Coronarivus: ex-UK PM Boris Johnson ‘bamboozled’ by science, Covid-19 inquiry told
- Patrick Vallance, the PM’s chief scientific adviser said that Johnson struggled to come to grips with much of the science during the coronavirus pandemic
- Johnson was forced to step down as PM in September 2022 following revelations of lockdown rule-breaking parties at his Downing Street residence during the pandemic
“I think I’m right in saying that the prime minister gave up science at 15,” he said. “I think he’d be the first to admit it wasn’t his forte and that he struggled with the concepts and we did need to repeat them – often.”
In extracts from his diary that were relayed to the inquiry, Vallance said Johnson was “bamboozled” by the graphs and data and that watching him “get his head round stats is awful.”
During the pandemic, Vallance was a highly visible presence in the UK He and the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, would flank Johnson in numerous daily Covid-19 press briefings from the prime minister’s offices on Downing Street.
Vallance, who stepped down from his role as the British government’s chief scientific adviser earlier this year, said Johnson’s struggles were not unique and that many leaders had problems in understanding the scientific evidence and advice, especially in the first stages of the pandemic in early 2020.
“So I do not think that there was necessarily a unique inability to grasp some of these concepts with the prime minister at the time, but it was hard work sometimes to try and make sure that he had understood what a particular graph or piece of data was saying,” Vallance added.
The probe, led by retired Judge Heather Hallett, is expected to take three years to complete. Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry after heavy pressure from bereaved families, who have hit out at the evidence emerging about his actions.
Sunak is likely to face questioning about his “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative, which sought to encourage nervous customers back to restaurants in August 2020 as the first set of lockdown restrictions were put in place and before subsequent lockdowns were enacted.
Vallance said scientists weren’t aware of the restaurant programme until it was announced and that the surrounding messaging ran “opposite” to the need to limit mixing between households.
“I think our advice would have been very clear on that,” he said.