Boris was ‘bamboozled’ by graphs and data during Covid, claims ex-chief scientist

Boris was ‘bamboozled’ by graphs and data during Covid, claims ex-chief scientist

Former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence at Dorland House in London(Picture: PA)

Boris Johnson was ‘bamboozled’ by scientific evidence shown to him during the pandemic, the Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

The former Prime Minister was regularly shown graphs and data which appeared to confuse him, according to diary entries from former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

It also heard how Mr Johnson queried whether the virus was spreading ‘because of the great libertarian nation we are’.

The independent investigation is looking into how the UK handled the coronavirus and to see what lessons can be learned for the future.

One of Sir Patrick’s diary entries from May 4, 2020, said: ‘Late afternoon meeting with the PM on schools. My God, this is complicated. Models will not provide the answer. PM is clearly bamboozled.’

Others, also written in May 2020, said: ‘PM asking whether we’ve overdone it on the lethality of this disease. He swings between optimism, pessimism, and then this.

‘PM still confused on different types of test. He holds it in his head for a session and then it goes.’

Former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance arrives to give a statement to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London (Picture: PA)

In June, Sir Patrick wrote: ‘Watching the PM get his head round stats is awful. He finds relative and absolute risk almost impossible to understand.’

An entry from September 2020 said: ‘Clare Gardiner talked PM through the graphs.

‘It is difficult, he asks questions like which line is the dark red line – is he colourblind? Then “so you think positivity has gone up overnight?” then “oh god bloody hell”. But it is all the same stuff he was shown six hours ago.’

Sir Patrick told the inquiry: ‘I think I’m right in saying that the Prime Minister gave up science at 15.

Boris johnson was ‘bamboozled’ by graphs and data presented to him during Covid, according to diary entries by Sir Patrick Vallance (Picture: REX / GETTY)

‘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.’

Sir Patrick also said that scientists were not aware of Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme until it was announced.

The initiative was launched by then-chancellor Mr Sunak in August 2020 in order to kickstart the restaurant sector following the first lockdown.

Sir Patrick said: ‘I think our advice would have been very clear on that (Eat Out to Help Out).’

He added that they were ‘involved in some of the discussions’ on the tier system, and advised on ‘what would be sensible’ if the government was to go ‘down that route’.

However, Sir Patrick said they were not involved in its inception, adding: ‘And in some ways nor should we be – these are policy choices, but we should at least see what the policy choice is and have a chance to comment on that.’

Sir Patrick said scientists were unaware of Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme

A witness statement from Mr Sunak was also shown to the Covid-19 inquiry on Monday.

It said: ‘I don’t recall any concerns about the scheme being expressed during ministerial discussions’, including those attended by chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick.

Giving evidence to the probe, Sir Patrick said: ‘We didn’t see it before it was announced and I think others in the Cabinet Office also said they didn’t see it before it was formulated as policy. So we weren’t involved in the run-up to it.’

He added: ‘I think it would have been very obvious to anyone that this inevitably would cause an increase in transmission risk, and I think that would have been known by ministers.’

When asked about Mr Sunak’s understanding of the risks, Sir Patrick said: ‘If he was in the meetings, I can’t recall which meetings he was in. But I’d be very surprised if any minister didn’t understand that these openings carried risk.’

The inquiry, led by Baroness Heather Hallett, continues.

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