Boris Johnson has today announced a full independent inquiry into his government’s handling of Covid-19 from spring 2022.
The Prime Minister said the inquiry should not take place this year while the pandemic is not over and that the probe should be conducted in the “cold light of day”, with devolved governments also set to co-operate.
He said the inquiry would be “free to scrutinise every document and hear from all the key players and analyse and learn form the breadth of our response”.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said: “The state has an obligation to examine these actions as rigorously and candidly as possible and to learn every lesson for the future, which is why I’ve said when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry.
“I can confirm today that the government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis with full power under the Inquires Act of 2005, including the full ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public under oath.”
The Prime Minister said that people must “be mindful of the scale of that undertaking and the resources required to do it properly”, indicating that there would not be results from an inquiry for years to come.
Johnson said the inquiry would not start before next year, because of the threats the country still faces from a potential Covid-19 surge in winter and from the prospect of new variants spreading in the UK.
“We must not divert or distract the people we depend in the heat of our struggle against this disease,” he said.
“The end of the lockdown is not the end of the pandemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the pandemic has reached its global peak and will last throughout this year.”
Johnson also announced the formation of a “UK Commission on Covid Commemoration” and backed calls for a memorial to be created at St Paul’s for the victims of the disease.
The announcement comes just weeks before Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings is due to give evidence at a parliamentary committee in which he was expected to further his calls for a Covid inquiry.
It has been suggested that Johnson’s statement today was a chance to get on the front foot and announce it before that committee meeting.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the inquiry, but also called for grieving familied and parliament to have a say in coming up with the terms of reference of the inquiry.
He also called for an independent, non-partisan person to lead the probe.
“All relevant questions must be asked and answered, that must of course include all the decisions made in the last 14 to 15 months,” Starmer said.
“But there are wider question about preparedness and resilience that need to be asked. There are reasons why the pandemic hit those in overcrowded houses and insecure work hardest – they need to be addressed as well.
“No inquiry that addresses those questions will give the answers they deserve.”