.

Boris Johnson called Partygate backlash “insane” and said: “Let’s smash on.”

Mr Johnson admitted that he should have told people to behave better in Downing Street during the pandemic, but added “now we must smash on”.

In a December 2021 WhatsApp, as the scandal was growing, Mr Johnson told cabinet secretary Simon Case that he was “really sorry” for the “grief” it was causing him. “This whole business is insane,” he said.

Mr Case replied to the PM: “Thanks PM, it is a bit grim, but hopefully it will pass.”

And the former prime minister wrote back: “In retrospect we all should have told people - above all [comms chief] Lee Cain - to think about their behaviour in No10 and how it would look.

“But now we must smash on.”

Boris Johnson said “F*** YOU Daily Mail”

Mr Johnson, now a Daily Mail columnist, apologised profusely after the inquiry heard he said “F*** YOU Daily Mail” in one meeting during lockdown.

Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries reveal he said: “Everyone says the rule of six is so unfair, punishing the young but “F*** YOU Daily Mail - look this is all about stopping deaths.

“We need to tell them.”

Mr Johnson quickly apologised for his language after the diary extract was read out to the inquiry.

And he profusely apologised to the “great organisation” he now writes a weekly column for.

“I am sorry to have said this about the Daily Mail," Mr Johnson said.

He added: “I don’t think that was meant to be a general criticism of that great organisation [they must have] said something that had wound me up about the rule of six or whatever.”

“Let it rip” was a phrase in “common parlance”, Boris Johnson claimed

Mr Johnson mounted an emotive defence of his repeated use of the phrase “let it rip” during the pandemic, arguing he was simply trying to “speak for everybody” who was not in the scientific meetings.

The former PM claimed the phrase was used “plenty” in conversations with him and said “you would expect me to be talking about that”.

He went on to say he “needed to have the counterarguments” to explain to the public why “letting it rip” would be a mistake.

Tiers did not work, Boris Johnson admits

The ex-PM said he was “very sad about it”, but that his tiered local lockdown system did not work.

Mr Johnson said it was “worth a try”, but the local restrictions became “invidious” as local areas found themselves in varying degrees of lockdowns.

And he was asked by Mr Keith about then health secretary Matt Hancock’s claim that he “knew” the system would not work. But Mr Johnson said he did not remember being told as much by Mr Hancock.

Boris Johnson was “absolutely terrified” of Omicron

Mr Johnson said the Omicron Covid variant was “absolutely terrifying”.

“It was very transmissible. And there seemed a real risk that it would do a huge huge amount of damage to people,” Mr Johnson told the Covid inquiry.

Boris Johnson thinks he and Nicola Sturgeon “got on very well”

The former PM insisted that he and the ex-Scottish first minister “got on very well and had a friendly relationship” - despite a claim from one of his top aides that they “generally didn't like each other very much”.

In his evidence, Mr Johnson’s old chief of staff Lord Lister said: “There was quite a lot of tension between the Prime Minister and the First Minister, they had no real personal relationship of any kind other than that they, I think, generally didn't like each other very much.”

But Mr Johnson told the Covid inquiry he was “sorry to hear Eddie said that”, and insisted he and Ms Sturgeon “got on very well and had a friendly relationship”.

Britain had no plans to shut down schools

Boris Johnson has admitted the government was “not prepared suddenly to be forced to close schools”.

The former prime minister told the Covid inquiry the pandemic was a “once in a century event” and it was “fair” to say there was no plan in place to close schools.