Good morning. It is well known that Boris Johnson was reluctant to order all three lockdowns – in the case of the second one in particular, waiting weeks before agreeing to the move recommended by his scientific advisers – and there is strong evidence that tens of thousands of deaths might have been avoided if the government had locked down much more promptly on each occasion. But the public has been understanding (no one is pretending that Johnson faced easy choices), and the polls suggest his lockdown record has done little to damage his standing with the public.
But this morning the Daily Mail has published a story presenting this story with a new twist. It is by Simon Walters, the journalist who has broken most of the stories about Johnson trying to use Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat (so as to avoid having to pay himself) and it is assumed at Westminster that it is the latest anti-Johnson broadside from Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser who is now engaged in a vicious briefing war with his former boss. The key allegation is that in October, as Johnson gave in to pressure from colleagues to order the second lockdown, he made a particularly tasteless comment about future lockdown policy. Walters writes:
[Johnson] agreed to fresh restrictions but his frustration is said to have boiled over after the crucial meeting at No 10 in October. ‘No more fucking lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!’ he is alleged to have raged.
In the Mail it is “****ing lockdowns”, but we reckon Guardian readers are less squeamish than their Mail counterparts about the f-word.
This morning Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who was doing the media round for No 10, said this was not true. He said:
Look, it is not true, it has been categorically denied by practically everyone. We are getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories – unnamed sources, by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events. None of this is serious. The prime minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid.
In fact, although the story has been denied, those denials have come from shadowy No 10 sources. We have not yet had on-the-record denials from Johnson, or from anyone else at the meeting where the remark was supposed to have been made.
The alleged remark, if true, does not tell us anything new about Johnson’s view of lockdown as policy. But it would tell us something new about his lack of concern for people dying as a result of his actions, and that is potentially very damaging. Labour is demanding a statement from Johnson on this as soon as possible. A party spokesperson said:
If this report is true, then these are truly shocking and sickening comments from Boris Johnson. It is hard to imagine how families who have lost loved ones to Covid will feel reading them. Boris Johnson must make a public statement as soon as possible in his response to this report.
Here is the agenda for the day.
12pm: Downing Street is due to hold its lobby briefing.
12pm: Mark Sedwill and Gus O’Donnell, who are both former cabinet secretaries and now crossbench peers, give evidence to the Lords constitution committee about the cabinet manual.
2.15pm: Simon Case, the current cabinet secretary, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee about the work of the Cabinet Office.
Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer are both on election visits today, and so they should be giving media interviews.
Covid is the issue dominating UK politics this year and sometimes Politics Live will be largely or wholly devoted to coronavirus. But I will be covering non-Covid politics too, like the Johnson/Dominic Cummings briefing war, and – depending on what seems most important and most interesting to readers – sometimes these stories will take precedence.
For global coronavirus news, do read our global live blog.
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