ITV News has been told by two separate sources that Boris Johnson said he would rather 'bodies pile high in their thousands' than go into a third lockdown. Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks has the latest
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston says they are willing to come forward at some point and even speak under oath, should the prime minister continue to deny the comment.
On Monday evening, Peston added there is evidence of a third source backing the claim Mr Johnson made the comment "in a fit of rage".
"The prime minister said it didn’t happen," Peston said.
"My understanding is that two of the witnesses are prepared at some point to go on the record – in fact, swear on oath – that this happened."
Mr Johnson has denied saying the comment.
Asked if he made the comments attributed to him, Mr Johnson said: “No, but I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a Government is to make sure that the lockdowns work.
“They have, and I really pay tribute to the people of this country, this whole country of ours, really pulled together and, working with the vaccination programme, we have got the disease under control.”
Boris Johnson denies making the comment
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson needed to “make a public statement” about reports he is alleged to have claimed he would “let the bodies pile high” rather than have another lockdown.
“I think, like everybody reading that, I was astonished to see those words," Sir Keir said.
“It’s for the Prime Minister, I think, now, to make a public statement about that.
“If he did say those things then he’s got to explain it, if he didn’t, go on the record and publicly explain what was said and what wasn’t said.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston says the two sources he's spoke to regarding Mr Johnson's controversial remarks may go public if PM continues to deny the claims
“I think everybody will be deeply concerned, not least those all families that have lost someone during this pandemic.”
Earlier Ben Wallace told ITV News: "I know the Prime Minister very well. I don't give (the story) any credit at all. The story has no source, it doesn't say who said that or reports or alleged it.
"I know it's Oscar season but we're really getting into the realms of the possibly ridiculous now. Stories based on stories, based on he said who said."
Ben Wallace says Daily Mail story claiming Boris Johnson would rather see 'bodies pile high in their thousands' than order a third lockdown is 'ridiculous':
He continued: "Fundamentally, the Prime Minister's actions have been a steady and deliberate lifting of lockdown, a roadmap. The vaccination programme - 62 per cent of all adults in this country vaccinated, over half of all adults in the UK. That saves lives."
It comes as the UK’s most senior civil servant is expected to indicate he has not cleared Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings over the so-called “chatty rat” leak of plans for a second lockdown.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has said that the so-called “chatty rat” leak inquiry is ongoing in a “clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified”.
He told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: “I hope the committee will understand I’m very constrained in what I can say given the security classification of the exercise, of the leak inquiry.
“What I can say is the investigation is ongoing and this is a clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified.
“In the time that has now passed, I think it is probable that the team will not successfully identify the source or sources but work is ongoing.”
Mr Case insisted Mr Johnson was determined to uncover the culprit of the leak “from the outset”.
Mr Cummings has accused Mr Johnson of seeking to block the investigation after learning that a close friend of his fiancee Carrie Symonds had been implicated, a claim the Prime Minister denied.
In an incendiary blog post, Mr Cummings went on to say that Mr Case had told Mr Johnson that neither he nor the then No 10 director of communications Lee Cain was the culprit.
The disclosure is likely to further anger Mr Cummings who released his onslaught after he was accused by No 10 of a series of damaging leaks including text message exchanges between Mr Johnson and the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson.
Ministers are now concerned at what he may say when he gives evidence to MPs investigating the government’s response to the pandemic next month.
Mr Cummings is widely known to have been critical of Mr Johnson’s delay in launching a second lockdown in England when cases began rising last autumn and there is speculation he will seek to blame him for the high death toll.
Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: “The Prime Minister is now corrupting the standards of public life expected in high office.”
She said: “There must be no bullying or harassment, no leaking, no misuse of taxpayers’ money and no actual or perceived conflicts of interests. These words are from the Prime Minister’s foreword to the ministerial code. I don’t know whether he believed them when he wrote them but he’s certainly trampling all over them today.”
She added: “And as he (Prime Minister) dodges questions and tries to cover up payments for the luxury refurbishment of his flat, feathering his own nest and possibly breaking the law through undeclared loans. Now as for leaks, we are seeing the pipes burst with the sewage of allegations.
“They say that the fish rots from the head down, well there is a reason why there is no independent adviser on ministerial standards and there is a reason why the Government won’t publish the long overdue list of ministerial interests and that reason is because the Prime Minister hasn’t wanted them.
“This is a Prime Minister who would rather that bodies pile high than act on scientific advice.”
The commission, which first raised the issue with the Conservative Party more than a month ago, confirmed at the weekend it was still looking into whether any of the sums relating to the work on the flat should have been declared.
Last week, the Daily Mail published details of an email from Tory peer Lord Brownlow in which he said he was making a £58,000 donation to the party “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed ‘Downing Street Trust’”.
To date, no such trust has been formed.
Mr Case, meanwhile, is likely to face questions during his appearance before the PACAC, about another issue where Labour is hoping to make ground, what it describes as Tory “sleaze”, David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital.
MPs are expected to press him on the extent of the former prime minister’s activities on behalf of the failed finance company following the disclosure he used his contacts to directly approach Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Earlier this month Mr Case ordered all senior civil servants to declare whether they had outside jobs after it emerged that the former head of government procurement had taken a position with Greensill while still working in Whitehall.