Covid inquiry LIVE: Rishi Sunak says scientists didn't object to Eat Out to Help Out prior to scheme

Rishi Sunak has said that scientists never raised concerns over his Eat Out to Help Out scheme despite a month between the announcement of the policy and it taking effect.

The Prime Minister told the Covid inquiry that minutes from several various meetings over the spring showed that neither Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Sir Chris Whitty had objected to the policy.

He said the "onus" was on the advisers to raise it as a concern with him, adding: "Something could have been done about it if they felt strongly."

Messages have revealed that Government scientists referred to the then Chancellor as “Dr Death" over concerns about his push to keep economic activity going while leading the Treasury during the pandemic.

The Prime Minister is expected to be grilled on whether he believed scientists were handed too much power and if insufficient consideration was given to the impact of lockdowns.

His questioning by lead counsel Hugo Keith KC in west London kicks off a crucial week for Mr Sunak as he faces a crunch vote on his Rwanda legislation on Tuesday.

Follow the latest updates in our live blog below.

Live coverage ends

17:13 , Josh Salisbury

Our live coverage of today's Covid Inquiry is now ending - thank you for following along.

As a recap, Rishi Sunak told the hearing that the Eat Out to Help Out discount hospitality scheme helped protect workers from the “devastating consequences” of job losses.

The scheme was introduced by the Prime Minister, when he was chancellor during the pandemic, in summer 2020, in a bid to support the hard-hit hospitality sector as the UK emerged from coronavirus restrictions imposed during the first lockdown.

The policy has been heavily scrutinised by the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, with questions about whether scientists were consulted about the plan and whether it contributed to the spread of infection.

But giving evidence, Mr Sunak defended the scheme as the "right thing to do to protect” what he said were “millions” of jobs held by “particularly vulnerable people”.

For an overview of the day's developments, visit here.

Rishi Sunak finishes giving evidence at the Covid inquiry

16:39 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak has finished giving evidence to the Covid inquiry.

Mr Sunak was grilled over Eat Out to Help Out, decision making over lockdown and on his lack of WhatsApps given to the inquiry, which he said was a result of changing phones.

Lady Hallett, chair of the inquiry, tells him: "Thank you very much prime minister. I doubt there's ever an easy time for you to come and give evidence, but I appreciate it's difficult this particular week."

This appears to be a reference to the pressure Mr Sunak faces within his party over the Rwanda bill.

Government defends Rwanda legislation

16:16 , Josh Salisbury

Away from the Covid inquiry, Downing Street has insisted it would "continue to listen to MPs on their views" on the Rwanda Bill.

Rishi Sunak's new illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson began briefing MPs this afternoon ahead of a crunch vote on Tuesday.

The second reading will go ahead as planned, No 10 said, despite backbench calls for the legislation to be withdrawn.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Of course we'll continue to listen to MPs on their views. Some groups of MPs have set out detailed views earlier today which we'll listen to carefully."

He said it remains the Government's view that the Bill is the strongest possible piece of legislation as it stands.

Sunak: Unfair to call Treasury 'pro-death squad'

15:29 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak said it was unfair to describe the Treasury under his leadership during the pandemic as a "pro-death squad".

The former chancellor was asked by inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC whether he was aware of the description used by some No 10 officials to refer to the department being opposed to maximum public health interventions.

The Prime Minister said: "I wasn't and I do not think it is a fair characterisation on the incredibly hardworking people that I was lucky to be supported by at the Treasury."

Sunak: Sage were 'elevated' in Covid debate

14:52 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak said that Sage were "elevated" in the debate over Covid policy.

"On reflection, it's important to consider that. Sage had one focus... there wasn't an equivalent economic Sage."

Sage views were not a consensus, says Sunak

14:46 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is asked about an interview with the Spectator published in summer 2022 in which he says that Covid policy was “being decided by half-explained graphs cooked up by outside academics”.

Mr Sunak denied using those words, but added that Sage's views were presented as a "consensus" when there was considerable debate within the group of scientists.

"I think in the policy debates that were being had, I'm not sure the country understood that there was less consensus within Sage that was being presented."

Sunak never consulted other UK nations about Eat Out to Help Out

14:36 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is asked whether he consulted the UK's other nations about Eat Out to Help Out.

He said it "would not have been ordinary policy" to do so, citing the furlough scheme as an alternative example of where this did not happen.

Onus was on Whitty and Vallance to raise concerns, says Sunak

14:30 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak has said the "onus" was on Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Sir Chris Whitty to raise concerns about Eat Out to Help Out.

"I didn't believe it was a risk. If others believed that it was, they had ample opportunity to raise those concerns in forums where I was or where the PM was.... and they didn't."

Sunak: Scientists never raised concerns over Eat Out to Help Out

14:26 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak said that scientists had a month to raise concerns about Eat Out to Help Out - and didn't do so.

He claimed that minutes of various meetings over the spring showed that neither Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Sir Chris Whitty raised issues over the scheme.

"I don't recall that it was raised at all in the meetings you mentioned," he told the inquiry.

Sunak says he was 'trying to protect millions of jobs' through Eat Out to Help Out

14:15 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC asked Rishi Sunak whether the aim of Eat Out to Help Out had been to encourage a "shift in behaviour".

Mr Sunak responded: "My primary concern was protecting millions of jobs in this sector, particularly vulnerable people. All the data, evidence and polling suggested that unless we did something, there would have been devastating consequences.

"This is why other countries had done this, everyone was grappling with the issue."

Sunak: Eat Out to Help Out didn't need to be tested by scientists as hospitality had reopened

14:12 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak has resumed his evidence to the inquiry.

Hugo Keith KC asks Mr Sunak about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and why it was not put in advance to the Health Secretary, Sage and the Chief Medical Officer in light of the "obvious risk of transmission" of the policy.

Mr Sunak responded: "Eat Out to Help Out had been designed specifically in the context of the safe lifting of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that had already been signed off as part of the May plan, which had reopened indoor hospitality.

"Eat Out to Help Out only operated within that context. There were other NPIs that were in place. The overall reopening of indoor hospitality had already been implemented."

Inquiry breaks for lunch

13:12 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry is now taking a short break for lunch, and will return just before 2pm.

Rishi Sunak has rushed off and will likely be briefed by his advisors on the latest developments on his Rwanda scheme.

Too many people worked from home, says Sunak

13:11 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak said that too many people worked from home during the pandemic.

He claimed this was due to miscommunication from the Government over the policy.

Mr Sunak said the public had not grasped "sufficiently clearly that they should go to work only if they could not work from home".

Pictured: protesters hold placards outside Covid inquiry

13:06 , Daniel Keane

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Downing Street defends Sunak over 'lost' WhatsApps

12:57 , Daniel Keane

Downing Street has defended Rishi Sunak over the loss of his WhatsApp messages, which were not available to be given to the Covid inquiry.

“The Prime Minister abides by the relevant guidance for all communications including on WhatsApp,” Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said.

Breaking: Star chamber criticises Sunak's Rwanda plan as 'incomplete'

12:55 , Daniel Keane

Some news just breaking here regarding Rishi Sunak's Rwanda plan.

The legislation “provides a partial and incomplete solution” but does not go “far enough to deliver the policy as intended”, the so-called Star Chamber of lawyers for the Tory European Research Group said.

Sunak blames 'record tax burden' on lockdown borrowing

12:45 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak has blamed the "record high tax burden" that Britons are subject to today on borrowing during the Covid lockdown.

He said: “It’s clear that as a result of what was happening that the economy was being impacted, jobs would be impacted, which is crucial for people’s livelihoods, businesses would be impaired, and because of the borrowing that was necessary that would have an impact on future tax levels.”

Mr Sunak added: "I am grappling with the consequences of that as we have a tax burden that is higher than I would like."

Sunak 'concerned' about pace of return to work for retail and hospitality

12:39 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak said he was concerned at how quickly people working in retail and hospitality sectors could go back to work after lockdown.

He said: "We are a consumption driven economy, and people's jobs are built on that. If you have a situation where these sectors are shut down, then it was a concern for me as to when they would return. If they didn't, that would have significant implications for many people's jobs.

"These sectors also disproportionately employed the most vulnerable people in society."

Ministers to publish summary of legal advice on Rwanda scheme

12:27 , Daniel Keane

Away from the Covid inquiry for a moment, as the Government announced that it will publish a summary of its legal advice on the efforts to revive the stalled Rwanda asylum scheme.

The move comes as MPs prepare to vote on Tuesday on the legislation aimed at making the plan legally watertight following the Supreme Court’s ruling against the plan.

The unusual step of releasing a summary of the advice will be seen as an attempt to placate Tory MPs as rival factions decide their positions on the plan.

Early strategy was always to flatten the curve, says Sunak

12:15 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak has resumed his evidence to the inquiry.

He is asked about "behavioural fatigue" and discussions about this in the early stages of the pandemic.

"I don't recall these issues being debated precisely," he responded.

Mr Sunak said the "overall strategy" was always to "flatten the curve" of the wave of infection, rather than herd immunity.

Inquiry takes short break

11:57 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry has taken a short break, we will be back in ten minutes.

Sunak defends Johnson's decision making process

11:49 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is asked about Sir Patrick Vallance's claim that there was "operational inefficiency" in No10 and that Boris Johnson was not good at making decisions.

He said that Mr Johnson was having to take decisions "which no Prime Minister had taken before" and that "the fact there were debates is good".

Mr Johnson would frequently "test out different points of view", Mr Sunak added.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

Sunak held 'huddles' with PM after group meetings

11:44 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry is shown extracts of emails sent by Elizabeth Perelman, an official at the Treasury.

The emails mention a "huddle" with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak after a meeting held with other officials.

Mr Sunak responded: "I didn't write the email so I don't know what it refers to. Is it possible that I had a meeting with the PM? Of course. It might not have been a huddle, he might have just been giving me a sense of where his head was at at that time."

Sunak: Not every conversation between cabinet ministers can be recorded

11:34 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak has told the Covid inquiry that it would be "impossible" for every conversation between Cabinet ministers to be recorded.

Asked about his interactions with Boris Johnson, Mr Sunak said: "If I was having lunch with my family in the garden at the same time that the prime minister was, on a typical weekend in Downing Street, then we would obviously be chatting as we were barbecuing.

“I think it is genuinely impossible for every single conversation between two cabinet ministers, whoever they are, to be recorded.”

Watch: Sunak apologises to families who lost loved ones to Covid

11:20 , Daniel Keane

Sunak: I did not see dysfunction in No10

11:11 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is asked about "dysfunction" in No10 and the Cabinet Office.

He said: "My interactions with both felt fine to me."

Mr Sunak added that the PM "largely acted on the advice put in front of him by SAGE" during the early period of the pandemic.

The economic impact was "not driving the conversation" over restrictions, he said.

Sunak: I saw Boris Johnson more than my wife during pandemic

10:57 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is pressed further on how his advice impacted Boris Johnson's decision making.

He explained that his advice definitely had an impact on the PM as the two worked very closely together, adding: "I probably saw the PM more than I saw my own wife at this time."

PM was the sole decision maker, says Sunak

10:51 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is asked whether he "promoted" a particular view on Covid regulations during his time as Chancellor.

He responded that his "primary responsibility" was to feed in advice and analysis of the economic consequences of lockdown or other measures.

"The PM was the sole decision maker. Only he has the ability to make those decisions across competing interests."

Sunak: Policymakers needed to understand 'totality' of lockdown impact

10:47 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC asked whether there was a "clash" between economic and public health interests during the pandemic.

Rishi Sunak told the inquiry that he felt his role was to provide analysis of how measures would impact the economy, but denied that this was a "clash".

"There were a range of impacts, many of them socio-economic... It was important that policymakers considered the totality of those."

Sunak's WhatsApp evidence 'not available' as he replaced his phone since pandemic

10:44 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak said that he had replaced his phone since the pandemic, meaning that important WhatsApp messages from the period cannot be retrieved for the inquiry.

Mr Sunak added that he did not recall officials telling him that he should back up the messages on his phone for the purposes of the inquiry.

Sunak 'deeply sorry' for those who lost loved ones to Covid

10:42 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak has said he is "deeply sorry" to those who lost loved ones to Covid during the pandemic.

He also apologised to "all those who suffered in different days as a result of the actions that were taken" by ministers.

"I've thought a lot about this and it's important that we learn the lessons from the pandemic so we can be better prepared... it's in that spirit that I am here today."

Sunak's evidence begins

10:35 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak's evidence to the Covid inquiry has begun.

The Prime Minister has taken the oath and confirmed his full name.

Lockdowns had ‘catastrophic effect’ on nation’s social fabric, report finds

10:24 , Daniel Keane

A landmark report released over the weekend by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) provides interesting analysis of the impact of Covid lockdowns.

It warned that the UK is in danger of sliding back into the "Two Nations" of the Victorian era marked by a widening gap between mainstream society and a depressed and poverty-stricken underclass.

Some 13.4 million people lead lives marred by family fragility, stagnant wages, poor housing, chronic ill-health, and crime, the centre says.

The CSJ study also finds that the pandemic lockdowns had a “catastrophic effect” on the nation’s social fabric, especially for the least well off, where the gap between the so-called “haves” and “have nots” was blown wide open.

You can read our full story on the report here.

Away from the inquiry... Tory factions gather to consider Rwanda Bill

10:03 , Daniel Keane

As Rishi Sunak prepares to give evidence to the Covid inquiry, he will also be keeping an eye on developments in his party.

The Prime Minister’s authority is under threat as tribes from the left and right hold separate meetings on Monday to consider if they will back the beleaguered legislation in a crunch vote on Tuesday.

Hardline Brexiteers from the European Research Group and other camps on the Conservative right will first hold a summit on the legislation aimed at reviving his asylum policy.

Veteran MP Sir Bill Cash will present the findings of his so-called “star chamber” of lawyers, but he has already signalled they do not believe the proposed law is fit to get the grounded £290 million scheme up and running.

What can we expect from PM's appearance at the inquiry?

09:39 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak played a significant role in the Government's role of the pandemic, serving as Chancellor until his resignation in July 2022.

Lawyers for the inquiry are likely to focus on claims that he consistently attempted to persuade No10 to avoid imposing Covid measures to avoid inflicting economic damage.

His Eat Out to Help Out Scheme has come under particular scrutiny throughout the inquiry, with both Professor Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance claiming they had not been consulted about the policy before it was implemented in summer 2020.

The scheme is believed to have been behind a surge in infections that eventually culminated in the second lockdown in November 2020.

Sunak will also face questions over a note in Sir Patrick's diary which quoted him as saying: "Rishi thinks just let people die and that's OK."

Sunak 'saved the economy during Covid' - Shapps

09:23 , Matt Watts

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed Rishi Sunak“saved the economy” during the pandemic.As the Prime Minister prepares to give evidence to the Covid inquiry, the Defence Secretary said: “It’s so easy in hindsight to look at all these things with 20/20 vision and say ‘Ah, if only you had done X at Y moment in time’.

“The fact of the matter is Rishi Sunak, during Covid, saved millions of jobs in this country through the furlough programme and saved millions of businesses as well, with huge amounts of support – over £400 billion.”

Mr Shapps told GB News: “I think we should actually remember that he was the guy who saved the economy, an economy which – against all the expectations previously – has actually grown this year as a result of the decisions he made not to allow businesses and jobs to go.”