Pressure mounts on Boris Johnson as he’s accused of saying ‘let Covid rip’

UK prime minister attempts to reset debate after series of damaging leaks

Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure over a growing list of accusations about his attitude towards the UK’s Covid-19 death toll and questions over his conduct.

In a new claim, the prime minister allegedly told Downing Street aides he would rather let coronavirus "rip" than impose a second lockdown to prevent further economic harm.

He is said to have argued in September there was no evidence lockdowns worked and described them as “mad”.

The new allegation comes a day after Mr Johnson was reported to have said he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third lockdown.

He denied he said that, describing multiple reports as “total rubbish”.

But the prime minister’s rebuttal did not stop several UK media outlets from reporting the alleged remark, with broadcasters, including the BBC and ITV, citing their own sources.

Mr Johnson used a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday to emphasise the importance of ministers being "totally focused on the public's priorities, on fighting Covid-19, delivering vaccines and creating jobs as we proceed on the path back to normality".

The meeting provided an opportunity for the prime minister to try and reset the debate after a series of damaging allegations made by Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings last week.

Cabinet Office Secretary Simon Case told MPs that the so-called "chatty rat" investigation, set up to examine the leaked news of the second lockdown, was ongoing.

However, he said it was likely that the person who tipped off the press would never be identified.

Mr Case also confirmed the prime minister had ordered a review of who paid for expensive refurbishments to his Downing Street flat.

Mr Cummings accused the prime minister of trying to set up an "unethical, foolish, possibly illegal" plan to allow Conservative Party donors to pay for the renovations.

The prime minister receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to carry out renovations to the private residence each year - but reports from newspapers suggested the bill was as high as £200,000.

If [Boris Johnson] has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said she backed the prime minister.

“I take the prime minister at his word,” she said.

Asked how voters perceived the row, she said: “I genuinely believe people are more interested in getting on with their daily lives.”

Former cabinet secretary Gus O'Donnell said that any funding Mr Johnson received for the flat would have been “very easy and very straightforward” to declare.

“The issue is really whether we expect our ministers and prime ministers to obey the rules,” he said.

“If there are a set of rules then presumably they’re there for a good reason. They can be changed if people think they’re wrong but if they’re there we’d expect ministers in particular to obey those rules and they’re required to under the ministerial code."

Asked if Mr Johnson was too late in declaring the donation, he replied: “We are very late, aren’t we, let’s be honest, in this case."

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Johnson should offer a “full and frank” explanation over who paid for the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

“If he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear,” he told the BBC.

He said the prime minister’s alleged remarks on the death toll were concerning.

“This is such a mess at a time when the country is in crisis,” he said.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said the allegations were “a punch in the stomach to all those grieving”.

“These ‘bodies’ were our loved ones,” it said.

“Is it too much to ask that the prime minister would be sympathetic and respectful to our loss? This demonstrates exactly why an urgent inquiry is so vital, to understand the decisions and considerations in protecting our loved ones that the government chose.”

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