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Covid inquiry – live: Boris Johnson to be grilled over pandemic response today

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Related video: Matt Hancock denies lying about having pandemic plan

Boris Johnson will appear before the Covid inquiry for the first time on Wednesday to be grilled on the government’s response to the pandemic.

In a much-anticipated evidence session, the former prime minister will be questioned about the UK’s late lockdown and respond to criticisms from some of his closest aides about his leadership style.

Lee Cain, his No 10 director of communications,  said the pandemic was the “wrong crisis” for Mr Johnson’s “skill set”, describing dither and delay – a criticism made by multiple other witnesses to the inquiry.

Last week allies of Mr Johnson said that he would issue and “unreserved apology” and admit his government was “initially far too complacent” about the threats posed by the virus.

According to The Times, he will also give his backing to back Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, who has also been repeatedly criticised by other witnesses.

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Mr Hancock appeared in front of the inquiry last week, and was questioned over his handling of the Covid crisis.

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Boris Johnson not a panto villain – former adviser says ahead of Covid inquiry

Guto Harri, who served as Boris Johnson’s director of communications in 2022, told Sky News Boris Johnson set up this inquiry and “will take it seriously”.

“He’s not going there to settle old scores or to name-call people who’ve been rude about him.

“He’s going there very seriously, having submitted a vast swathe of documents and a very detailed statement to explain the context in which unbelievably difficult and unprecedented judgement calls about lives and livelihoods and so much else had to be made.

“Does he think he got it 100% right? Of course not. But it would be a terrible mistake if his appearance at the inquiry was treated like some sort of Christmas pantomime and he was the pantomime villain.”

Barney Davis6 December 2023 03:32

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What has Boris been doing since leaving No 10?

Here we look at his life since leaving the political spotlight:

Alex Ross6 December 2023 02:30

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Boris Johnson’s Covid charge sheet: from Partygate and flip-flopping to ‘letting it rip’

Security is being beefed up at the Covid inquiry as the former PM finally faces grilling on decisions he made during pandemic later this morning.

Adam Forrest The Independent’s Political Correspondent reports:

Adam Forrest6 December 2023 01:32

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Labour say Johnson’s WhatsApp messages unavailability ‘typical’ ahead of inquiry

Labour frontbencher Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was “typical and will be deeply disappointing to families who have lost loved ones and deserve nothing less than full disclosure”.

Boris Johnson has denied deleting WhatsApp messages after it emerged that the former prime minister has not been able to provide the Covid-19 inquiry with any communications from February to June 2020.

It comes after the Times newspaper reported that Mr Johnson, who will begin two days of questioning at the inquiry on Wednesday, has told Lady Hallet’s probe that technical experts have not been able to retrieve WhatsApp messages between January 31 and June 7 – a time period spanning the early days of the pandemic and most of the first lockdown.

Technical experts had been trying to recover messages from his old mobile phone in order to hand them over to the inquiry. Mr Johnson was originally told to stop using the device over security concerns after it emerged his number had been online for years.

Barney Davis5 December 2023 23:30

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Boris Johnson: Where is he now and is he still MP?

Barney Davis5 December 2023 21:15

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Boris Johnson refutes claims he deleted vital WhatsApp messages ahead of inquiry

A spokesman for the former prime minister said: “Boris Johnson has fully cooperated with the Inquiry’s disclosure process and has submitted hundreds of pages of material

“He has not deleted any messages.

“The Times report refers to a technical issue in recovery of material that is for the technical team to address.”

Mr Johnson was advised to stop using the phone and not access it again on security grounds while serving as prime minister in May 2021.

It had emerged his number had been freely available online for 15 years.

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The device he used during crucial periods of the coronavirus pandemic was believed to contain messages relating to the ordering of the lockdowns in 2020.

Barney Davis5 December 2023 20:55

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Don’t be fooled by Boris the bamboozler – he will be ready for his star Covid inquiry turn Johnson will put up a beguiling performance, we can be sure, writes his biographer, Anthony Seldon.

Johnson will put up a beguiling performance, we can be sure, writes his biographer, Anthony Seldon.

Expect some carefully calculated contrition, wit and self-deprecation – and a forensic response prepared by some of the best lawyers in the land.

Anthony Seldon5 December 2023 20:50

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Boris Johnson fails to provide inquiry WhatsApps from first lockdown

The Times is reporting that Boris Johnson has told the inquiry that experts were unable to retrieve any of his WhatApp messages from January 31 to June 7.

“The technical team has been unable to determine the cause of this,” he has told the inquiry denying he deleted them.

Johnson said that the content of the deleted messages which cover the run up to the first lockdown was likely to have been provided by others.

The Independent reported how a series of scathing WhatsApp messages sent between Boris Johnson’s top team have accused the former prime minister of making it “impossible” to tackle Covid, as he created chaos and changed direction “every day”.

The extraordinary messages sent between the likes of Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain and Simon Case reveal the strong disquiet among Mr Johnson’s advisers, with Mr Case, the cabinet secretary and top civil servant, at one point declaring: “I am at the end of my tether.”

Barney Davis5 December 2023 19:50

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Did Boris Johnson take a holiday at crucial time in Pandemic?

Boris Johnson could be grilled on his decision to take a 10-day holiday in February 2020, when Covid cases had been confirmed in the UK.

The inquiry has already heard that the former prime minister was not updated on the virus, missing two COBRA meetings in that period.

Dominic Cummings has said Boris was focussed on writing a book about Shakespeare – something Mr Johnson has denied – and finalising divorce and engagement to Carrie.

He is also likely to be asked if he really said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than go back into a lockdown in autumn 2020. He has always denied this.

Barney Davis5 December 2023 19:00

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Boris Johnson to face two-day Covid grilling but will he admit mistakes?

The former prime minister is expected to admit his government made some mistakes in its response to the deadly virus but will argue that his decisions ultimately saved lives.

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Mr Johnson will also insist that he followed the advice of scientists and did not lock down the country more quickly because herd immunity was initially favoured, the Telegraph reported.

His style of government at the height of the crisis has been sharply criticised by former colleagues, not least his ex-chief adviser turned nemesis Dominic Cummings.

Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson asked scientists whether Covid could be destroyed by blowing a “special hair dryer” up noses.

He also alleged that Mr Johnson said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than hit the economy with further restrictions – a claim supported by former senior aide Lord Udny-Lister, but which Mr Johnson previously denied.

Barney Davis5 December 2023 18:10

Source: Independent

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