Rishi Sunak downplayed his own role in managing the pandemic
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended today the decisions he made during the pandemic Covid-19 and tried to downplay the role he himself played in managing the crisis, as finance minister at the time.
Sunak’s testimony to the committee on Covid-19 came at a critical time for his government, ahead of a vote on his new plan to deport migrants in Rwanda, which is considered “too weak” by the right-wing Conservatives .
Like Boris Johnson a few days ago, Sunak began his testimony by apologizing and expressing “deep regret” for “all those who lost loved ones, family members or who suffered in various ways during the pandemic”.
The pandemic has killed more than 230,000 people in the UK and the committee is currently looking into the political management of the crisis when the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus first emerged.
From the beginning of his testimony, Sunak insisted that Boris Johnson was the one making the decisions and that his own role, as finance minister, was to provide information as to the economic consequences of the proposed measures. He denied that there was any “clash between public health and the economy” but that the crisis had “many socio-economic impacts, an impact on education, mental health, the justice system, as well as purely economic impacts”.
Sunak has been criticized for measures taken in the summer of 2020 to encourage citizens to go to restaurants to eat, such as the “Eat Out to Help” program. The government’s scientific advisers had rejected this and testified to the commission of inquiry that this program contributed to the emergence of the second wave of the pandemic in the fall of 2020. One of these scientists, Angela Maclean, called Sunak “Doctor Death” in messaging with her colleague on the WhatsApp application. Former England chief medical officer Chris Whitty has ironically dubbed Sunak’s program “Eat Out to Help the Virus”.
Rishi Sunak assured that there is no evidence that his program, which started in August 2020, is responsible for the increased number of cases in the following months.
“My primary purpose was to protect the millions of jobs of vulnerable people employed in this sector,” he said.
During the investigation, former government advisers also accused Sunak of trying to ignore or downplay the views of scientists. In a written memo former government science adviser Patrick Vallance quoted Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings as saying Rishi Sunak “believes we can just let people die and it’s not serious”.
In August 2022, in the midst of the Conservative succession campaign following Johnson’s resignation, Sunak described handing over power to scientists as a “problem” in an interview with The Spectator newspaper.
The work of the independent commission of inquiry, chaired by former judge Heather Hallett, will last until 2026.
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