Rishi Sunak thought government should ‘let people die’, Covid inquiry told in bombshell claim

Rishi Sunak thought the government should just “let people die” during the coronavirus pandemic, the Covid inquiry has been told.

In one of the most explosive claims heard at the inquiry so far, the now prime minister, who was chancellor at the time, allegedly believed it was time to “just let people die and that’s okay” in the autumn of 2020.

The accusation, made by former chief of staff Dominic Cummings, was documented in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary. The former chief scientific adviser made the note following a “shambolic” meeting about Covid restrictions in October 2020.

According to the diary, then prime minister Boris Johnson had argued for “letting it all rip”. Mr Cummings, who was at the time Mr Johnson’s most senior adviser, then shared Mr Sunak’s alleged comment.

Although Sir Patrick said he did not personally hear Mr Sunak express such an opinion, he told the inquiry: “That’s what Dominic Cummings said.”

The revelation came as:

  • Sir Patrick said Mr Johnson was “clearly bamboozled” by science and didn’t understand graphs

  • Mr Johnson was described as “broken” with his “head in hands” in a meeting, adding: “We are too s*** to get our act together”

  • Mr Sunak was accused of saying it was more important to control scientists than Covid

  • Sir Patrick admitted there was no scientific evidence to justify the Covid “rule of six”

  • The top scientist claimed the UK didn’t lock down hard enough during the first wave

A spokesman for Mr Sunak said he would not “respond to each claim in piecemeal” following the new allegations, but said the public “will hear from the prime minister when he gives evidence” to the inquiry.

The bombshell allegation by Mr Cummings was just one of several damning claims about Mr Sunak’s role during the Covid crisis – as Sir Patrick blamed him for helping fuel a second wave with his Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

The controversial policy, which offered diners 50 per cent off meals to boost the hospitality sector’s recovery, was widely blamed for increasing Covid transmission in late summer and autumn of 2020.

Mr Sunak again came under fire over his Eat Out to Help Out scheme (PA)
Mr Sunak again came under fire over his Eat Out to Help Out scheme (PA)

Sir Patrick said it is “very difficult” to see how Eat Out to Help Out would not have increased transmission, and revealed that he and chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty were not told about the scheme until it was announced.

In a damning assessment, Sir Patrick told the inquiry the health messages had been “very clear”, that mixing with people you weren’t living with in an enclosed environment was a “high-risk activity”.

“That policy [Eat Out to Help Out] completely reversed it to saying we will pay you to go into an environment with people from other households and mix in an indoor environment for periods extended over a couple of hours or more.”

Asked whether Mr Sunak knew the policy would push up Covid infections before rolling it out, Sir Patrick said he would be “very surprised” if not, directly contradicting a claim in the now prime minister’s own witness statement.

Mr Sunak said he “did not recall” any concerns about the scheme, including from Sir Chris and Sir Patrick.

In another embarrassing diary entry, Sir Patrick revealed that the ex-chancellor said Covid was “all about handling scientists, not handling the virus”, in a push to open up the economy after the first lockdown.

Sir Patrick giving evidence at the inquiry (UK Covid-19 inquiry/AFP via Getty)
Sir Patrick giving evidence at the inquiry (UK Covid-19 inquiry/AFP via Getty)

Mr Sunak made the claim during an online meeting in July 2020, having not realised chief medical officer Sir Chris was present on the call.

Sir Patrick’s diary entry on a 25 October meeting – when the country was heading towards a second national lockdown – said Mr Johnson started the meeting by arguing for “letting it all rip”, accepting there would be more casualties and saying, “They have had a good innings.”

The chief scientific adviser also wrote that “DC [Dominic Cummings] says ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay’.”

The diary entries also detailed the October 2020 meeting with Mr Johnson in which he argued that said most people who die “have reached their time anyway”. The then prime minister said: “I really don’t want to do another national lockdown,” according to Sir Patrick’s diaries.

In one entry, Mr Vallance said Britain had “a weak, indecisive PM”. The chief scientist that Mr Johnson found it “a real struggle” to understand some Covid graphs and was “bamboozled” by scientific modelling.

In an entry from May 2020, Sir Patrick wrote: “PM still confused on different types of test. He holds it in his head for a session and then it goes.” In another humiliating passage for Mr Johnson, Sir Patrick wrote: “Watching the PM get his head around stats is awful.”

Mr Johnson was described as “weak and indecisive” by Sir Patrick (Getty)
Mr Johnson was described as “weak and indecisive” by Sir Patrick (Getty)

Mr Johnson wondered if Britain was “licked as a species” ahead of the second lockdown. Frustrated by lack of progress controlling the virus at a meeting in September 2020, Sir Patrick said he “looked broken” and had his “head in his hands a lot”.

The then prime minister said: “Maybe we are licked as a species ... We are too s*** to get out act together.”

Mr Vallance also said the Johnson government did not go “hard” or early enough with the first national lockdown. “The most important lesson that I learned … was that you had to go earlier than you would like, harder than you would like and broader than you would like.”

But Sir Patrick admitted that the so-called “rule of six” – regulations which banned gatherings of more than six people during the autumn of 2020 had no solid scientific basis.

“We were pretty clear that we didn’t actually think that had an enormous basis in anything. Why six? Why not eight? Why not ten? We couldn’t tell anyone which was better or worse,” he told the inquiry.

Mr Vallance also claimed that former health secretary Matt Hancock “had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for” during the pandemic.

The top scientist also revealed a cabinet video call in which one participant failed to mute, leaving the sound of a crying baby audible and “the wheels on the bus” being heard by the meeting. He said it was “symbolic of the shambles.”

Sir Patrick’s diaries have provided some of the most eye-catching evidence seen by the Covid inquiry so far. Asked about them on Monday, he said they were a daily “brain dump” to help him “decompress”, stressing that they were “never meant to see the light of day”.