The second round of public hearings examining the UK's handling of the COVID pandemic - Penny Mordaunt says her WhatsApp messages went missing

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has arrived for two days of questioning at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at around 07:00.

In an interview with Sky News, Policing Minister Chris Philp joked: “It’s the first time Boris has ever been early for anything.”

The inquiry has already heard that much of the decision-making in the pandemic didn’t take place in cabinet, or in the Cobra emergency committee, but in Downing Street itself.

The prime minister, his advisers and a small number of key ministers tended to be involved. That often included the Chancellor Rishi Sunak but also cabinet office minister Michael Gove and the health secretary Matt Hancock.

The final call, though, would have to be made by the prime minister. And his decision-making has come under intense scrutiny in this inquiry.

BJ is, of course, expected to lie, or at least obfuscate, throughout his appearance at the inquiry - it’s habitual for him … :man_shrugging:

Boris Johnson has been unable to supply the Covid-19 inquiry with any of his WhatsApp messages for almost the entirety of the first lockdown.

He was initially unable to hand over WhatsApp messages to the inquiry because he could not remember the passcode. Earlier this year he was able to access the device with the support of experts and it had been assumed the messages were passed on.

However, Johnson has told the inquiry that even with access to the device, experts were unable to retrieve any of his messages from January 31 to June 7, which covers a critical period from the run-up to the first Covid lockdown to the easing of restrictions. “The technical team has been unable to determine the cause of this,” he has told the inquiry.

A source close to Johnson denied that he had deleted the messages. Rishi Sunak has separately told the inquiry that he no longer has access to WhatsApp messages from his time as chancellor.

Well, that’s convenient … and reeks of conspiracy … :poop:

Inside the inquiry, Johnson is asked by lawyer Hugo Keith what the main mistakes of the government’s response to the pandemic were.

Johnson says he would struggle to list them in a hierarchy, but insists he and his government did their “level best”. He admits mistakes were made, saying “there were unquestionably things we should have done differently”.

He says he takes “personal responsibility for all decisions made”.

That means that he will have plenty of reasons to blame other people/factors … :roll_eyes:

Here we go … obfuscation:

Did government actions lead to excess deaths?

Keith next asks Johnson about whether he believes government decision-making led “materially” to excess deaths in the UK.

The pair go back and forth on whether the UK was the second-worst country for excess deaths in Western Europe (1).

“I think the UK from the evidence I’ve seen was well down the European table and even further down the world table,” Johnson says, adding that an “extremely elderly population”, a high rate of “Covid-related morbidities” and high population density also influenced the death rate (2).

Keith asks again whether government actions materially affected the outcome.

“The answer is I don’t know,” Johnson replies.

(1) That’s the appalling status that I recall … :scream:

(2) BJ’s recollections vary … :roll_eyes:

As I read elsewhere:

Having been prime minister for three years with all the House of Commons debating that entails, Johnson is used to being scrutinised at despatch box exchanges where the prime minister has raucous supporters sitting behind them and usually gets the last word.

But the format and power dynamics of the inquiry are very different. Hugo Keith KC has visibly lost patience with some of the politicians he has interrogated so far, demanding more concise answers and interjecting when he feels they are wandering away from the topic.

Hopefully, there will be summaries of BJ’s “evidence” later.


I will not be watching it, I have had enough of him.

The inquiry is now breaking for lunch – so it’s time for us to catch our breath and look back over what we heard:

An apology: Boris Johnson said sorry for the “pain and the loss and the suffering” in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, acknowledging that mistakes were made - for which he took personal responsibility

Too many men: The ex-PM also admitted he should have had a better gender balance in his team, explaining: “Too many meetings were male dominated”

A defence: But he also insisted “we did our level best” to manage the pandemic, using the information available at the time - and defended lockdowns as being “very important”

A (back-handed) endorsement: Johnson said former health secretary Matt Hancock “may have had defects, but I thought he was doing his best in challenging circumstances”

Early recollections: He defended not chairing five Cobra meetings on Covid in early 2020 - saying between January and February Covid was a "cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man’s hand”

Failing to twig: The ex-PM then said he was “really rattled” by the outbreaks in Italy in February 2020 – admitting he should have “twigged much sooner” how serious the virus was (1)

Close to tears: Johnson fought back tears while speaking about the March 2020 lockdown, and the “tragic, tragic year”

Interruptions: The session was interrupted more than once - with inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett ordering the removal of four people from the room

The hearing is due to resume just before 14:00

(1) Why the government and scientists were not paying more attention to the emerging evidence from the rest of the world – the high death rate and speed of spread – remains one of the big unanswered questions in the inquiry so far


Today’s session of the Covid inquiry has now ended and Boris Johnson is expected to exit Dorland House in London shortly.

While we wait for a summary, evidence typical of BJ’s responses at the time:

The inquiry was also shown a document on long Covid, on which in October 2020 Johnson had scrawled “bollocks” in the margin and “this is Gulf War syndrome stuff”.


Johnson tells the inquiry he is sure his assertions have “caused hurt and offence to huge numbers of people who have that syndrome”.

He said he regretted “very, very much” his use of language.

BJ can apologise all he likes but, during much of the COVID pandemic, his attitude to the threats was careless and cavalier while his “unofficial” responses are seemingly, ill-informed and crude. Small wonder that his WhatsApp messages “disappeared” … :roll_eyes:


  • Boris Johnson has told the UK Covid inquiry he had “no other tool” than lockdown to control the virus in March 2020
  • The former PM was answering a rare question from the inquiry chair - on whether he’d considered anti-lockdown arguments
  • Johnson also said he shouldn’t have shaken the hands of Covid patients in March 2020, and should have cancelled mass gatherings like the Cheltenham Festival

Hopefully, there’s more to come.


Iain Watson - Political correspondent

The inquiry has already heard from former aides Dominic Cummings - who described Johnson as the “trolley” due to the way he would change direction on things - and Lee Cain, who suggested he didn’t have the “skill set” to deal with the pandemic. This afternoon, we’re hearing the ex-PM’s defence.

So far we have seen very little of the Boris bombast - but he was visibly agitated with what he saw as the suggestion that he should have agreed a course of action before talking to Rishi Sunak, the then-chancellor, about the risks to the bond markets and the government’s ability to raise cash.

“I had to go through the arguments,” was Johnson’s view. But to his detractors, that will seem a very positive spin being put on indecisiveness and a lack of leadership

Exactly … :neutral_face:

Boris Johnson has given almost five hours of evidence to the inquiry today, which has now moved on to discussing the culture at No 10.

Johnson says it was “argumentative” but stresses that it needed an atmosphere where people could “say things that were going to be controversial”.

Inquiry lawyer Hugo Keith KC highlights a long list of evidence that has been heard so far, pointing to the fact that there were systemic problems in No 10 and the Cabinet Office - including “God complexes”, “misogyny” and “leadership issues”.

Johnson says that because the country “needed continuous urgent action” he wanted people to “speak their minds without fear of being embarrassed” in meetings.

A pathetically weak excuse for his lack of leadership … :roll_eyes:

Hugo Keith brings up former Health Secretary Matt Hancock again.

Keith asks whether Johnson was aware that some people perceived the Department of Health as “overwhelmed” and “inefficient” - and if he was, why he did not address them by replacing Hancock?

After a lot of back and forth, Johnson finally says that, under the circumstances, he thought Hancock was doing “a good job” and was “on top of the subject”.

As well as a bad leader, BJ is patently a poor judge of character … :man_shrugging:

I dislike them ALL intensly . The group of women ousted from the hearing all lost a close family member to covid .

They are all responsible for the thousands of deaths .

Johnson’s remarks about people dying anyway

A March 2020 internal government note showed that Johnson questioned why damage was being inflicted on the economy “for people who will die anyway”. Asked about the note, Johnson said it was an indication of “the cruelty of choice” at the time.

He was also asked what he meant in a handwritten note that said: “We’re killing the patient to tackle the tumour.

Johnson said “if I did say something like that” he was referring to the need to do things that were damaging in other ways in order to “stamp down” the virus.

Johnson only read SAGE minutes ‘once or twice’

During the inquiry Mr Johnson admitted he only read the minutes from the government’s scientific advisory group (SAGE) “once or twice” during the pandemic. He said he relied on the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and the chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty to relay the views of SAGE.

Just appalling … :scream:


Nick Triggle

The first day of Johnson’s testimony was dominated by the lead up to the first lockdown – and whether more action should have been taken sooner.

Day two is likely to get into what happened in the second wave during autumn and winter.


More people died in the second six months of the pandemic than did in the first.

That is despite much more being known about the virus, how to treat it and from December onwards the vaccination programme being rolled out. What is more, schools closed again – at least for the majority of pupils.

Why the UK did not do better at this point is one of the key questions of the whole inquiry.


Today’s session has just begun. Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, is being questioned again by lead counsel for the inquiry, Hugo Keith KC.

Studying the deaths posted by the ONS for the period Apr 2020 until Apr 2021 it would appear that death from annual Influenza, covid and Pneumonia have all been lumped together. So you have to ask yourself…How many people would have perished during a normal year of winter illnesses? Sure, it was a terrible pandemic and lessons should be learnt. But would it have mattered whoever was in charge, or whatever measures were put in place? And would the outcome have been the same?

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IIRC, there were charts at the time that differentiated between “normal” death numbers and deaths from COVID, compared to previous years. At the beginning of the pandemic, the quality of data obtained was less reliable than at the end and many COVID-related deaths may have gone unrecorded since they were assigned to other causes.

Here’s one from 2022:

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Johnson is now asked about fines and the tactics he used to encourage compliance with regulations.

Johnson says that in the future there needs to be a focus on “simplifying” the approach and “relying more on common sense and less on regulation and legislation”.

Addressing libertarians in particular, he says there may be limits to this because “people want to see everybody obliged to obey the same set of rules”.

“They want their neighbours to do what they’re doing,” he says.

The irony of such advice coming from the law-breaking leader of the Party notorious for its law-breaking parties … :roll_eyes:


Did the PM want to ‘let it rip’?

Johnson is now being shown a series of extracts from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries, in which Vallance quotes Johnson as advocating a “let the virus rip” approach and being prepared to let the elderly “accept their fate”.

Johnson says the implication that he wanted to delay a national lockdown to the last possible moment was “rubbish” and “completely wrong”.

In an angry exchange, he accuses the barrister questioning him, Hugo Keith KC, of “culling accounts” from people’s “jottings in meetings”. (1) “I had to challenge the consensus in these meetings,” he says. “When the disease picked up again, we went into lockdown on the 31st of October,” he says.

Johnson says this line of questioning “does not do justice to what we did”.

Such protests, against contemporaneous written evidence, are ironic coming from the man who “lost” over 5000 records of his own contemporaneous digital evidence … :roll_eyes:


What’s happened so far today?

The inquiry has broken for lunch. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The first topic was Eat Out to Help Out. Johnson defends the scheme, which the government introduced in summer 2020 - saying it was not a “particular gamble” said it didn’t “add to the budget of risk” and was surprised when Sir Chris Whitty later referred to it as “eat out to help the virus”
  • On rules and fines, Johnson wrote in 2020 he wanted “tougher enforcement and bigger fines.” But today he said the government could have relied more on common sense
  • The inquiry heard Johnson decided against a circuit breaker lockdown in September 2020, in favour of the regional tier system. He said he thought this system was “worth trying” - but it later “ran out of road”
  • Johnson was accused of wanting to “let the virus rip” - but he said, when he raised the idea, he was merely testing the argument, and challenging the consensus
  • Pressed by the inquiry chair, he says he should have been stricter with his team: “Of course I would have done things differently”
  • He admitted it was a “bad moment” when adviser Dominic Cummings travelled to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight
  • But he defended the culture in Downing Street, saying the idea of mass rule-breaking was a “million miles” from the truth
  • He says he was “desperate” to keep schools open in January 2021, but that doing so “wasn’t a runner”


The inquiry is still considering the measures that were put in place in September and October in the lead up to the second lockdown, which came into force on 5 November.

Hugo Keith KC asks whether Johnson accepts that he imposed a “rollercoaster lockdown process overall” because he waited to impose harder restrictions.

Johnson refutes the idea he “delayed and then did something last minute”.

He also says the government had not “budgeted” for the Alpha (or Kent) variant, which was identified in early December and which was “much more transmissible than the original coronavirus”.

He says that the “rollercoaster” was “very largely driven by nature” and we need to consider “the extent to which we were able to control rollercoaster”.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he … :roll_eyes:

Johnson is now being pressed by the inquiry lawyer about the social gathering events that happened in Downing Street. The first reports of social gatherings in No 10 emerged in November 2021. Several events were later investigated in the so-called Partygate Report, which was released in May 2022.

One of the events in question was Johnson’s birthday, which was celebrated in Downing Street on 19 June 2020, soon after the Barnard Castle scandal. In April 2022, Johnson was issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to that gathering.

Johnson is arguing that the public perception of what happened in Downing Street was a “million miles from the reality”. He says some of the “dramatic representations” were absurd.

The public perception was proved right:

The reality was that BJ’s administration was having a good time while much of the country was enduring the opposite … :angry:


Johnson grilled over No 10 Christmas parties

Brenda Campbell KC, representing Northern Ireland Covid Bereaved Families for Justice, takes Boris Johnson to task over the so-called Partygate scandal.

She references in particular the “several Christmas events” held in No 10 and across Whitehall in December 2020 as families mourned the loss of loved ones to Covid.

The events she references are a wine and cheese party, a Secret Santa event and a Zoom quiz - which one of Campbell’s clients described as “galling and sickening”.

Campbell asks Johnson: “Could you have done more to stop it?”

Johnson replies: “Given what I knew at the time, the answer to that is no. What I possibly should have done is issued general instructions to people to be mindful of rules and how it might appear.” (1)

For more details on the events Campbell is referring to, you can read our full timeline of the lockdown parties here.

Was he not the “boss” … :017:

The rest of the afternoon was spent answering questions from specific interest groups, e.g. Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, the Federation of Ethinic Minority Healthcare Organisations and the Disabled People Organisations.

Earlier Johnson provided a robust defence of his decision not to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown in September 2020. He was worried the country would end up being bounced into more mini lockdowns with no end in sight. Instead he was “full of hope” that the tier system of regional restrictions would “save us”. Covid cases kept rising though and he realised he was “running out of road”. On 31 October 2020 Johnson ordered a second national lockdown in England, although he did not accept that decision was made “too late”.

Although BJ would like to be seen as “saviour of the nation”, the fact is that his blustering and blundering directly or indirectly caused the premature deaths of 232,112 people … :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

“I doubt that the UK’s Covid-19 epidemic in late 2020 would have unfolded that differently without Eat Out to Help Out,” Prof Mark Woolhouse, a scientist involved in Sage, the government’s scientific advisory body, told the Covid inquiry.

But Mr Sunak had little way of knowing that when he commissioned the scheme. (1)

Government scientists repeatedly told the inquiry that they were not asked to model what effect the scheme would have, only learning about the plans when they were announced.

(1) So, Sunak made a unilateral, uninformed decision to gamble with people’s lives … and, unlike Hancock and the care homes, was lucky … :roll_eyes:


Rishi Sunak has been sworn in and placed his hand on the Veda, the sacred Hindu text.


Hugo Keith KC, the lawyer for the inquiry, begins by asking Rishi Sunak about his use of WhatsApp and his methods of communication.

The prime minister says he is “not a prolific user” of WhatsApp and that he mainly uses it for communication with his private office. He adds that he does not have access to any of those messages sent during the pandemic as his phone has changed “multiple times” over the past few years. (1)

(1) How convenient … :roll_eyes:


Rishi Sunak is being asked about claims Boris Johnson veered from one extreme position to another when making key decisions during the pandemic.

Sunak just said that having a “vigorous debate” about the direction of policy was no bad thing at the time. He added that it would have been “far worse” to have signed off on “momentous” decisions with no substantive discussion whatsoever.

This echoes the words of Johnson when he was giving evidence last week. (1)

Of course it does … their legal teams have probably consulted each other and advised them that this is the preferred stance … :nerd_face:

Time for lunch - and a recap

The inquiry is now breaking for lunch – so let’s look back over the key lines so far:

An apology: Rishi Sunak opened by saying how “deeply sorry” he was “to all of those who lost loved ones” and who “suffered” in the pandemic

Missing WhatApps: He told the inquiry he did not have access to WhatsApp messages from the start of the pandemic as he had changed his phone “multiple times over the last few years”. He added he was “not a prolific user” of the app

Long hours: Sunak gave some insight into the demands of the job, saying he saw Boris Johnson “more often than I saw my own wife”

It felt fine to me: Asked about alleged “dysfunction” in No 10 and the Cabinet Office, the former chancellor said his interactions with both offices “felt fine to me”

A defence of Johnson: Where others have criticised Johnson for his decision-making and language, Sunak said his old boss was right to “go over the arguments” and “test out different points of view” (1)

Bond market panic: Sunak recalled the “very significant move” in gilt rates - i.e. the cost of government borrowing - on 19 March 2020, causing “enormous anxiety” inside the Treasury

Eat out questions to come: The inquiry has not asked yet about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme - but one protester outside is holding a placard that says: “Meet, eat, die”

(1) Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he … :roll_eyes:


Inquiry counsel Hugo Keith KC turns his attention to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme - announced on 8 July 2020, and introduced the following month.

Keith asks Sunak why, in light of the “absolute risk of transmission” posed by the scheme, was it not put in front of the Treasury, Sage, the chief medical officer and health secretary, or anyone outside No 10, beforehand.

Sunak calls the scheme a “micro-policy” (1) designed in line with the safe lifting of Covid measures, which included the opening of hospitality. He says there was time for it to be challenged before it was introduced.

(1) Surely this assertion will be challenged now … :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Rishi Sunak is still being pressed about his decisions around the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme. He says at the time his priority was jobs.

That was an understandable coming from a Chancellor but his action is at odds with his the PM’s alleged decision-making:

A defence of Johnson: Where others have criticised Johnson for his decision-making and language, Sunak said his old boss was right to “go over the arguments” and “test out different points of view”

He looked frustrated at the suggestion that the government’s scientific advisers weren’t properly consulted. They had “ample opportunity” to raise concerns, he said.

How could the government’s scientific advisers raise concerns if they weren’t aware of Sunak’s “micro-policy”?


Hugo Keith KC, focusing on the Treasury, says material seen by the inquiry shows it was “pejoratively associated with death” and that some officials in No 10 described it as the “pro-death squad” as it was often “opposed to public health interventions”. Keith asks Sunak if he was aware of these terms.

“I do not think it is a fair characterisation,” Sunak says, describing the Treasury as full of “incredibly hard-working people”. He says his colleagues acted in the public interest and “saved millions of people’s livelihoods”.


The prime minister has finished giving his evidence. Here are other top lines:

Treasury alarm: Sunak recalled the “extremely serious” rise in gilt rates - i.e. the cost of UK government borrowing - on 19 March 2020, causing “enormous anxiety” inside the Treasury

Tier system: He said he was “never persuaded” by the proposed September circuit breaker in England, with the alternative regional system enjoying “wide support”

Government minister Penny Mordaunt is the latest witness in the government’s Covid inquiry to have an issue with missing WhatsApp messages.

Ms Mordaunt, who was paymaster general at the time, wrote in her witness statement: “I could find no WhatsApp messages between me and the PM between 20 March 2018 and 22 March 2020.”

Later on, she was told that she would have to pay tens of thousands of pounds in order to have her phone forensically examined, because the device belonged to her and not the government.

She added that she had since discovered that a similar problem has occurred with WhatsApp messages exchanged with Michael Gove, who was chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the time.

A feature called disappearing messages launched in the UK in November 2020 and messages sent before this was switched on would not simply vanish.

So, those government figures claiming that “external events” caused WhatsApp phone messages to “vanish” are, presumably, lying - only personal intervention by themselves or permitted personnel would cause the messages to “disappear” … :roll_eyes:


Not all Tories are evil.

Penny Mordaunt is well liked and respected by the Civil Servants, one of the better ones.

Unfortunately for us, she is not one of the gang, so she will be briefed against.