Boris Johnson, appearing at the COVID inquiry, denied government mistakes contributed to excess deaths, attributing them to an elderly population and high population density, and struggled to name a single mistake his government made.


B oris Johnson has denied his government’s mistakes during the pandemic were to blame for excess deaths.

Johnson, who is facing the COVID inquiry for the first time yesterday and today, said excess deaths were in fact down to an elderly population and a densely populated country in the UK, not government decisions.

“Do you accept that overall government decision-making, not the pandemic… led materially to there being a greater number of excess deaths in the United Kingdom than might otherwise have been the case?” counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith asked Johnson.

“I can’t give you an answer to that question,” said Johnson. “I’m not sure.”

“If I had to answer why I think we faced particular headwinds, I would say it was irrespective of government action,” he claimed. “We have an elderly population. We do suffer from lots of COVID-related co-morbidities, and we are very densely populated.”

He also disputed statistics shown to the inquiry showing the UK had the worst record for excess deaths in Europe after Italy.


According to ONS data from March 2021, the UK had one of the highest excess death rates for under 65s in Europe.

Johnson conceded he takes “personal responsibility for all the decisions we made,” but failed to list specific mistakes that were made during his time in office.

“We may have made mistakes,” he said. “Inevitably we got things wrong… but I would struggle to itemise them all before you now in a hierarchy.”

Johnson was asked whether he took responsibility for the structure of the government, the timing of the lockdowns, “the manner in which” patients were discharged into care homes, the lifting of restrictions, Eat Out to Help Out and the decision not to introduce a circuit breaker.

“Do you take responsibility?” Keith said.

“Yes,” Johnson replied.

This week openDemocracy spoke to three bereaved people who have been travelling hundreds of miles and spending thousands of pounds to attend the inquiry every day.


The inquiry continues.

PMP Magazine

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Text: This piece was first published in openDemocracy and re-published in PMP Magazine on 7 December 2023 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: COVID Public Inquiry. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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