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Boris Johnson to face start of two-day grilling at Covid inquiry

Boris Johnson arrives to give evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Boris Johnson arrives to give evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Boris Johnson will face the first of two days of questioning over his handling of the pandemic when he appears before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

It comes after the former prime minister denied deleting WhatsApp messages after it emerged he had not been able to provide the inquiry with any communications from February to June 2020.

The highly anticipated appearance by Mr Johnson is expected to see him admit that his government made mistakes in its response to the virus, but argue that its decisions ultimately saved lives.

An advan outside the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London
An advan outside the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

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

His style of government at the height of the crisis has been criticised by former colleagues, while the atmosphere inside Downing Street has been described as “toxic”.

On Wednesday’s morning broadcast round, Home Office minister Chris Philp joked “it’s the first time Boris has ever been early for anything” after the former prime minister arrived at the inquiry venue around three hours before the start of the hearing.

With Mr Johnson likely to be grilled on the evidence of ex-colleagues, a report in The Times revealed that he has not been able to provide the inquiry with any communications spanning the early days of the pandemic and most of the first lockdown.

Protesters wait outside the inquiry
Protesters wait outside the inquiry (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The paper reported that he told Baroness Heather Hallet’s inquiry that technical experts have not been able to retrieve WhatsApp messages from between January 31 and June 7 2020.

Technical experts had been trying to recover messages from his old mobile phone to hand them 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.

He then reportedly forgot the passcode, but it was believed that technical experts had succeeded in helping him recover messages for the inquiry.

A spokesman for the former prime minister said: “Boris Johnson has fully co-operated 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.”

Baroness Heather Hallett
Baroness Heather Hallett is the chief of the inquiry (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/PA)

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.

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

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”.

The relatives of those who died from the virus will listen closely to Mr Johnson’s evidence. Weeks of hearings have prompted renewed questions about the handling of the pandemic by the Government.

Former senior adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed Mr Johnson asked scientists whether Covid could be destroyed by blowing a “special hairdryer” up people’s 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 has previously denied.

Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference with Sir Patrick Vallance
Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference with Sir Patrick Vallance (Hollie Adams/PA)

Meanwhile, extracts from the diaries of former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance suggested Mr Johnson wanted to let Covid “rip” and believed it was just “nature’s way of dealing with old people”.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said Mr Johnson and his inner circle were “basically feral”, in messages shown to the inquiry.

Other key figures have defended aspects of the former Prime Minister’s record, including Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.

In an extract of his written statement published in January, the former prime minister said it was his “duty” to weigh up whether lockdown had done more harm than good.

He said there were “simply no good choices” available to government at the time, but that he “always attached the highest priority to human life and public health”.

According to the Telegraph, Mr Johnson also wants the inquiry to urgently look at the harms caused by Covid lockdowns.