Evasions and ‘apologies’: Boris Johnson at the Covid inquiry

Boris Johnson at the Covid inquiry: expansive hand gestures and facial expressions can’t hide the lack of remorse.

Boris Johnson seems to have taken part of his strategy for giving evidence to the Covid inquiry from Harry Potter.

In the fifth book of JK Rowling’s celebrated children’s series, the title character is accused of a crime and his trial is brought forward in an attempt to ensure that his head teacher is unable to attend in time and give evidence.

Today (December 6, 2023), Johnson arrived at the inquiry’s venue no less than three hours early, in an attempt to evade critics – hecklers, bereaved family members of those who died, and so on.

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In this, he appears to have succeeded. All he had to avoid on the street were questions from the press:

It didn’t stop him from being heckled while giving his evidence:

While the inquiry’s chair was right to have the hecklers removed – they were disrupting proceedings, their interruption highlighted the lack of any real apology in Johnson’s statement.

Here’s Professor Tim Wilson:

He’s right. The apology was “Sorry you’re not happy,” rather than “I apologise for my failure”.

The questions he faced seem to have been primarily about WhatsApp messages that passed between the then-prime minister, his advisers and staff during 2020 – in particular, those that went missing from a phone he stopped using on the pretext that it was a security risk.

After it was unlocked, technicians appear to have discovered that a “factory reset” was performed on that phone in January 2020, and then an attempt was made to put back the information that had been removed at that time in June of that year. Johnson denied knowledge of what a “factory reset” was, implying that he had nothing to do with this alleged activity.

Do you believe him?

In the event, it seems unlikely that the loss of this information mattered very much because Johnson’s advisers and staff passed the messages from him on their own WhatsApp accounts to the inquiry, so it was entirely possible to question him on issues of his government’s competence that were raised by those people during the period under discussion.

Here’s what he had to say:

Questions raised were whether there was an abusive/misogynistic atmosphere, how well the government performed, what the government’s members thought of each other and what they thought of the decisions that were taken.

The impression received by the inquiry so far, it seems, was one of “incompetence and disarray”.

Johnson tried to defend himself and the government, but you can judge for yourself how well he succeeded.

He said there was a distinction between the language used in the messages and the performance of the government, claiming that he “got an awful lot done”.

He dismissed concerns that were raised about the toxicity of his operation, saying prime ministers are constantly being lobbied to sack other members of the government, and opinions expressed by his top civil servants were part of the “day in, day out” running of a country.

He is continuing to give evidence so more will follow.

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