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Rishi Sunak apologises as he gives COVID inquiry evidence | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has apologised to “all of those who lost loved ones, family members” during the pandemic.

The prime minister is appearing before the UK’s COVID inquiry, as part of the investigation’s section on decision-making in the pandemic.

He is giving evidence about his time as chancellor.

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The prime minister began his evidence by apologising.

“I just wanted to start by saying how deeply sorry I am to all of those who lost loved ones, family members, through the pandemic,” he said.

“And also all those who suffered in various different ways throughout the pandemic and as a result of the actions that were taken.”

Hugo Keith KC, and the prime minister, spent much of the morning going through how choices were made in government.

Mr Sunak emphasised that it was Boris Johnson – as prime minister – who was ultimately responsible for making choices about the UK’s direction, and he would give input about the economy as chancellor.

Speaking about the government’s changing of course in the lead-up to the first lockdown, Mr Sunak said that public health considerations were of primary concern, and that Mr Johnson acted largely on advice from SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) – which itself would change.

The then chancellor said he did not feel shut out and had adequate access to Mr Johnson.

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Key moments of Johnson’s inquiry evidence

At the start of his evidence, the prime minister had to defend the fact that he was unable to supply any of his WhatsApp messages from the pandemic to the inquiry.

The prime minister said he had changed phones numerous times since the pandemic began, and the messages had not moved between his devices.

Mr Keith raised an article in The Spectator magazine, published last year, in which Mr Sunak was interviewed. This article suggested Mr Sunak privately lobbied Mr Johnson and tried not to “leave a paper trail”.

Mr Sunak said he would write to Mr Johnson when necessary – and as neighbours they would regularly speak informally, for example when they were in the garden of Downing Street with their families.

He added that he saw Mr Johnson “more” than his wife in the early days of COVID due to the length of time spent working.

Mr Sunak has been criticised by others – particularly scientific advisers – for advocating for economic health over people’s lives.

In October, the inquiry heard how one scientific adviser branded Mr Sunak “Dr Death” over his Eat Out to Help Out scheme enacted after the first lockdown.

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The programme subsidised meals at restaurants in order to get people using the hospitality sector and prevent businesses from closing.

The way in which the scheme came about is likely to feature in Mr Sunak’s evidence.

Just before the lunch break, Mr Sunak is asked if he remembered a warning about the risks of reopening schools and risks after the first lockdown.

He said the message – sent by Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance – was not one the sort of one that he would have regularly read.

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