Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Keir Starmer

“My strong recollection from this period is that the government acted, I think, almost immediately on the recommendations from SAGE”

PM Rishi Sunak, speaking during the COVID inquiry

Facts

During a COVID inquiry, Rishi Sunak stated that he believed the government acted on the recommendations of SAGE: “My strong recollection from this period is that the government acted, I think, almost immediately on the recommendations from SAGE.”

However, the Treasury, as reported by Open Democracy, did not consult SAGE at all before the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme was implemented in 2020 while Sunak was Chancellor.

Sunak was later asked “why, in light of the obvious issue of risk of transmission inherent in any scheme that encouraged households to come together, did the Treasury not consult with SAGE, the CMO, the Secretary of State for Health, or anybody else outside Number 10?”

He responded “Eat Out to Help Out had been designed specifically in the context of the safe lifting of NPIs that had already been signed off … as part of the May plan, which had re-opened hospitality, indoor hospitality.”

“This was a micro-policy to make sure that that capacity, which the scientists had already said was part of an overall package which could be safely delivered”

“In the same way that other economic decisions like a VAT cut for hospitality or a stamp duty cut or indeed furlough or anything else, or grants for the hospitality industry, wouldn’t ordinarily be cleared with medical advisers, nor was this, because we had already made the collective decision to re-open indoor hospitality and this was a policy that sat within and beneath that.”

Eat Out To Help Out potentially drove COVID cases by between 8-17%, according to a 2020 study from the University of Warwick.

Verdict

Rishi Sunak’s statement that the Government acted on the recommendations from SAGE is true. But it should be noted that the Treasury failed to consult medical advisors, including SAGE, before launching the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Prof John Edmunds a member of the Sage committee had previously said 

“If we had [been consulted], I would have been clear what I thought about it,” said Edmunds. “As far as I am concerned, it was a spectacularly stupid idea and an obscene way to spend public money.” 

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme caused a significant rise in new infections.

We emailed Rishi Sunak’s office and Downing Street offering them the chance to respond. The email was received, but no reply. 

Published 28 Jun 2024
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