A cabinet minister today refused to apologise repeatedly after a damning report blamed the government’s failures for thousands of unnecessary Covid deaths.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barkley, has been asked at least 16 times whether he wants to express regret to the nation for the devastating toll.
But he has repeatedly brushed off the question, insisting that Boris Johnson made the best decision he could with the available information.
Last night, research by lawmakers concluded that the PM made “big mistakes” in handling the pandemic and that the elderly were “just a thought”.
He condemned the decision last spring not to lift the lockdown at the earliest and the fact that pensioners with Covid were sent back from hospitals to care homes.
The report accused the ministers of being a victim of scientific “groupthink” that sought to manage the spread of the virus rather than crush it.
And it destroyed the “chaotic” performance of the £37 billion test and trace system, which produced limited results.
Mr Barkley was urged this morning to apologize “on a human scale” to the thousands of families who lost their loved ones to the virus.
But despite being repeatedly pressed, he only said that No. 10 “followed scientific advice” and “made decisions based on evidence”.
He also pointed to an upcoming public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, scheduled for spring next year.
“It will be an opportunity to see what can be done differently and what lessons we take in the future”, he said.
Experts have previously calculated that 20,000 more lives could have been saved last year if Britain had locked down a week earlier.
The lawmakers on the Science and Technology Committee said that the PM should imitate Asian countries like South Korea, which dealt with the virus faster and faster.
But Mr Barkley insisted: “The timing of the lockdown was based on evidence and scientific advice.
“The concern at that time was that if we lock down too soon then there will be no desire to lock down for a long time.
“We now know that the British public wished that we would hold off for much longer than we thought.
“This reflects the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, the fact that we are able to [to know] With different things from what we knew at the time.”
The minister acknowledged the personal loss suffered by thousands of Britons up and down the country.
He added: “What happened to the individual families was clearly devastating and a devastating personal loss, and our hearts are with them.”
But he admitted that he has not yet spoken to the PM, who is currently on leave in Marbella, about his reaction to the report.
Although their report was damaging to the initial response to Covid, lawmakers praised the UK’s world-class vaccine rollout.
Tory MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, who led the investigation, said: “In response to an emergency, it is impossible to fix everything.
“The UK response has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes. It is important to learn from both to ensure that we do as well as we can during the rest of the pandemic and into the future.”
He said COVID was “the biggest crisis our country has faced in generations” and thanked NHS staff, scientists, public servants, businesses and volunteers.
But Britain’s response was “inflexible” and scientific advice was not challenged enough, he said.