Good morning. When Boris Johnson makes false claims, as he does regularly in parliament, he is notoriously unwilling to retract them. But last night, when he made an infelicitous comment on a private Zoom call with Tory backbenchers, he withdrew it almost immediately – even though at the time he was being much more honest than he often is.
This is what he said:
The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.
The remark was tactless because it is open to the interpretation (almost certainly not intended) that he was suggesting that UK “greed” is behind vaccine hoarding that has led to the EU not getting the supplies of AstraZeneca vaccine they expect. According a blog by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, one source has suggested that he was even making a joke about the eating habits of Mark Spencer, the not-slim Tory chief whip. But the best explanations are normally the most obvious ones and we can be confident what Johnson meant because he has said it many times before; he was articulating the essential Tory faith that the profit motive in a free market will spur innovation and efficiency. Adam Smith expressed it best in his famous quote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”
Whether this is true or not is another matter, and one of the reasons the remark is attracting so much attention is that the UK vaccine programme, which has involved massive government investment (even to the extent of the state building its own vaccine factory), AstraZeneca selling the vaccine at cost in the developing world (the very opposite of “greed”) and distribution of jabs via a state-run health service, could be a textbook example of how profit is not the solution to everything.
Here is our story about what Johnson said last night.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, was doing an interview round this morning. She was reluctant to be drawn into the controversy but she has broadly defended what the PM said. She told Sky News:
The prime minister always acknowledges the strong success we’ve had in terms of the vaccine, not just the rollout, which is incredible, but also our ability as a country to develop the vaccine, the role that pharmaceutical companies and science and technology has played in that.
And asked about Johnson’s aside on LBC, she said:
I didn’t hear those comments so I’m not going to get involved in that but the role of the free market, having absolutely a diversity in terms of different organisations that we’ve been able to work with on vaccinations, is incredibly important.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Caroline Dinenage, a culture minister, gives evidence to the Commons culture committee on the reopening of festivals this summer.
10am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, and Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace, speak at a Local Government Association health conference.
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.
12.15pm: The Welsh government is expected to hold a coronavirus briefing.
12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is expected to hold a coronavirus briefing.
12.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, makes a statement to MPs about her plans to change the asylum rules. As my colleague Jamie Grierson reports, she will say that migrants who arrive in the UK by small boats or other illegal routes will be indefinitely liable for removal even if they are granted asylum.
1.30pm: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.
3.30pm: Johnson gives evidence to the Commons liaison committee.
Politics Live has been mostly about Covid for the last year and I will be covering UK coronavirus developments today, as well as non-coronavirus Westminster politics. For global coronavirus news, do read our global live blog.
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