Covid inquiry: Sunak ‘deeply sorry’ for pandemic deaths
Sunak told the Covid inquiry that one of his roles was “making sure” Johnson was aware of the economic impact of his decision to lockdown the country
Prime minister Rishi Sunak (Kin Cheung/Pool via REUTERS)
Prime minister Rishi Sunak on Monday said he was “deeply sorry” for those who lost family during the Covid pandemic as he was quizzed about his actions as finance minister during the global health emergency.
Sunak is expected to face questions at the public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the crisis over whether his “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme to boost the struggling hospitality sector during the pandemic spurred the spread of Covid-19.
But he started the session by saying “how deeply sorry I am to all of those who lost loved ones, family members through the pandemic”.
He also explained that he had lost WhatsApp messages sent during the crisis as they had not transferred over to his new phones.
Boris Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, told the hearing last week that the app had “somehow” automatically erased its chat history on his phone for the first six months of 2020.
Sunak told the inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith that one of his roles during the pandemic was “making sure” Johnson was aware of the economic impact of his decision to lockdown the country as the virus spread.
He also played down suggestions he had been frustrated by Johnson changing his mind over policy, saying that he had only reacted to shifting scientific advice.
Sunak’s policy of subsidising the wages of workers hit by the pandemic, meanwhile, cost billions.
He accepted on Monday that “the impact of having to pay it back only comes well after the fact… and now everyone is grappling with the consequences”.
But it is Sunak’s scheme to get people using hospitality again in August 2020 by picking up a chunk of the bill that is likely to be the main focus of attention.
In a message disclosed earlier to the inquiry, one government scientific adviser, Angela McLean, called Sunak “Dr Death, the Chancellor” over concerns about the scheme.
However, cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Sunday that “it was an effective way of ensuring that the hospitality industry was supported through a very difficult period”. (AFP)