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Boris Johnson accused of saying he'd rather let Covid-19 'rip' than impose 'mad' lockdown last year

It is the latest allegation levelled at the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson on a visit to Wales yesterday
Boris Johnson on a visit to Wales yesterday
Image: PA

BORIS JOHNSON HAS been accused of telling aides last year that he would have preferred to let Covid-19 “rip” than impose a second lockdown.

The latest allegation levelled at the Prime Minister claims that he argued during a Government debate about the issue last September that lockdowns were “mad” as he raised concerns about the economic harm they cause.

The claim was first reported in the Times, but Downing Street dismissed it as a “gross distortion” of Johnson’s position at the time.

It follows allegations first published in the Daily Mail yesterday – and later reported elsewhere – that Johnson said he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order a third lockdown.

Johnson said that allegation was “total rubbish”, before further details surfaced of how he is said to have paid for expensive refurbishments to his Downing Street flat.

His office and the Conservative Party declined to deny an ITV report stating that the Conservative Campaign Headquarters paid the Cabinet Office to cover initial costs of the refurbishments, with Johnson now repaying the party.

A Downing Street spokesman said that the “costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the Prime Minister personally”, adding: “Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns.”

But Labour’s shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: “This is yet another panicked attempt by the Conservatives to cover up the truth behind the original donors for the luxury refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.”

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said the Prime Minister has asked him to review the matter, after former aide Dominic Cummings said Johnson wanted donors to “secretly pay” for the work in a move which would have been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”.

The decision on the second lockdown last autumn was leaked and is the subject of an inquiry to find the so-called “chatty rat” who tipped off the press.

Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant, declined to say whether Cummings had been cleared over that leak, as the former ally has claimed when striking back at allegations from within Downing Street.

‘I never heard language of that kind’

In the latest criticism of his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Times reported that Johnson repeatedly said he would rather “let it rip” than impose the second lockdown because restrictions would close businesses and cause job losses.

But a spokesman said: “These are gross distortions of his position. Throughout this pandemic we’ve done everything we can to save lives and protect livelihoods.”

Johnson ultimately announced the second lockdown for England in October, but his alleged comments are the latest to rock Downing Street amid a briefing war.

The Prime Minister was earlier accused of saying he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a third shutdown.

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After the Daily Mail first reported the remarks, the BBC and ITV were among those to repeat the allegations, citing their own sources.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove defended Johnson, telling the House of Commons it was “incredible” to think he would have made the remark.

Gove said that “I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind”, in a defence stopping short of a full denial that the comments had been made.

ITV’s report suggested Johnson made the remark in his study just after he agreed to the second lockdown.

The Prime Minister, who will address his Cabinet on Tuesday, denied making the comment.

“No, but I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a Government is to make sure that the lockdowns work,” he told reporters in Wrexham.

“They have, and I really pay tribute to the people of this country, this whole country of ours, really pulled together and, working with the vaccination programme, we have got the disease under control.”

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