Investigation into Covid: Scientists did not approve of Johnson’s decision to implement ‘eat out to help out’ initiative
Boris Johnson stated during the Covid investigation that he believed Rishi Sunak’s “eat out to help out” program for the hospitality industry had been approved by government experts, but was taken aback to discover that it had not been.
During the inquiry on Monday, Sunak may face challenges due to evidence indicating that it would have been standard procedure for advisers like Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance to receive briefings. Johnson stated that he had assumed this was the case.
Johnson refuted allegations that his administration implemented lockdown measures too late during the spring and fall of 2020, stating that there were already existing measures in place and that the emergence of new Covid variants was unforeseen.
When questioned about Sunak’s program, which provided financial assistance for dining at restaurants and cafes, Johnson stated that the plan was considered safe due to the decreased number of infections during the summer.
“When I first received it, it wasn’t portrayed as an acceleration, but rather as a way to make sense of the freedoms we had already granted,” he stated.
Previous evidence showed that the plan was not pre-approved by scientific advisors, and that Matt Hancock, who was the health secretary at the time, was only made aware of it on the day it was presented to the cabinet. England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, later referred to the plan as “eat out to help the virus”.
Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry counsel, asked Johnson if he believed that Whitty and Vallance, the government’s top scientific advisers, were aware of the scheme.
Johnson stated that the topic had been brought up numerous times in meetings, and he assumes they were in attendance. He is puzzled as to how such a widely known issue could have been overlooked by the scientific advisors.
Keith mentioned that Johnson had also stated in his testimony to the inquiry that he believed the scheme had been discussed with Vallance and Whitty. In response, the ex-prime minister stated: “I included that in my statement because I assumed it had been discussed with them. I am confused as to how such an important matter could have been overlooked.”
Johnson’s statement adds even more stress on Sunak, who has been scheduled to provide testimony to the investigation on Monday.
Previously, it was mentioned that the eat out to help out scheme, which cost £850 million, was implemented without any prior discussion. This caught Vallance and others by surprise.
Sunak will be asked about the contents of his witness statement, which had previously been partially read by Keith during earlier testimony. In the statement, Sunak stated that he did not remember any concerns being raised about the scheme during discussions with other ministers, including the CMO (Whitty) and CSA (Vallance).
While giving his testimony, Vallance respectfully but confidently challenged this statement, stating that he would have been “extremely shocked” if Sunak was unaware of the concerns raised by scientists.
Sunak has been portrayed as excessively eager to reopen the economy, with a top scientist even mocking him as “Dr Death the chancellor” in a critical message.