Covid inquiry live: Gove to give evidence as inquiry told Hancock knew lockdown tiers wouldn’t work

Housing Secretary Michael Gove is due to give evidence at the Covid-19 inquiry, alongside former deputy chief medical officer Professor Dame Jenny Harries.

His evidence will come the day after the inquiry heard that former health secretary Matt Hancock knew Tier 3 lockdown restrictions would not work when he imposed them on Greater Manchester.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, accused the government of administering a “punishment beating” for the city in late 2020, following an argument over financial support for residents who were unable to work due to the restrictions.

Quoting from written evidence from Mr Hancock, Mr Burnham said: “He says in his evidence about Tier 3, ‘I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.’”

The tier system was introduced in October 2020 and imposed different restrictions on English regions in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The system was, however, unable to stem infections and a month-long national lockdown was introduced in November 2020, followed by a stricter tier system in December.

‘I want to take this opportunity to apologise to the victims'

10:28 , Alex Ross

Michael Gove has apologised to victims and bereaved families, as he accepts mistakes were made.

The former minister for the cabinet office, who now serves as levelling up secretary, said: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise to the victims who endured so much pain, the families who endured so much loss as a result of the government’s decisions in response to the pandemic.

“As a minister responsible for the Cabinet Office, and who was also close to many of the decisions that were made, I must take my share of responsibility for that.”

He added: “Politicians are human beings, we’re fallible, we make mistakes and we make errors.”

Issues ‘not addressed'

11:59 , Alex Ross

The Inquiry is shown an email sent by Mr Gove to Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock on 10 March 2020, with a list of questions on dealing the the virus, asking about hosptial capacity, education, screening and public gatherings.

He tells them: “We must of course be guided by science, but that involves testing the propositions put forward and weighing up different choices.”

These questions appear to be raised because they had not been properly “ventilated in Cobra” and “addressed by the Government” says Hugo Keith Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry

Mr Gove responds by saying some of the issues were raised at the meeting, and that having had a chance to think about them, other questions “occur to me and need to be followed up”.

‘We were too slow to lock down in March'

11:40 , Archie Mitchell

Ministers should have implemented the first national lockdown sooner, and taken stricter measures in autumn before the second national lockdown, Michael Gove has said.

Listing what he saw to be failures, Mr Gove told the Covid inquiry: “I believe that we were too slow to lock down initially, in March.

“I believe that we should have taken stricter measures before we eventually decided to do so late in October.”

The then Cabinet Office minister said the government’s approach to testing was “not as rigorously thought through as it might have been”.

And he said: “I am also concerned that we did not pay enough attention to the impact, particularly on children and vulnerable children. of some of the measures that we took.”

‘I changed my mind'

11:39 , Alex Ross

Michael Gove says he changed his mind on the need for action to restrict the spread of the virus, having initially shared Boris Johnson’s concerns about “overreacting” and the economic consequences.

His opinion was changed by information from friends outside government, he said.

Mr Gove added: “At the very end of February I was inclined to give substantial weight to the prime minister’s concerns.

“It was only in the succeeding days that I became more and more convinced actually that action was required.”

Mr Gove said the introduction of lockdowns in parts of Italy had influenced him, adding it was “also material that had been sent to me by friends outside Government that led me to believe action was needed”.


Gove apologises for pandemic mistakes that caused ‘so much pain’

11:24 , Alex Ross

This morning’s inquiry started with an apology from Mr Gove over mistakes made by the government during its handling of the pandemic.

Watch the clip here:

Accused of a slow response

11:16 , Alex Ross

Inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC suggests there was no debate on the control of infection before the virus reached the UK.

In response, Mr Gove says “I am sure” there was debate among members of The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and other advisory bodies, and that he was relying on the advice to government ministers.

“There were not many voices asking for the action we later embraced,” he said, taking about the period of February.

Michael Gove suggests Covid could have been man-made

11:01 , Archie Mitchell

Michael Gove has told the Covid inquiry that the virus posed “a different set of challenges” to a flu pandemic the government had prepared for.

The former Cabinet Office minister said the government was “not as well prepared as we should have been”.

He went on to say “this is probably going outside the remit of the inquiry”, but said: “There is a significant body of judgment that believes the virus itself was manmade.”

Inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC said it was a “very divisive issue” and “we’re not going to go there”.

I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock, Michael Gove

11:00 , Archie Mitchell

Michael Gove has praised Matt Hancock’s abilities, bucking a trend of witnesses at the Covid inquiry dumping on the former health secretary.

After a slew of allegations that Mr Hancock was serially dishonest, Mr Gove said “I know not everyone testifying toward this inquiry has”.

But he said: “I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock as a minister”.

The former minister for the Cabinet Office said “too much was asked” of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and other government departments should have been asked to help.

In early February, were you aware of concerns over preparation for the virus, Mr Gove is asked

10:59 , Alex Ross

The Housing Secretary responds: “Only later in February that I began to feel a sense of concern about how well prepared as a country we were.

“Prior to that... the general concesus was that we were relatively well prepared as a country, those were the reassurances we were being given across Government, and I broadly took those on trust.

“I think there were some ways the Government, as a result of some exericses and steps we had taken beforehand, was in position to deal with aspects of the crisis, others areas where we were clearly weaker,

“But no I didn’t have the prescience to see in early February that we were not well prepared, I think it was only later in February and early in March that my concerns about our response mattered.”

There are areas where we could not be awarded high marks, Gove

10:47 , Archie Mitchell

Michael Gove has praised the government’s preparation for Brexit and vaccine rollout, but said “there are other areas where it would be quite wrong to award ourselves high marks”.

The former minister for the Cabinet Office told the Covid inquiry there were “specific failings” during the pandemic.

He said: “Governments across the developed world were dealing with a novel virus and… scrambled to appreciate quite how devastating the impact of this virus would be on their healthcare systems, on their economies, and on vulnerable people within their societies.”

He added: “Of course, mistakes and errors were made by the UK and some of them were unique and specific to the UK government.

“But I also think that we need to remember that governments everywhere made errors.”

Gove defends his conduct

10:45 , Alex Ross

Michael Gove has defended his conduct and that of Cabinet Office staff during the early stages of the pandemic after apologising for mistakes.

He said: “I want to stress that I and those with whom I worked were also seeking at every point, in circumstances where every decision was difficult and every course was bad, to make decisions that we felt we could in order to try to deal with an unprecedented virus and a remarkable assault on the institutions of the country.”

Gove: Under Boris, there were strong personalities in No10

10:42 , Archie Mitchell

Michael Gove has said there were “strong personalities” in Boris Johnson’s Downing Street and “sometimes those personalities clash”.

Asked about WhatsApp messages from Simon Case describing running the government as “like taming wild animals”, Mr Gove said members of Mr Johnson’s top team were “being assertive” to deal with the challenge posed by Covid.

He told the inquiry into the pandemic: “Almost every number 10 operation has had, by its nature, strong personalities.

“Sometimes those personalities clash. Sometimes under tension, humans express themselves in ways which with the benefit of hindsight, they regret.”

Cabinet office ‘not configured appropriate’ for pandemic

10:14 , Alex Ross

Michael Gove served as Minister of the cabinet office between 13 February, 2020, and 15 September, 2021 - the role, he tells the hearing, was to improve co-ordinaton of Government policy.

He said: “I had observed before taking on this role and realised very quickly upon taking on this role that the way in which the cabinet office was configured was not, to my mind, appropriate for the type of pandemic that we faced, and indeed the type of crisis that requires an effective whole of Government response.”

Michael Gove has arrived

09:30 , Alex Ross

Michael Gove arrives ahead of his appearance at the Covid Inquiry.

The UK's Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be questioned at phase 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry over decision-making in Downing Street during the pandemic.

We’re bring you live coverage here

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Government ‘made same mistake three times’

08:42 , Alex Ross

Ahead of Michael Gove giving evidence today, let’s jut look back at one of the big stories from the inqury last week.

Progressor Dame Angela McLean, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said Boris Johnson’s government repeatedly made the same mistake of “watching and waiting” before taking action in the face of soaring infections during the pandemic.

Dame Angela criticised a “lack of appreciation that very quick decisions were needed” and said she believed this was the “most significant shortcoming” in decision-making during the pandemic.

She told the inquiry: “If you wait until the thing you’re worried about is really, really bad and growth is exponential and fast, you can very easily end up with things twice as bad at the hospital door, even if you put in a brilliant intervention.”

Badenoch was ‘accused of being part of Covid conspiracy’

06:00 , Katy Clifton

Last week, business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch has described being confronted in the street and accused of being part of a Covid-19 conspiracy to cull parts of the population, as she called on the government to do more about the spread of misinformation.

Giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Thursday, the former equalities minister also questioned the use of category BAME (black and minority ethnic) in analysis of the disproportionate impact of the virus.

Discussing government efforts to improve vaccine uptake during the pandemic, she said some people believed the publicity campaigns were a part of a sinister “secret conspiracy”.

Ms Badenoch said: “There was a fear that a lot of the communications about disproportionate impact was actually a secret conspiracy to scare ethnic minorities into taking vaccines which was a way of the Government culling the population.

“So even the things that we were doing in order to identify risk were being manipulated into conspiracy theories to deter people from doing what would help them mitigate that risk, and that was something I was particularly concerned about.”

Kemi Badenoch (PA)
Kemi Badenoch (PA)

Who is up at the Covid inquiry today?

05:00 , Katy Clifton

Housing secretary Michael Gove, formerly the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will give evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry alongside former deputy chief medical officer Professor Dame Jenny Harries.

We’ll be bringing you all the latest updates throughout the day.

ICYMI: Boris ‘not aware’ other countries had imposed Covid lockdowns, says Khan

03:00 , Katy Clifton

Government failed to act quickly, inquiry told

02:00 , Katy Clifton

Last week, the nation’s chief scientific adviser said the government’s failure to act quickly in response to warnings about rising Covid-19 cases in autumn 2020 led to preventable deaths.

Professor Dame Angela McLean criticised a “lack of appreciation that very quick decisions were needed” during the pandemic, and said this was the “most significant shortcoming” in decision-making.

She told the UK Covid-19 public inquiry on Thursday that ministers had enough data to lock down earlier in March 2020, and also failed to act quickly when cases were rising in autumn that year.

Dame Angela said she was in agreement with Professor John Edmunds that ministers were “making the same mistakes again” by not imposing tighter restrictions in the autumn. “If we had acted decisively then we would have learned from March, but we didn’t,” she said.

She criticised a lack of action in September 2020 when she and other scientists were calling for a “circuit breaker” to reduce cases.

When asked if the failure to impose circuit-breaker restrictions was a mistake, she said: “Yes, I believe that was a mistake. If we had a circuit breaker in September cases would have dropped a little bit and then we would have bought some time. The number of infections kept rising through September and October with attendant hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths.”

Sadiq Khan: Lives could have been saved

00:01 , Katy Clifton

Sadiq Khan yesterday accused the government of failing to keep him informed about the severity of Covid-19 in early 2020, saying “lives could have been saved” if he had been invited to emergency Cobra meetings.

Giving evidence at the start of a major week for the Covid inquiry, the Mayor of London confirmed multiple requests to attend the meetings in early 2020 were rejected by Downing Street on the grounds that other mayors would also have to be present.

He also criticised a lack of communication from the government, saying it was “unusual” that he had not been given more information on the developing pandemic.

Mr Khan told the inquiry: “The government generally does give us information about a variety of things happening. I’m disappointed the Government weren’t giving us information in February about what they knew then.”

Matt Hancock ‘knew lockdown tiers would not work’, Covid inquiry hears

Monday 27 November 2023 22:02 , Holly Evans

Matt Hancock implemented the tier 3 Covid restrictions despite knowing they would not work, the Covid inquiry has heard.

In the former health secretary’s evidence to the probe on the measures which saw pubs, restaurants and bars closed, Mr Hancock said: “I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.”

The submission was read out by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who used his appearance to slam the Westminster government’s “London-centric” approach to the pandemic.

Read the full article from Archie Mitchell here

Matt Hancock ‘knew lockdown tiers would not work’, Covid inquiry hears

Welcome to our live coverage

Monday 27 November 2023 21:59 , Holly Evans

Welcome to our live coverage of the Covid-19 inquiry as housing secretary Michael Gove, formerly the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will give evidence.

We’ll be bringing you live updates here.