IT IS hard to work out Rishi Sunak’s motives for his remarkable and belated revelations about his ‘opposition’ to the government’s Covid policies including lockdown, closing schools, terrorising the population and, perhaps most important of all, handing decision-making to an unelected bunch of ‘independent’ ‘scientific’ ‘advisers’, many of whom had personal agendas and interests.
Why has he decided to give his version of events more than two years after they happened, when it is too late to change anything? Why, even more importantly, has he chosen to admit that none of his supposedly profound concerns was of sufficient import for him to resign over? As Chancellor of the Exchequer wasn’t he the most senior member of Cabinet and the most responsible? What, after all, is the point of a Chancellor who cannot say no?
Perhaps he thinks that he will appear a good guy who did his humble best against the irresistible forces ranged against him? Perhaps he hopes this will give him the impetus he needs to overtake Liz Truss and become Prime Minister? If that is really what he thinks, it is a terrible misjudgment. For if he had spoken out at the time, if he had taken the honourable course, resigned and opposed policy from the back benches, who knows how the course of history might have been different. Could Johnson have ignored his Chancellor’s warning that his measures would be a disaster for the country? And that his unelected science and medical advisers were not just calling the shots but editing Sage meeting minutes to suppress contrary advice?
He could not. And the chances are that economy would not have been trashed, businesses would not have gone to the wall, ‘our’ NHS would not have been converted into a Covid-only service resulting in a backlog of millions of patients, hundreds of thousands of children would not have had their education and social lives damaged, in some cases beyond repair. It does not bear thinking about that a man with great power, the second-most important politician in the country, sat on his hands knowing that the policy he supported in public was ruinous.
In his interview with Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, Sunak says that when Neil Ferguson delivered his infamous prediction that lockdown could cut Covid casualties from half a million to 20,000, no cost-benefit calculation was carried out.
Nelson writes: ‘[Sunak says] “I wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off.” Ministers were briefed by No 10 on how to handle questions about the side-effects of lockdown. “The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: oh, there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy.” If frank discussion was being suppressed externally, Sunak thought it all the more important that it took place internally. But that was not his experience. “I felt like no one talked,” he says. “We didn’t talk at all about missed [doctors’] appointments, or the backlog building in the NHS in a massive way. That was never part of it.” When he did try to raise concerns, he met a brick wall. “Those meetings were literally me around that table, just fighting. It was incredibly uncomfortable every single time”.’
What does he mean by ‘I wasn’t allowed’? He is not a schoolboy. As Chancellor it was directly his remit, indeed it was his responsibility, to insist on the necessary cost-benefit analysis – and to resign if his advice was refused on a matter of such national importance and economic significance. He also recalls one meeting where he raised education: ‘[Sunak said] “I was very emotional about it. I was like: ‘Forget about the economy. Surely we can all agree that kids not being in school is a major nightmare’ or something like that. There was a big silence afterwards. It was the first time someone had said it. I was so furious”.’
If this is really what happened, it is beyond unforgivable that Sunak didn’t yell from the rooftops about the disaster he foresaw. Similarly with the campaign to terrify people about Covid, as recommended by Sage:
‘One of Sunak’s big concerns was about the fear messaging, which his Treasury team worried could have long-lasting effects. “In every brief, we tried to say: let’s stop the fear narrative. It was always wrong from the beginning. I constantly said it was wrong.” The posters showing Covid patients on ventilators, he said, were the worst. “It was wrong to scare people like that”.’
Why didn’t he say so at the time? Is there any material evidence he even raised these concerns (which says little for his leadership abilities)? He surely must have been aware of the many millions – upwards of one billion by the end – that were being spent, with the Treasury’s blessing, on the Cabinet Office’s deliberate fear-engendering campaign.
Sunak reveals that Sage recommendations were implemented by No 10 without consultation with Cabinet members. This meant, writes Nelson, that whoever wrote the minutes for the Sage meetings – condensing its discussions into guidance for government – would set the policy of the nation.
But in the early days, at least, Sunak knew that the minutes of Sage meetings were being edited to silence dissenting voices, because unknown to the Sage members one of his staff was listening in to their conference calls.
‘His mole, he says, would tell him: ‘“Well, actually, it turns out that lots of people disagreed with that conclusion”, or “Here are the reasons that they were not sure about it”.’
Nelson writes: ‘For a year, UK government policy – and the fate of millions – was being decided by half-explained graphs cooked up by outside academics. “This is the problem,” [Sunak] says. “If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed”.’
It surely goes further than that. As lawyer Francis Hoar has tweeted, if the minutes of Sage were false, and Sunak knew they were false, there are grounds for criminal investigation into misconduct in public office.
But Sunak said nothing. Worse, he gave every appearance of backing Boris Johnson and Sage until last December when Sage said that without a fourth lockdown, Covid deaths could hit 6,000 a day (a prediction soon proved to be rubbish). By this time, Sunak says, he had taken advice from elsewhere and met Johnson: ‘I just told him it’s not right: we shouldn’t do this.’ The unspoken implication is that his advice carried the day.
Nelson says he asked Sunak if he should have gone public or resigned. The answer: ‘To quit in that way during a pandemic, he says, would have been irresponsible. And to go public, or let his misgivings become known, would have been seen as a direct attack on the PM.
‘At the time, No. 10’s strategy was to create the impression that lockdown was a scientifically created policy which only crackpots dared question. If word leaked that the chancellor had grave reservations, or that a basic cost-benefit analysis had never been applied, it would have been politically unhelpful for No 10.’
Politically unhelpful for No 10?! Is that what mattered when the country was being ripped apart by useless if not deliberately destructive advice from biased ‘experts’ while people who really knew their business were being cancelled, smeared, ignored and ruined? When, he all but admits, the pandemic was one more of fear than microbe?
Sunak has shown himself by these revelations to be a man without moral character or understanding of his public duty. It is beyond doubt that he is not fit to be PM. It is equally clear that the same applies to everyone from the present regime.
Footnote: Today’s Telegraph reports that Liz Truss has suddenly remembered that she also opposed lockdown. She said: ‘Clearly in retrospect, we did do too much. It was too draconian. I don’t think we should have closed schools. A lot of children have ended up suffering.’ Like Sunak, she did not speak out at the time, far less offer to resign.