Boris Johnson has confirmed there will be an independent public inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
The Prime Minister told MPs in the Commons today that the State has an obligation to examine its role into the handling of the pandemic.
Mr Johnson said there would be a full, public statutory inquiry with the power to make individuals give evidence under oath.
He said the “right moment” for the inquiry to begin would be the Spring of 2022.
Mr Johnson told the Commons: “Amid such tragedy the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible, and to learn every lesson for the future – which is why I’ve always said when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry.
“So, I can confirm today that the Government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis, with full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 – including the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public under oath.
“In establishing the inquiry, we will work closely with the devolved administrations.”
Mr Johnson also announced the formation of a UK Commission on Covid Commemoration, to remember the 127,000 people who have died from Covid-19 in the UK and to honour frontline workers and those involved in the vaccination effort.
For both, Mr Johnson said his Government would work closely with the devolved administrations to “preserve the spirit which has sustained us in the gravest crisis since the Second World War”.
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer welcomed the announcements, saying: “Both will play an important part in learning the lessons and commemorating those we have lost”.
He said that meetings with families who had lost loved ones were among the most difficult he had ever had, and many of them had “searing” questions about the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
Along with Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who called the announcement “welcome news”, he said Mr Johnson must consult bereaved families during the inquiry, saying that it would only achieve its desired outcomes if it had the support and confidence of whose who have lost loved ones.
Mr Johnson has been under increasing pressure to announce an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and sparked outage in April when he said the Government would be too busy to launch an urgent analysis of the response.
He committed to an inquiry in the Queen’s Speech yesterday, but in today’s announcement he put a specific time frame on it for the first time.
How, Sir Keir has questioned why the inquiry needs to wait until Spring 2022.
He asked in the Commons: “I understand a statutory inquiry will take time to set up, but why could it not be later this year? Why could it not start earlier?”
He also asked for clarification on whether the timeframe meant the inquiry would begin taking evidence in Spring 2022, or whether that would be when the preparatory work began.
Mr Johnson responded by saying the preparatory work “will happen before the spring of next year”, but that he did not want the inquiry to take up the time of frontline workers when the pandemic was still ongoing.
He said that the country “has been through a trauma like no other”, and the Government owed it to the UK “to have as much transparency as we possibly can and we owe it to the country to produce answers in a reasonable timescale”.