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Guilty Men: The Quotes Which Condemn Boris Johnson and the Tory Government on COVID-19

The Conservative government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has been nothing short of incompetent, with many going as far as to say it has been criminal. As government departments increasingly attempt to bail out the ship through programmes of propaganda, denials and outright lies, we present the key quotes that condemn both Boris Johnson and his government.

1: Boris Johnson, February 3

On February 3rd, Boris Johnson gave a speech outlining Britain’s vision for the future Brexit trade talks with the EU. Mentioned in passing, the press, including ourselves, focused on the Brexit and trade news coming out of the speech, allowing Johnson’s remarks to fly under the radar with COVID-19 having not yet reached British shores. His comments, however, betray already then existing Conservative Party policy to protect the economy at the expense of British lives.

“Coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage.”

Boris Johnson, February 3rd

The comments begin at the 9:33 mark.

2: Boris Johnson, March 5

Despite now denying it, the government’s initial strategy was to allow the coronavirus to “pass through the population” in a completely misguided and impossible attempt to create herd immunity, all while ensuring that the economy didn’t suffer. International bodies now believe that only between 2 and 3% have antibodies, with no firm decision surrounding either the lasting effects on those infected or whether those infected are in fact immune. Despite the lack of science and no vaccine being on the horizon, the policy became a favourite of Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.

Johnson’s appearance on the March 5th edition of This Morning exposed the strategy.

“Well it’s a very, very important question, and that’s where a lot of the debate has been and one of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures. I think we need to strike a balance, I think it is very important, we’ve got a fantastic NHS, we will give them all the support that they need, we will make sure that they have all preparations, all the kit that they need for us to get through it. But I think it would be better if we take all the measures that we can now to stop the peak of the disease being as difficult for the NHS as it might be, I think there are things that we may be able to do.”

Boris Johnson, March 5

Johnson’s further comments during his appearance downplay the need for lockdown, describing the measures required as “draconian” and promoting behavioural psychology to influence the public. Johnson states that lockdown “[doesn’t] work as well as people think”.

3: Robert Peston, March 12

The government’s strategy to attempt herd immunity was revealed on March 12 by ITV’s Robert Peston.

“The strategy of the British government in minimising the impact of COVID-19 is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity, but at a much delayed speed so that those who suffer the most acute symptoms are able to receive the medical support they need, and such that the health service is not overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer number of cases it has to treat at any one time.”

Robert Peston, March 12

Following The Sunday Times expose on the government response to the coronavirus, Peston would say he was “gobsmacked” by the fact “that the PM was not prioritising the looming Coronavirus catastrophe till March”.

“I emailed ITV colleagues that a senior government source had told me ‘we should know within a fortnight or so if we are looking at a pandemic in the UK…The risk is 60% of population getting it. With mortality rate of perhaps just over 1%, we are looking at not far off 500k deaths’. Ministers knew by 2nd week of February the gravity of what confronted us. So I am literally gobsmacked by the [Sunday Times] disclosure that the PM was not prioritising the looming Coronavirus catastrophe till March.”

Robert Peston, April 18

4: Professor Anthony Costello, April 16 

Professor Anthony Costello, a former British director of the World Health Organisation, was scathing in his assessment of the response from the government, stating that Britain was at least two weeks late in enacting a policy of lockdown. Quoted in The Telegraph on April 16, Costello said that the response had been “a total mess” and “wrong every stage of the way”.

“We should have introduced the lockdown two or three weeks earlier but we didn’t. It should be combined with testing, tracing and digital apps that have been used so successfully in South Korea… It is a total mess and we have been wrong every stage of the way.”

Anthony Costello, April 18

5: The Telegraph Government Source, April 17

A government source in The Telegraph on April 17 confirmed yet again that the government never wished to enter lockdown and that they were forced to do so by public and media pressure. The source indicates that they are still eager to lift the lockdown.

“They are waiting for the public to change their minds. We didn’t want to go down this route in the first place – public and media pressure pushed the lockdown, we went with the science. The lockdown will only start coming loose when the public wants it to – not ministers.” 

Government Source, April 17

6: The Sunday Times Government Source, April 19

The Sunday Times’ exposure of the government’s failings was without a doubt one of the most important pieces of journalism that will see print this year. A searing indictment of Boris Johnson and the Tory government, almost every passage could have been mentioned here as evidence of governmental failing, incompetence and criminality.

Here are some highlights

“I think from the early days in February, if not in late January, it was obvious this infection was going to be very serious and it was going to affect more than just the region of Asia. I think it was very clear that this was going to be an unprecedented event.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar, infectious disease specialist, BBC

“There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there and what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”

Government advisor

“We were the envy of the world but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years when there were more pressing needs”

The Times source

“We should have communicated with every commercial testing laboratory that might volunteer to become part of the government’s testing regime but that didn’t happen”

The Times source

“Almost every plan we had was not activated in February. Almost every government department has failed to properly implement their own pandemic plans. … It was a massive spider’s web of failing”

The Times source

“I had watched Wuhan but I assumed we must have not been worried because we did nothing. We just watched. A pandemic was always at the top of our national risk register — always — but when it came we just slowly watched. We could have been Germany but instead, we were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity.”

The Times source

7: Tim Shipman, April 19

Writing the same day as their major report on the government’s conduct, Tim Shipman revealed in The Sunday Times that the cabinet is split between those who wish to preserve the lockdown and those who wish to lift it while COVID-19 is still a deadly threat to the British public. The hawks are said to be led by Michael Gove who some are said to be looking to as a replacement for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. 

“Hancock has been vocal in meetings that the priority has to be ensuring the NHS does not collapse. Gove backed him up in cabinet last week to show a united front from the quad but told their meeting on Wednesday that his position has changed. “I’ve come to the view that we need to run this hot”, Gove said. “I agree with Rishi.” Hancock replied: “I don’t agree.” Gove’s change of heart could shift the balance in favour of the hawks as Raab, who has remained neutral while he is deputising for Johnson, is also thought to be instinctively hawkish.”

Tim Shipman

Shipman’s claims are backed by government sources.

“The debate is now between people who think we should suppress the virus completely and those who think we should run things quite hot, use the spare capacity in the NHS and aim to keep the R number just below one”

Government source

“You have to be clear. Running hot means more people are likely to die. That’s the decision the prime minister will have to take.”

Government source

8: The Guardian Sources, April 19

Toby Helm, Emma Graham-Harrison and Robin McKie of The Guardian posted their own report into the government’s failings the same day as The Sunday Times. While the article hasn’t been as widely spread and digested as The Times’, there is important new information provided, including further evidence that the government was prioritising the economy over human lives, going as far to note that two senior government advisers were ready to quit over the Conservative’s conduct.

“Johnson and his ministers were now, even more than before, taking cover behind, and advice from, their scientific and medical advisers. Many of these advisers had become increasingly concerned that the UK had become out of step with other countries because of political resistance from ministers to measures that would hit the economy. The Observer has been told that at least two senior government advisers were on the brink of quitting before Johnson switched his approach.”

The Guardian

9: Sir Simon McDonald, April 21

Speaking on why the government didn’t take part in an EU scheme of PPE shared procurement, top mandarin Sir Simon McDonald stated clearly and concisely that the decision taken to not partake in the scheme was “a political decision”. 

Undoubtedly after being given the hairdryer treatment, McDonald later issued a “clarification” to say that what he clearly stated to be true was in fact not true and it wasn’t a political decision. 

The comments led to Matt Hancock stating that he had personally agreed to the scheme, implying that he had been overruled in the chain of command.



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