Boris Johnson will reportedly admit he “unquestionably made mistakes” in his handling of the pandemic at the Covid inquiry next week.
But the former prime minister will also argue that the timing of the lockdowns he imposed ended up saving “tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives”, according to the Times.
Johnson is expected to say that without those measures, thousands more people would have had “miserable and unnecessary deaths, some of them in hospital car parks and corridors” due to the health service becoming overwhelmed by the virus.
Johnson’s testimony comes in the wake of evidence from former cabinet colleagues, government scientists and ex-advisers that has been critical of his professionalism. The former chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance told the inquiry that Johnson was often “bamboozled” by the scientific research on Covid, while Sajid Javid has said Downing Street was “dysfunctional” and run in effect by Dominic Cummings.
Johnson is expected to barely mention Cummings when he appears before the inquiry next week. Cummings has been an outspoken critic of Johnson since leaving his role as the prime minister’s de facto chief of staff in late 2020 in an acrimonious split.
Johnson will also acknowledge that he and his government were “far too complacent” when first alerted of the virus in January 2020, according to the Times. He is expected to say that his first instinct was to compare it to milder outbreaks such as BSE, Sars and bird flu.
Cummings has accused Johnson of being distracted in early 2020 and of taking a holiday to write a book on Shakespeare, which the former prime minister will reportedly deny. Johnson will likely be questioned during the inquiry as to why he missed five emergency Cobra meetings in the run-up to the first national lockdown.
Criticism of his government’s approach to the pandemic has not just fallen on Johnson. In her testimony to the inquiry, the former civil servant Helen MacNamara said the ex-health secretary Matt Hancock showed “nuclear levels of confidence” but regularly told colleagues in Downing Street things “they later discovered weren’t true”.
But Johnson is reportedly expected to back the under-fire Hancock by saying he did a “good job in very difficult circumstances”.
The Times said Johnson also planned to defend Sunak’s “eat out to help out” scheme, a government-backed discount provision that was designed to support the hospitality sector after the first lockdown.
Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Vallance have both said they did not know about the scheme until it was announced, but Johnson will reportedly contradict their testimony by saying the proposal was properly discussed with them.
The former prime minister is also expected to say the UK’s obesity problem made tackling the pandemic harder, the Telegraph reported. The paper said that in the draft of his written statement to the inquiry, Johnson said a number of health issues affecting the UK had put the country at a disadvantage.
Johnson is likely to be asked about lockdown-breaching parties that were held in Downing Street. The Partygate scandal triggered Johnson’s exit from high office last year and eventual decision in June, after an investigation by lawmakers into whether he misled parliament over the gatherings, to quit as an MP.
Sunak is expected to give evidence in person before Christmas.