Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak places an Eat Out to Help Out sticker in the window of a business during a visit to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/PA Images via Getty Images)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson said the chief medical officer made the remark at a meeting in September 2020, weeks after the scheme’s launch.
Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, launched ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ that summer as a way of helping the hospitality recover from the economic impact of lockdown.
Under the scheme, the Treasury covered the cost of 50% of restaurant bills.
However, the inquiry has already heard that neither Whitty or chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance were consulted in advance about the potential impact of the policy on the spread of Covid.
Giving evidence for a second day at the Covid inquiry, Johnson said: “I think it was something like September 16 or thereabouts… when I heard Chris in a Covid-S [strategy meeting] say ‘It’s eat out to help the virus’ and he looked at me meaningfully.
“I thought, ‘well, that’s funny, because I didn’t remember this being something that had previously seemed to attract objection or controversy’.”
Sunak is expected to be grilled about the controversial policy when he gives evidence to the inquiry next Monday.
Meanwhile, Johnson was forced to concede that he was wrong to say in his written evidence to the inquiry that the government’s scientific advisers had been consulted before ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ was launched.
He said he assumed they had been told about it in advance of its launch.
“I don’t understand how something so well-publicised as that could have been smuggled past the scientific advice,” Johnson said.