Covid inquiry: Boris Johnson says he never wanted to ‘let it rip’ — but admits view was ‘widespread’

Former prime minister Boris Johnson has denied wanting to let Covid “rip”, as he faces his second day of grilling at the official Covid inquiry.

This morning, Johnson was shown a series of extracts from former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries. In one passage, Vallance quotes Johnson as advocating a “let the virus rip” approach to Covid and being prepared to let the elderly “accept their fate”.

Lead inquiry lawyer Hugo Keith KC noted that the phrase was used more than once, with Vallance even recording the PM saying, in reference to the elderly: “They have had a good innings”

Under question from Keith, Johnson hit back, saying the implication that he wanted to delay a national lockdown to the last possible moment was “rubbish” and “completely wrong”.

He appeared to accuse the inquiry of “culling accounts” from people’s “jottings in meetings”.

“I had to challenge the consensus in these meetings”, he added.

Keith puts it to Johnson that his recorded views here led him to ignore his advisers about a circuit breaker in late 2020 and avoid a national lockdown until the last possible moment.

Johnson claimed this line of questioning “does not do justice to what we did. … to say we were remotely reconciled to fatalities across the country or that I believed it was acceptable to let it rip”.

Questioned further on the “let it rip” phrase, Johnson conceded:

I’m sad to say there are plenty of people who had used the phrase in conversation with me, I was trying to represent a view that was sadly quite widespread, that the approach might be to segment the most vulnerable and protect them and to allow the vast majority of the population to gradually acquire immunity.

He contended that the let it rip phrase “was common parlance at the time and remains so”, adding: “I don’t wish to be repetitive but this is exactly what you’d expect me to be talking about at this stage.”

In a further exchange, Boris Johnson was asked if he accepted the argument that a tier system should have been put in place earlier.

“I think that the truth is that we already, for a long time, had a kind of tiering in the sense that some places… remained under measures for a long time”, Johnson responded.

He added “It took a while to work out the… system, and to work out how to move places up and down [of tiers].

“I think one of the lessons of the whole experience is that when you set up these artificial boundaries between epidemiological areas using council boundaries or whatever you’re going to create huge problems.”

“We ran into those.”

Boris Johnson tells Covid inquiry his job was to control ‘challenging characters’ — as it happened