'Why can’t you say sorry?': Minister refuses to apologise 11 times in baffling interview

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A minister in the UK has refused to apologise 11 times in one interview for the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay was repeatedly asked by Sky News presenter Kay Burley to say sorry for the deaths of thousands of people, but kept dodging the question.

His interview came after a report by MPs found the failure to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic was one of the country’s worst ever public health failures.

A close up screen shot of UK Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay during his Sky News interview. Source: Sky News
UK Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay refused to apologise for the government's handling of the COVID pandemic. Source: Sky News

The 151-page report said the “decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.

Burley began her interview with Barclay on Tuesday morning by saying: “I suppose you want to start with an apology to the British public.”

But Barclay refused to apologise, despite constant attempts by Burley to get him to do so.

“I don’t understand why you don’t want to apologise,” she said at one point, later asking: “Why don’t you just say, ‘We’re sorry’?”

Minister makes startling admission 

Instead, Barclay, who admitted he had not yet read the scathing report on the government’s handling of the crisis, said: “I recognise the devastation to the families concerned, but we took logical decisions at the time, based on the information we had.”

He added: “The decisions were taken on the evidence and the scientific advice at the time, they were taken to protect the NHS.

“It was an unprecedented pandemic, we were learning about it as we went through and of course with hindsight there’s things we know about it now that we didn’t know at the time.

“Of course there are going to be lessons to learn, that’s why we’ve committed to an inquiry, but the government took decisions at the time based on the scientific advice it received, but those scientists themselves were operating in a very new environment where they themselves were learning about the pandemic.”

“We protected the NHS, we got the vaccine deployed at pace, but we accept where there are lessons to be learnt, we’re keen to do so.”

A screenshot of Mr Barclay, left, and Sky News presenter Kay Burley during their interview. Source: Sky News
Mr Barclay, left, was asked to apologise 11 times by Sky News presenter Kay Burley. Source: Sky News

Minister refuses to apologise in multiple interviews 

In a separate interview on Tuesday with LBC Radio, Barclay refused to apologise eight times when asked by presenter Nick Ferrari.

Barclay said: “I recognise it’s devastating and my heart goes out to any family, any of your listeners where they lost a loved one.

“As the prime minister said in May, he was sorry for the suffering the country has experienced, we take responsibility for everything that has happened, and that is why we’ve committed to an inquiry in order to get the answers to what has happened and to explain to those families the basis of the decisions that have been taken.”

One minister finally says "sorry"

Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden has become the first cabinet minister to issue an apology over the damning Covid report. 

Mr Dowden told Sky News the government would have done some things differently with hindsight. 

“Of course I’m sorry, as the Prime Minister is sorry.

“I was just listening to the sort of experiences yesterday of those bereaved families and that kind of terrible loss that they have suffered.

“We are sorry for the loses that all those families have suffered. This was an unprecedented crisis – a once in 100 years event.

“There isn’t some perfect rule book that we could follow, we were having to adapt and move very quickly and of course we would do some things differently with hindsight.”

Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden speaks during day one of the annual party conference at Manchester Central on October 03, 2021 in Manchester, England. Source: Getty Images
Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden finally apologised over the damning Covid report. Source: Getty Images

The report on the handling of the pandemic said that while herd immunity was not an official government strategy at the beginning of the crisis, there was a “policy approach of fatalism about the prospects for Covid in the community”.

Experts and ministers sought to “only moderate the speed of infection” through the population – flattening the curve – rather than seeking to stop its spread altogether, MPs said.

The report added: “The policy was pursued until 23 March because of the official scientific advice the government received, not in spite of it.”

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