UK's Rishi Sunak to give evidence before COVID-19 inquiry

World Monday 11/December/2023 16:28 PM
By: DW
UK's Rishi Sunak to give evidence before COVID-19 inquiry

London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due be grilled at a public inquiry on Monday into the UK government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sunak, who was finance minister in 2020, oversaw the government's "Eat Out to Help Out" scheme designed to prop up the hospitality industry.

However, he has faced criticism that his policies helped spread the virus that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The British government's chief scientific adviser at the start of the pandemic, Patrick Vallance, previously told the inquiry that Sunak's scheme was "highly likely" to have increased COVID-19 deaths.

A diary entry written by Vallance also recorded Boris Johnson's controversial former aide Dominic Cummings as saying that Sunak thinks the government "should just let people die and that's OK."

Sunak has denied making this comment. Vallence has confirmed he did not personally hear Sunak say it.

Meanwhile, government scientific adviser Angela McLean referred to Sunak as "Dr Death, the Chancellor" in a message that was disclosed earlier to the inquiry. Sunak's official title at the time was chancellor of the exchequqer, which roles resemble those of a finance minister in other countries.  

Some members of the government have rallied around Sunak. Cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Sunday that the policy to encourage people to dine out during the pandemic was "entirely within the broad outlines of rules about social mixing that prevailed at the time."

"It was an effective way of ensuring that the hospitality industry was supported through a very difficult period," Gove said.

However, Sunak's appearance before the inquiry comes ahead of a crucial vote on Tuesday on a divisive plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Some moderates within the Conservative Party oppose the proposed law over human rights concerns, while lawmakers on the party's right wing have argued that it does not go far enough.

The Rwanda plan has become a defining issue of Sunak's government and the prospect of a rebellion within the party has sparked calls of a snap election that, according to opinion polls, the government would lose.