Boris Johnson: the admissions and apologies on first day of his Covid inquiry testimony

The former prime minister's appearance at the public inquiry was marked by protesters and interruptions

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson is due to face two days of questioning at the Covid inquiry in London
(Image credit: PETER NICHOLLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has admitted that he should have "twigged much sooner" about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic as he began giving evidence to the Covid inquiry in London.

The former prime minister's appearance at the public inquiry had been the "most eagerly awaited moment so far", said The Guardian, with his evidence having implications for his own legacy as well as for the current PM Rishi Sunak.

Johnson opened with an apology, saying he was sorry for the "pain, loss and suffering" that occurred as he led Britain through the pandemic. 

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But he was "quickly interrupted by the inquiry's chair", Lady Hallett, who ordered protesters in the gallery to sit down, said Politico. The protesters were being "quiet, but holding signs aimed at Johnson" and were removed after refusing to sit. As he tried to continue, somebody shouted "You're not sorry." 

Johnson said the government had done "our level best" and admitted things could have been done "differently". He later said he "took responsibility for all decisions made" during the pandemic, The Guardian reported, and admitted that "mixed messages" were given to the public by the various devolved governments. 

"Too many meetings were too male-dominated," he accepted, answering questions on previous claims from witnesses that there was an "institutional bias against women" in decision-making.

That led to questions about a "toxic culture" in 10 Downing Street that has "already been laid bare" in the inquiry, added The Guardian. Johnson did not fully concede that such a culture existed but said he would "make a distinction between the language used and the decision-making". The Blair and Thatcher governments also had "challenging and competing characters whose views about each other might not be fit to print", he said, but he argued that they got "an awful lot done".

Johnson also said that the former health secretary Matt Hancock may have had his "defects" but he was "doing his best in very difficult circumstances".

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