Boris Johnson refuses call for coronavirus public inquiry while country is still 'working flat out' to tackle crisis

Now is not the right time to announce an inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic as the country is still “working flat out” to bring the coronavirus under control, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister today faced questions from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats over when an investigation into the handling of the pandemic would be held, but he said now was not the time to “consecrate the energies and efforts of officialdom” to launch an official probe.

Mr Johnson promised in July that an “independent inquiry” would be held. At the time, the Prime Minister said: "Of course we will seek to learn the lessons of this pandemic in the future and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened."

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But in the Commons earlier today Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “50,000 people have died since November 11 – 50,000 deaths in 77 days.

File photo dated 07/01/2021 of nurses working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in St George's Hospital in Tooting, south-west London. Photo: PA

“That’s a scarcely believable toll on the British people.

“In isolation any of these mistakes are perhaps understandable. Taken together it’s a damning indictment of how the Government has handled this pandemic.”

And he said Mr Johnson will have questions to answer over this.

He told MPs: “In due course, there will be a public inquiry and the Prime Minister will have to answer questions, but I hope that he can finally answer this very simple and direct question because yesterday the Prime Minister was maintaining the Government had done, his words, ‘everything we could to save lives’.

“So is he really saying to those grieving families that their loss was just inevitable and that none of the 100,000 deaths could have been avoided?”

Mr Johnson said: “I’ve said there will be a time to reflect and to analyse, to learn lessons and to repair. But I may say to him that I believe the biggest mistake that he has made is in seeking continually to attack what the Government has been trying to do at every opportunity, supporting one week and then attacking the very same policy the next week.

“And he complains about confusion of messages, how much has he actually done as leader of the Opposition to reassure the public, for instance about NHS Test and Trace which has done a very good job I notice, confounding him for the third time, what has he done to reassure people about messaging rather than attacking, confusion and trying to sow doubt about what the Government is doing?

“I think there was a very different path open to him at the beginning of this pandemic and I think it’s a great pity that he hasn’t taken it.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey asked the PM to “at least tell the country that he will launch this inquiry some time this year, so we can find out why our country has seen the worst deaths rates from Covid in the world, learn the lessons and give bereaved families the answers and the justice he owes them”.

However Mr Johnson said that “the entire British State is working flat out to bring that virus under control and to get us through this pandemic and out the other side and now”.

He said: “As I’ve told him before, [it is] not the right time to consecrate the energies and efforts of officialdom, it would be huge, to an inquiry… Yes of course there will be time to learn lessons, to reflect and to understand and to prepare.”

Earlier, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick admitted that “when we look back” on the coronavirus pandemic he is “sure” there are “lessons to be learned” adding he regrets the early restrictions on people attending funerals.

He told BBC Breakfast: “What I can assure you, because I’ve been in those meetings with the Prime Minister, is that he’s always taken great pains to listen to scientific opinion, all sides of the debate.”

Mr Jenrick added: “I think one of the things that most affected me were the restrictions on people being able to go to funerals very early on in the pandemic.

“It was partly the responsibility of my department and we acted to change that so we can show greater care and compassion to people who are bereaved, we have to learn lessons, both within the response, and afterwards.”

He added he is “proud” of how the Government has “looked after the most vulnerable in society like the homeless and the shielded”.