O’Connor asks about Boris Johnson’s understanding of scientific concepts. He shows the inquiry a series of extracts from Vallance’s diary which provide evidence of this.
This extract, from May 2020, describes Johnson as being “clearly bamboozled” by modelling on schools.
Here is another extract from May 2020 describing Johnson as being “confused” about different types of tests.
In this extract, from June 2020, Vallance says it is “awful” watching Johnson trying to understand statistics and that he finds the difference between absolute and relative risk “almost impossible to understand”.
In this extract, from July 2020, Vallance says Johnson did not understand the concept of doubling times.
And this one, from September 2020, says it is difficult getting Johnson to understand graphs – even when he has seen them before.
The inquiry has just published Vallance’s 241-page witness statement on its website. It includes this nugget. (The CMO is the chief medical officer, Prof Sir Chris Whitty.)
Despite reports that 11th hour consideration is being given to a range of ideas, the key points of what Jeremy Hunt will unveil on Wednesday was finalised last week, Conservative MPs believe.
Those from the party’s centrist wing are also feeling confident. One said:
People would be concerned if we were pursing things for what are essentially ideological reasons which, as we saw earlier this year, can have unintended consequences. The good news is that is not Rishi Sunak or Jeremy Hunt’s style.
We’re keenly aware that we have been through a period that damaged the party’s reputation for economic competence, so steadying the ship is really important.
The One Nation Caucus, which represents 106 Tory MPs, published a report today making a case for how the autumn statement could reclaim undecided voters by calling for greater aid for first-time homebuyers and simplifying tax rates to create a new lower top rate
Downing Street has denied reports (see 10.04am) that the cabinet is split over the legislation being prepared in response to last week’s supreme court judgment on the Rwanda policy. Asked if Rishi Sunak was finding it hard to get ministers to agree a joint approach, the PM’s spokesperson told reporters:
No. The prime minister was very clear about the approach the government is taking.
He’s working very closely with members of cabinet on the details of that following the judgment.
Samuel Jacobs, counsel for the TUC, is asking questions now.
He asks about an entry in Vallance’s diary for 6 August 2020. In it Vallance quotes Boris Johnson as saying he just wants pupils back in school and is “no longer taking this Covid excuse stuff”.
Q: Did you think the PM was being reckless?
Vallance says he was focused on evidence-based plans. He thought the government needed various options.
These are difficult questions, he says. He says you need to plan for school openings and closures.
Jacobs then shows another diary extract from 16 September 2020 in which he quotes Johnson as saying “maybe we should blame ourselves”. Vallance describes that as “a rare moment of truthfulness” and he talks of “complete chaos over schools”.
Asked why he wrote that, Vallance says he cannot remember. But it must have been what he felt that night, he says.
Jacobs shows another diary extract, from 3 January 2021. It describes schools policy as a “complete mess” and blames the Department for Education.
Again, Vallance says he cannot recall exactly what this was referring to. But he says he remembers being very worried at the time about the situation in London.
Jacobs shows a final entry, from 11 June 2020, in which Vallance refers to Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, saying Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, should be kept away from policy development, but given an “illusion of ownership”. Vallance quotes Boris Johnson as seeming to endorse this.
Asked to elaborate on the relationship between No 10 and the DfE, Vallance says he was not an expert on how government departments related to each other.
When Jacobs puts it to him that this reflects badly on Williamson, Vallance says No 10 seemed to be saying things like this about quite a lot of people.
That’s the end of the hearing for today. The inquiry is back tomorrow at 10am, with Prof Sir Chris Whitty giving evidence.
Vallance is now being questioned by Rajiv Menon, counsel for three groups representing children.
Menon asks about a note in Vallance’s diary. He does not show the extract on screen, but he reads it out. Vallance said:
Sage pushing for “can’t we exempt children from rule of 6”. We said no. Not unless CMO wanted to revisit.
Menon asks Vallance to explain this.
Vallance says he thinks this refers to Sage (the Scientific advisory group for emergencies) wanting to exempt children from the rule of six, but the Cabinet Office not wanting to reopen the policy.
And he says the scientists did not really approve of the rule of six anyway. He says:
We didn’t actually think that that had an enormous basis on anything.
He says it was not possible to say why meeting in groups of six might be acceptable, but not in groups of eight or 10.
The fewer contacts you had, the less the risk of transmission, he says.
Back at the Covid inquiry Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, is now being questioned by Philip Dayle, counsel for the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations.
Dayle asks Vallance about an entry in his diary where he describes a press conference, and says he and his colleagues had agreed in advance not to discuss ethnic disparities in Covid deaths.
Vallance says that is because, at that stage, they were still trying to establish what was causing these disparities.
Rain Newton-Smith, the director general of the CBI, is putting questions to Hunt. She says the last decade has been dismal for growth.
Hunt says productivity in the UK is 15% lower than in Germany. That means German workers produce in four days what British workers produce in five days.
That is not because Germans work harder than Britons, says Hunt. And he says the UK has a better record for innovation.
But Germany is better at developing skills, he says. They have a better system for technical innovation.
He says in the autumn statement he will announce measures to unlock business investment. And there will also be an overhaul of the planning system, he says.
Turning away from the Covid inquiry, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is now taking part in a Q&A at a CBI conference.
Hunt starts by claiming that his autumn statement is not yet finalised, so he is still open to suggestions.
He says, now inflation is coming under control, the government can “start to shake off some of the defeatism and pessimism” about Britain.
He says he expected ridicule when he said he wanted Britain to be the next Silicon Valley. But, outside the US, it has the best universities and the best financial sector, he says.
Weatherby shows an extract from Vallance’s diary for 11 October 2020. This was in the period when a second lockdown was being debated, but resisted by the PM and other ministers. Vallance complains about ministers being “as meek as mice”. And he describes what was happening as a “massive abrogation of responsibility”.
Q: Is that your view?
Vallance says it is what he thought that night.
Pete Weatherby KC, counsel for Covid Bereaved Families for Justice, is asking questions now.
He starts by asking Sir Patrick Vallance to confirm that the Eat out to help out scheme would have increased the number of Covid deaths.
Vallance accepts that.
O’Connor showed the inquiry some excerpts from notes taken by Vallance ahead of the second lockdown.
On 26 October 2020 Vallance complained about Boris Johnson being “so inconsistent”.
On 28 October Johnson was still resisting lockdown.
And on 30 October Vallance said Johnson had still not defined his aims.
The “good innings” and “lack of leadership” extract from Vallance’s diary shown to the Covid inquiry (see 3.05pm) also quotes Vallance quoting Dominic Cummings (DC), the PM’s chief adviser at the time, saying, “Rishi [Sunak] thinks just let people die and that’s okay.”
This was 25 October 2020. Sunak was chancellor at the time.
O’Connor is now asking about the events leading up to the second lockdown in the autumn of 2020.
He shows several extracts from Vallance’s diary in which Vallance describes Boris Johnson resisting pressure for tougher measures.
O’Connor refers to Johnson talking about being willing to let Covid rip. Asked if that was accurate, Vallance accepts that – but points out that Johnson may well have said the following day that he wanted no deaths at all.
In one extract for 25 October 2020 Vallance quotes Johnson as saying it does not matter if more elderly people die because “they’ve had a good innings”. Vallance recalls feeling, at the end of a meeting with Johnson, there was a “complete lack of leadership”.
Q: Is that still your view now?
Vallance says it must have felt as if there was a complete lack of leadership. Reading the extract, he says it “feels like quite a shambolic day”.
Back at the inquiry O’Connor quotes an extract from Vallance’s diary in which Vallace says Matt Hancock “explained things well for once”.
Several witnesses to the inquiry have been bitterly critical of Hancock, health secretary at the time. O’Connor says there are many references to Hancock in Vallance’s diary. He says he does not want to go through them all, but he says other witnesses found Hancock untrustworthy and unreliable, and he asks Vallance what he thought of Hancock.
I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for.
And he would say them too enthusiastically, too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them, days later. I don’t know to what extent that was over-enthusiasm versus deliberate. I think a lot of it was over-enthusiasm, but he definitely said things which surprised me because I knew the evidence base wasn’t there.
Q: So he said things that were not true?
Yes, says Vallance.
David Cameron, or Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, has just taken his seat in the Lords. Sky News has the clip.
O’Connor also showed the inquiry an extract from Vallance’s diary in which Vallance accused the Treasury of “pure dogma”.
On 26 October 2021 Vallance wrote:
Economic predictions. HMT [the Treasury] saying economy nearly back to normal and plan B would cost £18bn. No evidence, no transparency, pure dogma and wrong throughout. I did think there was a lack of transparency on the economic side and it was difficult to know exactly what modelling had been done and what input there had been to various assertions and comments made.