The prime minister claimed holding a Covid-19 public inquiry now would be an “irresponsible diversion” for officials tackling the pandemic, amid calls from an MP who has “lost an entire generation” of his family.
Sir Keir Starmer began Prime Minister’s Questions by demanding a “full public inquiry” into the Covid-19 pandemic.
He described the 126,000 deaths linked to Covid-19 as “shocking”, adding in the Commons: “Behind every one of those numbers is a grieving family.
“As soon as restrictions lift, there must be a full public inquiry because that is the only way we can get to the bottom of the many mistakes made during the pandemic and find justice for those who have suffered so much.”
Labour MP Afzal Khan (Manchester Gorton) told the Commons: “A year into this crisis and more than 126,000 lives have been lost. Behind this staggering figure are millions of grieving loved ones.
“In my family, we have lost an entire generation. I couldn’t hold my mum’s hand as she lay dying and I recently lost both my father and mother-in-law within just days of one another.
“Grieving families like mine want and deserve to understand what happened, and if anything could have been done to prevent this tragedy.”
Asked to commit to launching a full public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic as soon as restrictions are lifted, Mr Johnson offered his “sympathies and sorrow” for Mr Khan’s loss.
Mr Johnson added: “His experience is one, as he rightly says, that has been shared by far too many families up and down the country and that’s why we’re of course committed – as soon as it’s right to do so, as soon as it wouldn’t be an irresponsible diversion of the energies of the key officials involved – to an inquiry to learn the lessons, to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again.”
The prime minister is later set to be grilled by senior MPs over his handling of the pandemic when he appears in front of the Liaison Committee, made up of Commons select committee chairs.
Sir Keir has repeatedly called for a public inquiry into the UK government's coronavirus response.
On the anniversary of the first lockdown on Tuesday, the Labour leader said: "We owe it to the families who have lost a loved one, and to all those who have served on the frontline, to learn the lessons of the last year."We need a public inquiry so the mistakes are never repeated."
During the last PMQs before the Easter recess, Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of breaking his 2019 election pledge that he would not cut the UK’s armed forces in “any form”, in light of the decision to reduce the size of the Army by 10,000 troops to 72,500 by 2025 during PMQs.The prime minister denied cutting spending, insisting the government was increasing spending "by the biggest amount since the Cold War".Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of “playing with the numbers” after the prime minister said there would be "no redundancies in our armed forces" and that the Army was being kept "at 100,000" despite this week's announcement that troop numbers would be cut.