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Johnson tells Covid Inquiry he never said he wanted to ‘let it rip’

Boris Johnson has denied saying during the Covid pandemic that he wanted to “let it rip”, insisting his focus was always on saving lives.

On his second day in the witness box at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, the former prime minister was also challenged over allegations that he had said old people who had “had a good innings” should be left to die.

He insisted that as the only lay person in meetings with scientific experts, it was his job to test their arguments for lockdown by presenting the opposing view before he had to announce new measures to the public.

Mr Johnson was shown extracts from diaries kept by Sir Patrick Vallance, the former chief scientific adviser, in which he repeatedly made reference to the then prime minister wanting to “let it rip” during conversations about a second lockdown in summer and autumn 2020.

Mr Johnson said the phrase “let it rip” was not one that he had coined, adding: “I’m sad to say there are plenty of people who had used the phrase in conversation with me.

“I was trying to represent a view that was sadly quite widespread, that the approach might be to segment the most vulnerable and protect them and to allow the vast majority of the population to gradually acquire immunity.”

Mr Johnson was also shown entries from Sir Patrick’s diaries in which the former adviser said he was “obsessed” with the idea that the average age for Covid deaths was a year older than average life expectancy, and that people who had “had a good innings” should be left to die.

In one entry, from Oct 25 2020, Sir Patrick wrote: “PM meeting – begins to argue for letting it all rip. Saying yes, there will be more casualties but so be it – ‘they had had a good innings’...

“PM getting very frustrated – throwing papers down. PM then back on to ‘most people reached their time anyway’.”

There were gasps from bereaved families in the public gallery of the inquiry room in London as the entries were read out and Mr Johnson gave his replies.

The former prime minister said the inquiry should “never mind the accounts that you have culled from people’s jottings from meetings that I have been in”.

He said: “If you look at what I actually said and what I actually did – and there is an abundance of quotations from me, millions of words that I spoke in Parliament or in press conferences or whatever – if you look at what we did, we went into lockdown as soon as we could the first time round and we sensibly went for a regional approach when the disease picked up again, and then again went into lockdown on 30/31 October.

“I think frankly it does not do justice to what we did, our thoughts, our feelings, my thoughts, my feelings, to say that we were remotely reconciled to fatalities across the country, or that I believed that it was acceptable to let it rip.”

Mr Johnson said it was his job to “challenge the consensus” and get the “counter-arguments” to lockdown restrictions that many people wanted to be raised. He also told the inquiry a proper cost-benefit analysis of lockdown restrictions was needed as “too much uncertainty” remained around the issue.

“The Treasury does a phenomenal amount of cost-benefit analysis, as you can imagine, but as I’ve said already what we really need to have is some proper, quantified analysis of the benefits of NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] and the epidemiological benefits of NPIs, because I think there’s still too much uncertainty about it, as well as a proper understanding of the economic cost,” he said.

“So yes, I think if there could be some way of putting those two things together in a formalized way that that might very well be useful, but that was effectively what I was doing the whole time.”

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