London politics latest LIVE: Boris Johnson described Government facemask policy as 'f**** up', inquiry told

Boris Johnson referred to the Government’s facemask policy in the summer of 2020 as “f***** up”, the Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

The former Prime Minister made the remark in a WhatsApp message to his chief advisor Dominic Cummings in August 2020.

He wrote: “I am on a train trying to make sense of our totally f***** up facemask policy.”

Elsewhere, Mr Johnson told the inquiry that Dominic Cummings' trip to Barnard Castle in March 2020 was a "bad moment".

The former Prime Minister said he would "not pretend" that he backed his chief advisor's decision to travel up north, in contravention of lockdown rules at the time.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson complained of “absolutely absurd” characterisations of the partygate debacle on his second day of evidence to the inquiry.

At one stage, he appeared to become emotional as he spoke of his own experience of being admitted to intensive care in April 2020 to reject suggestions he did not care about the suffering of the public.

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18:32 , Daniel Keane

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Johnson booed again after leaving Dorland House

18:04 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson was jeered as he left the Covid-19 inquiry after two days of giving evidence.

Protesters outside shouted “murderer” and “shame on you” as he left Dorland House in west London to his awaiting car.

Johnson says he is 'sad' that his evidence has finished

17:25 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson said he is "sad" that his evidence to the Covid inquiry has concluded.

The former prime minister also added that it is “very important” to get to the bottom of how the virus originated.

Concluding his evidence, he said: “I am rather sad it is over. I may not see you again, so I just wanted to say one thing, which is that I do think all the testimony and the evidence is incredibly valuable…

“The issues of health and social care are absolutely critical, and the government that I led was embarked on a big programme to try and bring them together… I hope that this inquiry will give give a kick to the powers that be to make sure that we we really address that.”

Johnson described mask policy as 'f***** up'

16:55 , Daniel Keane

The Covid inquiry has heard how Boris Johnson referred to the Government’s facemask policy in the summer of 2020 as “f***** up”.

Mr Johnson wrote to Dominic Cummings on WhatsApp: “I am on a train trying to make sense of our totally f***** up facemask policy.”

When pressed by core participant Samuel Jacobs, who is representing Trades Union Congress (TUC), he said: “The adjective I use, which I won’t repeat, was intended to convey my sense that a mask policy which had been in position, one, was going to have to change because of changing scientific advice and changing appreciation of the value of masks.

“That was the reality. It was going to be politically difficult to to execute, but we were going to have to do it.”

Johnson rejects accusations of 'ableist' language

16:22 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson rejected a suggestion that some of his language regarding older people had been “shamefully ageist”.

The former prime minister faced questions from Danny Friedman KC on behalf of Disabled People’s Organisations: Disability Rights UK, Disability Action Northern Ireland, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

He said it was not ageist.

“No. I was doing my best to reflect what was I’m afraid a debate that was very live and live I may say with a great number of older people, who would make these points to me. And I wanted to get the answers.”

Westminster was not 'high-handed' during pandemic, says Johnson

16:00 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has rejected claims that there was a “high-handed, incommunicative approach from Westminster” in the pandemic.

He said that the Government maintained "excellent communications across all of the DAs (devolved administrations)".

“And I think that the overall performance of the UK in the pandemic as a single entity was remarkable, and every part of the UK played an important part in the effort.

“If you look at it, there was a huge amount of joined up work going on across the whole country.”

Johnson denies ill will towards Nicola Sturgeon

15:00 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson has rejected a suggestion by his former chief of staff Lord Udny-Lister that he had "no real personal relationship" with then-Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Taking questions from Claire Mitchell KC, who represents Scottish Covid Bereaved, the former prime minister said that he had "no ill will whatsoever" with Ms Sturgeon.

"When I have talked to her, we have got on very well and had a friendly relationship."

Asked why Lord Udny-Lister, a close aide, would have received that impression, Mr Johnson said: "Much as I love the SNP, politically there was a certain amount of toing and froing between the SNP and me as prime minister."

Boris said 'f*** you Daily Mail' in row over restrictions

14:08 , Josh Salisbury

The Covid inquiry is now back from lunch.

Just before the break, the inquiry heard how Boris Johnson said "f**k you Daily Mail" in a conversation about the rule of six during the pandemic.

According to an account from the diary of Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government's former chief scientific adviser, Mr Johnson said in September 2020: "Everyone says rule of 6 so unfair, punishing the young but F**K YOU Daily Mail - look this is all about stopping deaths. We need to tell them."

Facing questioning about the remarks from Pete Weatherby KC, who represents Covid Bereaved Families for Justice at the inquiry, Mr Johnson apologised for his language.

Mr Johnson said he appeared to be responding to unfavourable coverage by the paper of the rule-of-six.

The former PM is now a columnist for that paper.

Boris Johnson rejects suggestions he 'didn't care' about Covid victims

12:55 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson has rejected claims that he "didn't care" about the "suffering that was being inflicted on the country" during the pandemic.

Hugo Keith, counsel to the Covid-19 Inquiry, questioned the former prime minister on rule-breaking in Number 10 at the time.

He put to Mr Johnson: "You knew how it would look but you didn't care that much."

Mr Johnson said the inquiry has "dwelt particularly on WhatsApp exchanges and various things I'm supposed to have said which indicate that I didn't care".

He added: ""When I went into intensive care, I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly. In fact, they were middle-aged men and they were quite like me - and some of us were going to make it and some of us weren't.

"What I'm 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 appalling a disease this is. I had absolutely no personal doubt about that, from March onwards."

Emotions run high as Johnson talks partygate

12:44 , Josh Salisbury

The inquiry chair Baroness Hallett has briefly interjected to ask for quiet in the public gallery as Boris Johnson talked about partygate.

Mr Johnson hit out at the public characterisation of the partygate controversy, calling it a "travesty of the truth".

Minutes later, Baroness Hallett said: "I know that emotions are running high, but I have to ask those in the public gallery to keep quiet, whatever their emotions.

"I do understand, but it has to stop."

Some Partygate coverage 'absolutely absurd', says Johnson

12:19 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson has told the inquiry that some characterisations of 'partygate' are "absolutely absurd".

The former prime minister was among those issued with a fixed penalty notice over lockdown breaches in No10.

While accepting responsibility for the fact that social distancing laws were broken at the heart of Government, Mr Johnson said what actually happened has been mischaracterised in the public's imagination.

He said: "It's a million miles away from the reality of what actually happened."

Told by Baroness Hallett, the inquiry chair, many people have told her of the offence caused, Mr Johnson adds that he apologises for it and does not wish to deflect from that.

Boris: I never backed Covid 'let it rip' strategy

12:06 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson has said he was not "reconciled" to Covid deaths or thought it wise to "let it rip" in the autumn of 2020.

The former prime minister strongly rejected the idea that he backed such a strategy as the Government grappled with rising Covid cases in September 2020.

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

"Frankly, it does not do justice to what we did - our thoughts, our feeling, 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,” he said.

Will Rwanda legislation stop court challenges?

11:47 , Josh Salisbury

The PM's emergency legislation is designed to prevent repeated legal challenges which have so far thwarted all Government attempts to deport migrants to Rwanda, writes chief political correspondent, Rachael Burford.

Essentially, Rishi Sunak is betting on a two-pronged strategy to overcome the legal obstacles.

Firstly, earlier this week the Home Secretary signed a new treaty that guarantees people sent from Britain to Rwanda will not be deported back to their home country.

The process, known as refoulement, was a central reason to the Supreme Court ruling that previous iterations of the scheme were unlawful.

The treaty also puts in place new safeguards to protect the rights of asylum seekers relocated to the East African nation.

Secondly, the government is introducing new laws designed to prevent future legal challenges derailing the policy on the basis of safety and human rights.

It will say that safeguards enshrined in the treaty mean Rwanda is a “safe country” and courts and the Home Office will have to treat it as such when deciding whether to deport someone there.

It will also overrule some sections of the Human Rights Act that could be used by opponents to lodge a judicial review on grounds that it breaches rights enshrined in law.

This is designed to prevent migrants using the Human Rights Act to prevent their removal to Rwanda.

Rwanda bill to be debated on Tuesday

11:45 , Josh Salisbury

The Government's emergency legislation to make clear that Rwanda is a safe country will be debated by MPs on Tuesday December 12.

Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt confirmed the date of the second reading for the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Draft Bill to the Commons.

The vote will likely highlight Tory divisions over the bill, with some on the right of the party saying it does not go far enough. However, Mr Sunak says he cannot go further in disapplying human rights law, because Rwanda would then collapse the deal and the Government would be left with nowhere to send asylum seekers to.

Russians tried to hack senior British politicians

11:36 , Josh Salisbury

While Rishi Sunak was giving a press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden confirmed that a unit of Russian FSB officers were behind a sustained hacking attempt of senior British politicians and civil servants.

Mr Dowden said: "Today I have confirmed that a unit within the Russian Federal Security Service, known as Centre 18, has been behind sustained hostile cyber operations, aimed at interfering in parts of the UK's democratic processes.

"This has included targeting members of parliament, civil servants, think-tanks, journalists, and NGOs, through a group commonly known as Star Blizzard.

"This group, operated by FSB officers, has also selectively leaked and amplified information designed to undermine trust in politics, both in the UK and in like- minded states.

"A senior representative of the Russian Government has been summoned to the Foreign Office this morning. Appropriate sanctions have been levelled.

"Our political processes and institutions will continue to endure in spite of these attacks."

Former Supreme Court 'backs my bill', says Sunak

11:27 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak has now ended his press conference on the Rwanda bill - saying before doing so that a former Supreme Court judge believes the bill will work.

The Prime Minister said: "Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, believes this Bill will work.

"We will get flights off the ground, we will deter illegal migrants from coming in and we will finally stop the boats."

Rwanda bill 'won't be confidence vote' in Government

11:21 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak says next week's vote on his Rwanda legislation would not be treated as a confidence matter.

Asked whether he would remove the whip from Conservative MPs who voted against the Bill, he said: "No, but what this vote is about is about confidence in Parliament to demonstrate that it gets the British people's frustration.

"I get it, I'm acting on it. So actually the real question when it comes to all these votes is for the Labour Party, because I want to get this legislation on the statute books as quickly as possible. That's what we're all about.

"We've moved at record pace since the judgment to get the treaty, to get the Bill introduced, so the question now is for the Labour Party."

He added: "This is our deterrent, we are doing everything we can to get it on the statute books and get it up and running, so the question for votes in Parliament is what is the Labour Party's plan and are they going to back this legislation?"

Ex-immigration minister 'simply not right' over Rwanda bill - Sunak

11:19 , Josh Salisbury

Responding to questions from the media, Mr Sunak says Robert Jenrick's accusations about the Rwanda policy are "simply not right".

Mr Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister last night, says the government's emergency Rwanda legislation "does not go far enough".

Sunak: Legislation will stop Rwanda flights being blocked

11:13 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak is insisting his new Rwanda legislation "blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights" and claimed going any further would mean "the entire scheme will collapse".

Some MPs on the right of his party had urged him to go for a 'full fat' option to allow ministers to ignore the ECHR and remove judicial review options.

Mr Sunak believes he cannot go further, because it would make the treaty unworkable.

However, he says the bill means those who want to stay in Britain will have to provide "credible and compelling evidence" that they face "imminent risk" of harm or they could face deportation to Rwanda.

The legislation is due to be voted on early next week, but it is not clear at the moment whether the Government has the numbers for it amid a Tory split.

Sunak: Rwanda bill will stop 'legal merry-go-round'

11:07 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak is holding a Downing Street press conference over the Rwanda Bill.

The prime minister says the legislation will "stop the merry-go-round of legal challenges" that have repeatedly blocked previous attempts to send immigrants to the African nation.

Sunak faces Covid grilling on Monday

11:03 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson is still being grilled on the decision to go for local restrictions in autumn 2020 instead of a national circuit breaker lockdown.

The first hour has also seen him questioned on Eat Out To Help Out.

Rishi Sunak, the-then Chancellor behind the scheme, will be questioned by the Covid inquiry on Monday.

The Prime Minister was branded "Dr Death" by Government advisors over the scheme.

The conversation between epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds and Professor Dame Angela McLean - now chief scientific adviser to the Government - took place during a meeting in September 2020.

Dame Angela messaged Prof Edmunds, referring to “Dr Death the Chancellor”, the inquiry was told at an earlier hearing.

Prof Edmunds said the reference could have been about Eat Out to Help Out, which had launched a month earlier.

Sunak holds emergency press conference on Rwanda bill

10:59 , Josh Salisbury

Away from the Covid inquiry, Rishi Sunak is holding an emergency press conference over the Rwanda bill.

Mr Sunak has appointed two immigration ministers to replace Robert Jenrick, who dramatically quit yesterday over the Rwanda bill.

Michael Tomlinson has been made Minister for Illegal Migration in the Home Office, while Tom Pursglove is set to be Minister of State for Legal Migration and Delivery.

Johnson acknowledges Covid rules were too complex to follow

10:47 , Josh Salisbury

Also on restrictions, Boris Johnson has acknowledged the rules during the pandemic were often too complex to follow.

He said he had "a great deal of sympathy for the police, those who are charged with enforcing it, because it changed very often".

He added: "I think there were 60 separate changes, and the complexities for the public to understand were very grey".

Asked how it might be done differently in future, the former prime minister said it would be a matter for the inquiry, but suggested reflection is needed.

He said: "I think that there needs to be a great deal of reflection about simplifying the whole approach, and seeing what we can do to rely more on common sense and less on regulation and legislation."

Johnson defends decision to go for local restrictions

10:44 , Josh Salisbury

The inquiry has moved onto debate over whether to have a circuit breaker lockdown in autumn 2020.

The inquiry is hearing that Mr Johnson was advised to undertake a national circuit breaker lockdown in order to stop surging cases, which did not happen.

Explaining his decision to instead go for local restrictions, Mr Johnson says: "The disease was very diversely spread over the country. The question would have been, do we continue with national restrictions all the time ... or do you try what we tried, which is respect and reflect the geography of the outbreak."

He adds: "That seems for many people to have been a sensible way forward ... I think it was worth a try."

We couldn't 'segment' population for second wave, says Johnson

10:36 , Josh Salisbury

Hugo Keith is showing the inquiry WhatsApps in which Boris Johnson said it was "obvious" there was going to be a second wave in late 2020.

He is asked about plans to 'segment' the population, which would have allowed some people to go about their daily business.

Mr Johnson said this was not practical, because the transmission of the disease becomes too rapid.

He is then asked about a WhatsApp debate he had with Sir Chris in Autumn 2020, in which Mr Johnson said people should have a choice rather than being forced to shield.

The WhatsApp shows that Sir Chris advised him not to go ahead with a 'segmented' approach to the second wave.

'No evidence' Eat Out to Help Out led to case surge

10:29 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson has said he is "not confident that there is substantial evidence" that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

He tells the inquiry: "I don't think that I thought that scheme in itself was a particular gamble at the time and it certainly wasn't presented to me as such, nor am I confident that there is very substantial evidence that it did indeed add to the to the R (reproductive number of the virus).

"I defer to what your inquiry has discovered, but I can't see anything that conclusively shows that it made a big difference. At the time it wasn't presented to me as something that would."

He added: "The thinking was that the country had made a huge effort, that we got the R down below one, that the disease was no longer spreading in the way that it had been, and that within the budget of risk, it was now possible to open up hospitality."

Whitty 'was consulted on Eat Out to Help Out'

10:24 , Josh Salisbury

Hugo Keith KC is pressing Boris Johnson on whether scientists were consulted on Eat Out to Help Out.

Both Sir Patrick Vallance and Sir Chris Whitty have told the inquiry they were not consulted, and would have opposed the scheme.

Asked why he said they were "properly" consulted in his statement, Mr Johnson says he assumed they would have been aware.

"I'm perplexed as something as significant as that would have got through [without them knowing] ... I remember the scheme coming up several times," he says.

Boris 'surprised' at Whitty Eat Out to Help Out criticism

10:19 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson is now being asked about the scheme which eventually became Eat Out to Help Out.

He is asked by counsel Hugo Keith about claims made by Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance that they weren't consulted about the risk of the scheme.

Sir Chris had called the scheme, which gave discounts on hospitality, "eat out to help out the virus" in an email.

Mr Johnson tells the inquiry he was surprised at the criticism. "I'm fairly confident it was discussed at meetings several times at which I believe they must have been present," he says.

Boris Johnson begins second day of evidence

10:12 , Josh Salisbury

Boris Johnson has begun his second day of evidence to the inquiry.

It has also been revealed that Rishi Sunak will testify on Monday.