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Boris Johnson: UK’s obesity problem made tackling Covid harder

Mr Johnson will also issue a blanket apology for Government errors at the Inquiry next week
Boris Johnson will issue a blanket apology for government errors at the Covid Inquiry next week - LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson will argue that Britain’s obesity problem made tackling coronavirus more difficult and apologise for the Government’s mistakes when he appears before the Covid Inquiry next week.

The Telegraph understands that the former prime minister will point to a string of health issues affecting the population to argue the UK was at a disadvantage when the pandemic struck.

He will also issue a blanket apology for government errors. Both comments are contained in the draft of his written statement to the inquiry, which is more than 200 pages long.

Mr Johnson has been going through months of preparations behind the scenes with a legal team ahead of his appearance at the inquiry next Wednesday and Thursday.

An ally of Mr Johnson told The Telegraph: “Areas where the Government fell short, he will absolutely apologise for. But he will also be explaining what he needs to do better next time.”

The source added: “The UK’s particular public health background put us in a particularly tricky position to handle a pandemic of this type

As a nation, we are fatter, less fit, there’s lots of factors in our public health that are just facts which made the UK very different from other comparable democracies.”

The UK’s relatively high levels of obesity, heart disease and lung disease – three health issues that increased the risk of death if a person caught Covid – are expected to be noted.

Last year, a World Health Organisation found the UK was the fourth-worst European country for adult obesity and weight issues, behind Israel, Malta and Turkey.

It is unclear what specifics Mr Johnson will point to when pressed on the mistakes he will apologise for, though potential areas have emerged in other witness appearances.

This week, Matt Hancock, health secretary for much of the pandemic, admitted that ministers had not thrown a “protective ring” around people in care homes as he claimed at the time.

Mr Johnson is expected to vigorously defend his record in tackling the pandemic, pointing to the speed with which the UK rolled out Covid vaccines as a key success.

He is said to be open-minded on whether he could have taken a different approach to lockdowns though will argue his concern was critical in avoiding a fourth nationwide lockdown when the Omicron variant of Covid struck in the winter of 2022.

There is also expected to be a robust defence of his engagement with Covid policy, with accusations of “flip-flopping” levelled by multiple former advisers firmly dismissed.

On that front, Mr Johnson is expected to insist that he wanted to listen to all sides of the debate inside Whitehall and argue his approach was better than that of “authoritarian” national leaders unwilling to change course.

Figures who have talked to Mr Johnson about his preparation claim there are no “smoking gun” WhatsApp messages to be revealed, though they admit there are some “off-colour jokes”.

The former prime minister will also outline his proposals for changes to the Government system, coming from his vantage as the ultimate decision-making during the pandemic.

Areas he has been scrutinising in recent months include the role of the Cabinet Office, the way scientific advice is given to prime ministers and how the structure of devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland working with the UK Government could be improved.

An ally of Mr Johnson said: “He wants the UK Government to be in a position next time to be able to respond better and to be better prepared.”

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