Gove defends Sunak over Eat Out to Help Out

Mr Gove defended the Eat Out to Help Out scheme on Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips
Mr Gove defended the Eat Out to Help Out scheme on Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips

Michael Gove has defended Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as the Prime Minister prepares to appear before the Covid Inquiry on Monday.

The scheme, which Mr Sunak introduced while chancellor, offered discounts of up to 50 per cent on restaurant meals in summer 2020 when hospitality venues reopened after the first lockdown.

Sir Patrick Vallance, who was chief scientific adviser at the time, told the inquiry last month that Eat Out to Help Out was “highly likely” to have increased Covid deaths in the UK.

It prompted another adviser to call Mr Sunak “Dr Death the chancellor”, while Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, is claimed to have nicknamed the initiative “Eat Out to Help Out the virus”.

Asked about Sir Patrick’s remarks, Mr Gove told Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “That’s Sir Patrick’s view and I have enormous respect for Sir Patrick having worked for him closely.

“However, I think it’s important to say that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme was announced a month before it was implemented. And in the period pre-announcement and post-implementation, it was not the case that there was a public critique of it.

Hospitality industry support

“It was an effective way of ensuring that the hospitality industry was supported through a very difficult period and it was entirely within the broad outlines of rules about social mixing that prevailed at the time.”

Pressed on whether Eat Out to Help Out was indeed likely to have caused excess Covid deaths, Mr Gove insisted he would not “preempt” any potential conclusions of the Inquiry.

“One of the things about Covid is that distinguished scientists came to different conclusions at different times about the efficacy of particular policies,” he added.

“That’s not to criticise them, quite the opposite. That’s to make the point that they’re making – that ‘the science’ is not a monolithic body of unchanging truths. It is an evolving response to a virus, a novel virus, which was devastating lives across the world.”

Eat Out to Help Out, which offered diners 50 per cent off food and non-alcoholic drinks on Mondays to Wednesdays at a limit of at £10 per head – ended up costing taxpayers £849 million, well above the £500 million original forecast by the Treasury.

Treasury ignored warning

The Telegraph revealed last month that Mr Sunak’s team at the Treasury ignored an Oxford University study that warned opening up restaurants “did not make economic sense’’ as it would see deaths rise while having minimal impact on employment.

Messages obtained by The Telegraph as part of The Lockdown Files investigation in March showed Eat Out to Help Out was mocked by Matt Hancock, the then health secretary, who called it “Eat Out to Help the Virus get about”.

The scheme has been defended by Mr Sunak, who took a more sceptical approach towards restrictions than some of his Cabinet colleagues.

In October 2020, he played down a link between Eat Out to Help Out and a rise in the numbers testing positive for Covid and warned against “jumping to simplistic conclusions”.

“Whether it’s France or Spain, where very specifically our scientists said we were following exactly the same curve,” he said at the time. “So, actually, this seems to be more a feature just of the virus and the season than anything specific.”

Downing Street confirmed that Mr Sunak would spend this weekend working from Downing Street instead of Chequers, the prime ministerial grace-and-favour residence.

Asked about the details of his preparations on Friday, a No 10 spokesman told reporters: “He will be answering questions from the inquiry. While I’m not across the details of that, I’m sure he will be ensuring that he is prepared to do that on Monday.”

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