Boris Johnson promises Covid inquiry in ‘current parliamentary session’

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Boris Johnson speaking in the Commons after the Queen’s Speech (UK Parliament)
Boris Johnson speaking in the Commons after the Queen’s Speech (UK Parliament)

Boris Johnson has promised that an inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis will be held in the current parliamentary session.

The prime minister has been under pressure to say when a probe into the response would be held, having previously acknowledged the need for one.

The PM would not set a date for the inquiry, although parliamentary sessions normally last around one year.

The government can choose to make them longer at will, however – with the 2017-2019 session the longest on record.

But it would mean the investigation would be held before the next Queen's Speech.

Asked whether he would set up such an inquiry, Johnson told the House of Commons: "I can certainly say that we will do that within this session.

"I have made that clear before, I do believe it is essential that we have a full proper public inquiry into the Covid pandemic."

The UK has seen over 150,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic and suffered one of the worst death tolls in the world.

Critics say the government was too slow locking down after other countries showed how to control the virus, including after the prime minister reportedly said he would rather the “bodies pile high” than order another national quaratine.

Reacting to the announcement, Conservative MP Dan Poulter, vice-chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: “The Prime Minister’s commitment to hold a public inquiry within this parliamentary session is both significant and welcome.

“The devil will be in the detail, and we look forward to the government setting out the timeline, remit and structure for this crucial public inquiry.

“This must include detailed consideration of the devastating toll of the coronavirus on care home residents and staff, and how to prevent the mistakes made in the early stages of the pandemic from being repeated.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas said the government "must now ensure this inquiry is genuinely independent and wide-ranging and that bereaved families get justice".

“This is no time for complacency," she added. “We must make sure that the NHS and care system are better equipped for any deadly variants or future waves.”

Mr Johnson made his latest comments about an inquiry in the Commons debate following the Queen's speech on Tuesday. The prime minister took aim at Labour leader Keir Starmer over his bungled reshuffle following the local elections.

After noting his Conservative colleague Katherine Fletcher had previously worked at a safari park, Mr Johnson said: "She knows in any pride of lions, it is the male who tends to occupy the position of titular, of nominal authority, but the most dangerous beast, the prize hunter of the pack is in fact the lioness."

One MP shouted "she's behind you", indicating Conservative former prime minister Theresa May positioned behind Mr Johnson.

But Prime Minister added: "I'm sure [Sir Keir] bears this in mind as he contemplates the member, his friend [Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner] - the deputy leader, the shadow first secretary of state, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work - though the more titles he feeds her, the hungrier I fear she is likely to become."

Ms Rayner and Mr Starmer were seen walking amicably around parliament’s Portcullis House on Monday, an apparently staged appearance that had suggested they had buried the hatchet from days of briefing against each other.

Labour leader Sir Keir in turn criticised the government’s Queen’s Speech – arguing that the failure to act on social care after the pandemic was “nothing short of an insult to the whole nation”.

He said there are "parts" of the Queen's Speech his party would look to work with the Government on, but added: “This Queen’s Speech merely papers over the cracks.

“It’s packed with short-term gimmicks and distant promises, this Government’s never short of those, but it misses the urgency and the scale of the transformation that’s needed in our economy, in our public services and our society and it lacks the ambition or a plan to achieve it. At the heart of this Queen’s Speech should have been a jobs plan.”

Mr Johnson said the programme outlined in the speech would unleash the "pent up energy of the UK economy".

"We must harness the ingenuity and resolve that has been revealed in the struggle against Covid-19 and use it to create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation," he said.

"We have been given an historic opportunity to change things for the better, level up opportunities across the whole of the United Kingdom, and address the problems that have constrained us far too often before."

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson added: "We One Nation Conservatives understand this crucial point: that you will find flair and imagination and enthusiasm and genius distributed evenly across this country while opportunity is not.

"And we mean to change that because it is not just a moral and social disgrace, it's an economic mistake, it's a criminal waste of talent."

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