Boris Johnson called partygate portrayals ‘absurd’ and denied using ‘let the bodies pile high’ phrase during pandemic

Friday 8 December 2023

Boris Johnson has lashed out at some of the “absolutely absurd” characterisations of the partygate debacle as he completed two days of at-times combative and emotional evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry.

The former prime minister insisted on Thursday he was not “reconciled” to Covid deaths or believed it necessary to “let it rip” in the autumn of 2020.

Much of the questioning on Thursday focused on the sequence of decision-making leading to the second national lockdown and later restrictions, while also touching on revelations of rule-breaking inside Number 10.

Mr Johnson appeared to become emotional during some of the discussions as he rejected suggestions he did not care about the suffering of the public and discussed his own admittance to intensive care.

It came as inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC pressed Mr Johnson about the lockdown-breaching parties that were held in Downing Street and the impact on public confidence.

In one WhatsApp message, dated December 17 2021, Mr Johnson told Cabinet Secretary Simon Case that “in retrospect, we all should have told people … to think about their behaviour in number ten and how it would look.

“But now we must smash on.”

The former prime minister told the inquiry: “When I went into intensive care, I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly. They were middle-aged men and they were quite like me.

“And some of us were going to make it, some of us weren’t.

“What I am trying to tell you in a nutshell, and the NHS thank God did an amazing job and helped me survive.

“But I knew from that experience, what an appalling disease this is.

“I had absolutely no personal doubt about that from March onwards. To say that I didn’t care about the suffering that was being inflicted on the country is simply not right.”

Boris Johnson leaves Dorland House in London after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry

A protester outside the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London

Protesters held signs raising support for Long Covid sufferers

Mr Johnson also doubled down on his defence of the lockdown gatherings as he complained “the dramatic representations that we’re now having of this are absolutely absurd”.

He told Lady Hallett’s probe that the popularised version of events is “a million miles from the reality of what actually happened in Number 10” and the representation of civil servants and advisers was a “travesty of the truth”.

In a separate set of questioning, Mr Johnson also strongly rejected the idea he backed a so-called “let it rip” approach to the virus as the Government grappled with rising Covid cases in September 2020.

He conceded the idea behind the phrase came up in discussions inside Downing Street as he pondered how to respond to an impending second wave.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s former chief scientific adviser, in a number of diary entries suggested that Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and “obsessed with the average age of death being 82”.

Mr Johnson said the “let it rip” phrase was in “common parlance” and that he was “representing the only layperson in the meeting”.

Later, he denied that some of his language had been ageist, arguing he was doing his “best to reflect” a “live” debate.

He also told the inquiry: “I regret all hurt and offence caused by publication of language that was not intended for publication.

“A lot of what has been reported is incorrect and there are words that are described to me that I simply don’t recognise.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to be questioned on Monday.