Boris Johnson to Face Covid Inquiry Over Pandemic Handling

(Bloomberg) -- Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face two days of questioning over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the latest senior figure to give evidence to the UK’s Covid-19 inquiry.

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Johnson is expected to admit his government made mistakes and will apologize to victims, a person familiar with his evidence said. The former premier is due to appear at 10 a.m. London time on Wednesday.

Johnson’s evidence session is the most keenly awaited of all the inquiry’s hearings so far, as retired judge and cross-bench peer Heather Hallett probes the UK’s response to a pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people in Britain.

Public hearings so far have painted a picture of a chaotic and ill-prepared 10 Downing Street, with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock describing the culture as “toxic.” Johnson’s former senior aide Dominic Cummings told the inquiry that he and other officials thought the premier should have sacked Hancock, while another former senior official, Helen MacNamara, said pandemic rules were broken daily in Johnson’s Downing Street offices.

Johnson is planning to argue that he got the major decisions right, such as on acquiring vaccines independently of the EU, and will say that he followed scientific advice at all times leading up to the first lockdown in 2020, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the hearing hasn’t been held yet.

A spokesperson for Johnson said he is looking forward to assisting the inquiry with its important work.

Sam Power, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sussex, said the hearing will be significant for Johnson’s chances of restoring his damaged reputation and making a return to front-line politics after he quit Parliament earlier this year.

“Boris Johnson has made little secret of his future political ambitions, so these hearings are all about one thing – securing his legacy,” Power said in a statement. Johnson will want to ensure he is “not terminally damaged by the evidence already provided,” he said.

Johnson left office in September 2022 after being forced to resign following a succession of scandals including the ‘Partygate’ furore over illegal gatherings held in Downing Street during the pandemic. He explored running to be Conservative leader again when his successor, Liz Truss, resigned just seven weeks into her own premiership, but withdrew from the contest ultimately won by current premier Rishi Sunak.

--With assistance from Kitty Donaldson.

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