In a recent revelation to the COVID inquiry, Boris Johnson’s longtime aide, Edward Udny-Lister, confirmed that in September 2020, amidst rising R numbers and a proposed circuit breaker, the Prime Minister expressed a strong aversion to imposing another lockdown, stating that he would rather “let the bodies pile high.”
This statement aligns with earlier reports in The Daily Mail and allegations from Dominic Cummings in 2021. It’s worth noting that Mr. Johnson had previously denied making such remarks both on television and in the House of Commons.
This controversial comment played a significant role in Mr. Johnson’s resignation from the Commons as an MP due to accusations of misleading the House of Commons. Lord Udny-Lister, who had worked closely with Johnson during his tenure as mayor of London and as foreign secretary, was one of the key figures in Downing Street, ultimately succeeding Cummings as chief of staff.
Lord Udny-Lister shed light on the challenges faced within Downing Street during the early days of the pandemic, emphasizing the toxicity that permeated the working environment. He noted that Cummings’ relationships with others had become strained. Additionally, messages released to the inquiry revealed internal criticisms of the government’s handling of the situation, with Mark Sedwill, the former head of the civil service, expressing skepticism about the leadership’s capabilities.
Lord Udny-Lister also touched on the issue of involving devolved administrations in decision-making within Downing Street. There was a prevailing sentiment that decisions made by Scotland were often introduced early for political reasons, leading to a sense of distrust and dislike within the team.
During Simon Ridley’s testimony, who headed the COVID-19 taskforce in Number 10, it was revealed that the taskforce was caught off guard by Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative, indicating that the decision was made independently by the chancellor and the Prime Minister.
Finally, a revealing email from Alexandra Burns, a Number 10 official, highlighted the need for an “overall strategy” for care homes, emphasizing the critical nature of the situation. A diary entry from Sir Patrick Vallance, the former chief scientific adviser, further underscored the challenges faced within Downing Street, with Mr. Johnson expressing frustration and Mr. Sunak raising objections to certain measures.