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Rishi Sunak set to be grilled on lockdown doubts at Covid inquiry

Rishi Sunak set to be grilled on lockdown doubts at Covid inquiry


Rishi Sunak is set to be grilled about his controversial Eat Out to Help scheme and his doubts about lockdown curbs when he appears at the Covid inquiry on Monday.

The PM – fighting to save his premiership after failing to appease Tory MPs with his Rwanda legislation – will come under pressure to explain his actions as chancellor during the pandemic.

Mr Sunak is expected to be questioned about his previous claims that scientific advisers were handed too much power, and his views on the damage done by lockdowns.

In an interview during the Tory leadership contest last August, the former chancellor said the “problem” had been: “If you empower all these independent people you’re screwed.”

Mr Sunak also told The Spectator that he “wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-offs” of Covid lockdowns – including its impact on the economy, schools and NHS waiting lists.

The Tory leader, Boris Johnson’s chancellor during the Covid crisis, is viewed as pushing against a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020, advocating for the opening up of the economy.

The former top No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings has accused Mr Sunak of believing it was time to “just let people die and that’s okay”.

The former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallace made the note of Mr Cummings’ claim following a “shambolic” meeting about Covid restrictions in October 2020.

Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme has faced repeated criticism at the Covid inquiry

(PA Archive)

Mr Sunak also faces awkward questions about whether he sought any scientific advice about the potential impact of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to boost the restaurant trade during a resurgence of the virus in late summer of 2020.

Prof Dame Angela McLean – now chief scientific adviser to the government – referred to Mr Sunak as “Dr Death” during the pandemic, WhatsApp messages have revealed.

The senior official appeared to share her concerns about the impact of Mr Sunak’s push to keep economic activity with epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds during a meeting in September 2020.

Then-health secretary Matt Hancock told the inquiry he was not told about the scheme until the day it was announced and “argued very strongly” against the possibility of extending it at the end of August 2020.

The inquiry has also heard that former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick, chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and their former deputies Dame Angela and Sir Jonathan Van-Tam were also not told about the scheme.

Prof Whitty called the sceheme “eat out to help out the virus”, the inquiry has heard. And Sir Jonathan said: “I would have said ‘This is exactly encouraging what we’ve been trying to suppress and get on top of in the last few months’. So it didn’t feel sensible to me.”

Mr Sunak’s written statement has said he did “not recall any concerns” about the £850m subsidy scheme to encourage people to return to restaurants. But Sir Patrick has said he would be “very surprised” if ministers were not warned of the risks.

Rishi Sunak (right) also faces questions about his relationship with Boris Johnson and top No 10 officials

(Getty Images)

The Tory leader may also face questions about the Partyagte scandal which helped end Mr Johnson’s premiership. The former chancellor was fined along with Mr Johnson for attending a gathering for the then-PM’s 56th birthday at No 10 in June 2020 in breach of regulations.

He could also be asked about his relationship with Mr Johnson and with Mr Cummings, and whether there was a “toxic” and misogynistic culture at No 10 – and some have claimed in their testimony.

Mr Sunak’s appearance comes as the Metropolitan Police has closed an investigation into whether Covid rules were breached at an event in parliament in December 2020 which featured senior Tories.

The event on 8 December 2020 was reportedly arranged by Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing to celebrate the birthdays of Tory MP Virginia Crosbie and peer Baroness Jenkin while London was in tier 2 measures that restricted indoor socialising.

The Met said officers concluded that “it did not meet the threshold for the referral of any fixed penalty notices” and there would be no further action.

It brings to an end the force’s investigation into alleged breaches of Covid regulations.

In a statement, the Met said: “Our approach to the assessment of these allegations has been consistent throughout. The individuals affected have been told there will be no further action.”



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