'I always prioritised human life': Boris Johnson rejects claims from Covid inquiry

Boris Johnson will give his own testimony to the Covid-19 inquiry next month. Credit: PA

By Lewis Denison, Westminster Producer

Boris Johnson has insisted he always prioritised human life when considering policies during the coronavirus pandemic, a claim made in stark contrast to the many allegations made against him at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

The former PM, who will give evidence to the Covid inquiry next month, will deny accusations he prioritised the economy or favourable newspaper coverage over people's health.

His leadership style during the pandemic has taken a battering at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which he set up, with former key aides criticising his indecision on issues - but Mr Johnson will insist it was his "duty" to mull over the impacts of lockdown.

In a witness statement to the inquiry, which is believed to be more than 150 pages long, Mr Johnson will defend his decision-making and maintain that he always acted on scientific advice.

A section of his statement published by the inquiry on Thursday said: “It is true that I have reflected (no doubt out loud and no doubt many times) about whether the lockdowns would do (and did do) more harm than good.

"I believe it was the duty of any pragmatic and responsible leader to have such a debate, both with himself and with colleagues.”

Evidence shown to the inquiry this week suggested Mr Johnson was "obsessed" with the idea that "older people should accept their fate" from coronavirus, which he allegedly said was "natures way of dealing with old people".

It has also been claimed when considering a lockdown, he asked the then-chancellor Rishi Sunak why the economy was being destroyed “for people who will die anyway soon”.

What did Boris Johnson really know about Downing Street’s notorious parties? Listen to the definitive behind-closed-doors story of one of the biggest scandals of our era...

Former director of communications Lee Cain revealed he thought Mr Johnson was seeking to please the right wing press by holding off on announcing a lockdown.

“The prime minister was becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of lockdowns on the economy and the political impact it was having on the right wing of the Conservative Party and the coverage of the right-leaning media," he said.

Mr Johnson said he was left with "no good choices" when considering what action to take during the height of the pandemic.

“We were between a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea. We simply had no good choices, and it was necessary at all times to weigh up the harms that any choice would cause.”

He acknowledged in his statement that he was “very worried about the economic harm caused by the action we took against Covid-19 and whether it would do more damage to the country than the virus itself”.

"But " he added, "I always attached the highest priority to human life and public health.”

Inquiry lawyers have been asking witnesses this week, who have included Mr Cain, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings and ex-deputy Cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara, whether taking other action sooner could have prevented the need for a national lockdown.

Mr Johnson accepts that is "possible" but doubts it in his statement.

“I cannot think what there might have been (short of a vaccine or drugs, which we did not have), and I think it highly unlikely.”