"Have we made the right decisions in every respect?... With hindsight no." - Housing Minister Robert Jenrick
Robert Jenrick faced some tough questions from Piers and Susanna on reaching the 100,000 death toll mark in the UK.
He said: “The Prime Minister did do a press conference last night and he as you say he expressed his deepest condolences to all the families and friends who have been impacted by the virus.”
Asked why the Government Minister for Housing was facing the music this morning, he said he had been involved in the Government’s response throughout, as he worked with local government.
Responding to questioning by Susanna on the many things that could have been done differently and whether the Prime Minister had really done all he could, he said: “The point the Prime minister was making, and I would attest to this because I was in many of those meetings with him, is that he and the Government did everything we could on the basis of the information we had available to us. We marshalled all the resources we had whether it was the brilliant staff of the NHS and social care, local councils, the Armed forces, British medical and scientific ingenuity with the vaccine rollout. Have we made the right decisions in every respect? I suspect, with the benefit of hindsight, the answer in some cases will be no. There are some things we should be very proud of … and there will be other things that people say we could have done differently.”
He continued: “I think it’s not easy to make those assessments with confidence today. I don’t say that to pass the buck, I think it’s just it will be with greater distance that we will be able to say the things we have done well and the things we could have done better.”
On possible regrets, he said: “I can say the things that I have had responsibility for. There are things that I would and have done differently as the pandemic has evolved. For example, with the vaccine rollout today we are trying to ensure that local councils are as involved as possible because they are the ones on the ground who know the harder to reach communities to ensure that everybody gets access to the virus when in the early stages in the pandemic, I think here was legitimate criticism that we could have used local councils even more. I think, for example, in the early stages of the pandemic the way that rules were interpreted, which prevented people going to the funerals of loved ones, something that partly comes under my responsibility in my department and I was heartbroken to see those scenes of children not being able to have parents at their funeral. There are definitely things I have got wrong, that the government has got wrong and which we have tried to learn from as the pandemic has gone forward.”
Pressed on what Piers described as a “series of cataclysmic government failures”, he said about Boris Johnson: “Well I’m sure that, with the benefit of hindsight, there will have been things he would have done differently. There will have been things, and I’m not saying this in a glib way, there will have been things that he and the whole country should be very proud of. The way the NHS didn’t get overwhelmed as we saw with some other very sophisticated health systems around the world, like in Italy. The way the economic response has kept millions of people in their jobs.”
Piers pressed on: “No one in the government will admit to any big errors, which have caused huge death numbers... you are the guy that they have sent out today to defend the indefensible. Surely looking back you would be saying to yourselves, ‘We have made a disaster of this’. If that’s the case, who is accountable?” He added a GMB poll this morning had found two-thirds of viewers thought the Prime Minister should resign.
Mr Jenrick went on: “You asked me the question, did we get everything right? I think, almost certainly, we didn’t get everything right. How you can have... I don’t think it’s easy with the current position to make an analysis. I think there will come a time when we can reflect, we can learn lessons and there will be some things that we can conclude about the particular characteristic of the country and the way in which the government responded and we can put those into the proper international perspective. Today obviously the government priority is that the vaccine rollout proceeds at pace.”
Asked if they took coronavirus seriously at the beginning he said: “Yes… within weeks we had a Prime Minister in hospital fighting for his life. So, I can assure you we all took this very seriously.”
On the Prime Minister making a statement about shaking hands at the start of the pandemic, he responded: “Knowledge has evolved. Scientific opinion has changed.”
He added the Prime Minister had approached it “with huge seriousness. He is someone who himself came close to death as a result of the virus and that had a huge and lasting effect on him and his family, as you would expect”.
“I am deeply, deeply sorry for every life that has been lost… I think we all know someone who has been seriously unwell or who had died because of the virus,” he added.
He said his mum called last night to be told a family friend had passed away. Mr Jenrick added the focus now had to be on protecting as many people as they can and looking to rolling out the vaccine.He said: “The Prime Minister himself was the one to say that this is a very grim milestone… that is a deeply depressing and sad statistic.”