Rishi Sunak said it was “wrong to hold scientists accountable” during the pandemic and claimed lockdown “trade-offs” were never properly discussed.
In an interview for The Spectator on “the inside story of lockdown”, the former chancellor attacked the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for having too much influence over government decision-making during the COVID crisis.
He claims he was banned from discussing the negative side effects of the draconian restrictions the nation lived under, such as the NHS backlog and exam chaos, and that SAGE meeting minutes were often deleted dissenting voices.
He said decisions during the pandemic were usually made after ministers saw grim scientific analysis pointing to ‘horrific’ scenarios that would occur if the lockdown was not imposed or extended, but it was unclear’ how these very important scenarios had been calculated”. “.
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Mr Sunak said: “We haven’t talked about missing at all [doctor’s] appointment, or building the backlog in the NHS in a massive way. It was never part of it.
“Whoever wrote the minutes of SAGE meetings – condensing its discussions into directions for the government – would set the policy of the nation. No one, not even cabinet members, would know how those decisions were made.”
The Tory leadership hopeful suggested No 10’s desperation to portray its policies as ‘following the science’ meant SAGE had too much power to make decisions, and that was a mistake.
“We shouldn’t have held scientists accountable like we did,” he said.
“And you have to recognize the trade-offs early on. If we had done all of that, we could have been in a very different place. We probably would have made different decisions on things like schools.”
It comes as thousands of teenagers across the country are due to receive their GSCE results on Thursday, having seen their education interrupted for much of the past two years.
Mr Sunak says he has at times become “very emotional” about the impact of school closures – but his concerns have been met with silence from colleagues.
He claimed he “was not allowed to speak” about his fears in public, and ministers were briefed on how to deal with questions about the socio-economic impact of the lockdown.
He said: “The script was never to acknowledge them. The script was, oh, there’s no compromise, because doing this for our health is good for the economy.”
Mr Sunak, who resigned from Boris Johnson’s government last month, said he had not resigned over his differences during the pandemic as it would not have been ‘responsible’ given the crisis the country was facing.
He said he was now opening up not just because of the Tory leadership race, but because lessons need to be learned about ‘how the important questions about the ripple effect of lockdown have never been properly explored”.
He said the public was frightened of scientists and the government “helped shape that: with the messages of fear.”
Mr Sunak has previously claimed he returned early from the United States to prevent the imposition of another lockdown when the Omicron variant spread last winter.
Only two weeks before the appointment of a new Prime Minister, he is trying to catch up with his rival Liz Truss, whom he is trailing in the polls.
His interview comes after allies of the Foreign Secretary attacked him for adopting a ‘scorched earth’ policy that risks destroying the Conservative Party after he refused to say whether he would vote for his job cuts. taxes, according to a Times report.
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A No10 spokesman defended the government’s record on the pandemic.
They said: “Throughout the pandemic, public health, education and the economy have been at the heart of the difficult decisions made on COVID restrictions to protect the British public from an unprecedented new virus.
“At each stage, ministers made collective decisions that took into account a wide range of expert advice available at the time in order to protect public health.
“The UK government has spent more than £400billion to support people, families and their livelihoods throughout our response to the pandemic, which included the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe.”