This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at the case for an investigation of government actions during the Covid pandemic.
Boris Johnson should establish his promised public inquiry into the government’s handling of coronavirus in May. Establishing the inquiry next month will give it time to determine its terms of reference and complete preparatory work – such as appointing a secretary and counsel and drafting its procedures – before beginning its investigations when parliament returns from summer recess on 6 September. With the worst of the second wave having passed, the prime minister is wrong to claim that launching an inquiry would distract from the urgent work of managing the crisis. The government is also wrong to argue that parliament and the National Audit Office can between them provide sufficient scrutiny; these institutions lack the powers and remit to adequately investigate how decisions were made during the crisis.
This report sets out the case for an inquiry. With more than 150,000 deaths recorded from Covid-19, the UK experience of the pandemic demands investigation – and a public inquiry is the right way to do this. While the UK’s vaccine rollout deserves credit, on many key measures the UK has done worse than many of its peers in Europe and across the developed world. Decisions made by Boris Johnson’s government – from delaying lockdowns to bungled plans for school re-openings – may have led to more deaths, more economic harm and more other costs to livelihoods than need have been the case. The fact the UK experienced two waves within 12 months reinforces the importance of learning lessons sooner rather than later, and of fixing systemic weaknesses in how this and future governments react to complex situations. Delaying an inquiry is unnecessary and unhelpful, with anonymous briefing and leaks filling the vacuum in public discussions about the government’s management of the crisis. An inquiry is the correct way to uncover the truth, deliver accountability, and learn lessons.
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