Chris Whitty gives evidence at Covid inquiry – UK politics live

Key events

Q: Was there no aspect on the pandemic on which you did not advise?

Whitty says he would not put it like that. He says he felt it important to advise on issues where advice from a scientist or doctor would be useful.

He says there was a limit to what they could do. There were only 20 people in his office, he said.

Q: But there were no issues on which you could not advise?

Whitty says quite often his office said they thought it was not right for them to advise on a particular matter.

Whitty says, as CMO (chief medical officer) for England, he matches what the CMOs do in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But he says he also advises the government on health on UK matters, and as CMO for England he has certain international responsibilities.

He says, when Covid first emerged in January, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam led on the response. He was one of three deputy chief medical officers, and his responsibility was health protection. But, by the end of January, Whitty says he was leading on this issue

Chris Whitty
Chris Whitty Photograph: Covid inquiry

Keith is asking about the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which is headed by Whitty.

Q: Did your ability to be CMO as well as CEO of NIHR help?

Whitty says overall this was beneficial. He was able to combine the strategy for medical research with strategy for Covid. But he says doing both roles meant he was “quite stretched”.

Whitty starts giving evidence to Covid inquiry

Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England and chief medical adviser for the UK, is giving evidence now.

Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel for the inquiry, is asking the questions.

Dame Heather Hallett, the chair, points out that Whitty has already given evidence. Here is a report of his evidence in module one, which looked at pandemic preparedness.

Keith starts by saying that, for module two, looking at how the government responded to the pandemic, Whitty has produced a corporate witness statement and a fourth personal one. These run to 340 pages, he says. He says Whitty has also given the inquiry hundreds of document.s

UK borrows less than expected this year as Hunt lines up giveaways

The UK government borrowed less than expected in the first seven months of the financial year as Jeremy Hunt puts the last-minute touches to a series of pre-election giveaways in his autumn statement tomorrow, Phillip Inman reports.

If you are one of those Conservative MPs who believe that the secret to electoral success is tax cuts (are there any Tory MPs who don’t?), then the splash headlines in this morning’s papers will be very welcome. Here are three of them from rightwing papers.

Laura Trott, the new chief secretary to the Treasury, was giving interviews this morning and she confirmed the papers were right to anticipate tax cuts. She told Times Radio:

We have turned a corner. Inflation has halved. That is really significant for people at home. We know how tough things have been.

Real wages are, for three months, now ahead of inflation – again, that’s really important to kind of making a difference to how people feel.

So we can now talk about tax cuts and focus on growth, and that is what we’re going to be doing.

Patrick Vallance says he considered resigning during Covid because of threats to his family

In one of his witness statements published last night, Sir Patrick Vallance also said that he had considered resigning during Covid because of threats he was facing. As the BBC reports, Vallance said:

Like many others I received abuse and threats and I was concerned for the wellbeing and safety of my family.

At times those factors did lead me to question whether I should continue.

I also found people breaking the lockdown rules very difficult and considered what I should do in response, but decided that I would help most by continuing with my job.

Prof Sir Chris Whitty arriving at the Covid inquiry this morning.
Prof Sir Chris Whitty arriving at the Covid inquiry this morning. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Government accused of economic blackmail after omitting Northern Ireland from latest levelling up funding

Rory Carroll

Rory Carroll

The government has been accused of “economic blackmail” after omitting Northern Ireland from levelling up funding because of its political vacuum.

Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said yesterday the region would not receive anything from the latest allocation, which will fund 55 projects in England, Wales and Scotland. “Given the current absence of a working executive and assembly, the government is not proceeding with this round of the levelling up fund at this time,” it said.

Stormont collapsed in February 2022 when the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) walked out to protest post-Brexit trading arrangements that treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said the funding cut was an “outrageous” attempt to blackmail the party into reviving power-sharing. He also accused the government of siphoning money to Conservative-held seats in England.

Conor Murphy, a Sinn Féin assembly member, said the decision was a “cynical attack on ordinary people” and that Northern Ireland was paying the price for the DUP’s “reckless boycott”.

Claire Hanna, an SDLP MP, said: “The Conservative government don’t ever need an excuse to under-invest in our region but the DUP have given them that cover on this particular fund.”

Northern Ireland received allocations in two previous rounds and was led to expect another allocation – the department placed advertisements in local media that used images of Belfast with the declaration “Levelling Up is here”.

Chris Whitty expected to say he regrets saying people would not tolerate long lockdown in Covid inquiry

Good morning. Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and chief medical adviser for the UK, is giving evidence all day to the Covid inquiry. The session starts at 10am, but we have already had an insight into one of the points he might make from a witness statement from Sir Patrick Vallance published by the inquiry last night. In it, Vallance says Whitty regrets saying “fatigue” might stop people putting up with a long lockdown.

Extract from Patrick Vallance’s witness statement
Extract from Patrick Vallance’s witness statement Photograph: Covid inquiry

This was in one of three witness statements from Vallance published by the inquiry last night, after the government’s former chief scientific adviser finished giving evidence in person.

In his evidence Vallance said Whitty had initially been more reluctant than others to support an early lockdown at the start of the Covid crisis. This wasn’t a great secret because in those very early press conferences Whitty argued that, if the government were to introduce restrictions on what people could to too early, there was a danger that people would get tired of complying, and start reverting to normal behaviour, at a point where Covid was still a threat. This is what Vallance is referring to when he talks about Whitty introducing the concept of “behavioural fatigue”.

This later became highly controversial not just because it was wrong – people were willing to comply with lockdown restrictions for a long time (perhaps surprisingly) – but also because there does not seem to be much evidence to support the concept in the first place. Scientists on SPI-B (the Scientific Paendemic Insights group on Behaviour) subsequently said the idea did not come from them.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and chief medical adviser for the UK, gives evidence to the Covid inquiry.

10.15am: Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the Bank’s monetary policy reports.

11.30am: No 10 holds a lobby briefing

After 3pm: David Cameron is due to speak in the Lords for the first time as foreign secretary in a debate on the trade (comprehensive and progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific partnership) bill.

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Updated at 04.42 EST