The government has dishonoured the sacrifices the British people made during the pandemic (Picture: LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Sue Gray’s report lays bare the rot that has infected 10 Downing Street under this Prime Minister. The buck stops with him.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group put it very starkly when the report was published, stating: ‘When they were texting colleagues about getting away with it, we were having to text our families telling them they couldn’t come to their loved ones’ funerals.’

The government has dishonoured the sacrifices the British people made during the pandemic and the memory of the loved ones that so many of us lost.

But while the Prime Minister is busy trying to save his own skin, the Covid-19 public inquiry is reaching a critical stage. We would do well to remember that this independent public inquiry to examine the UK’s response to the pandemic will be the most important inquiry of its kind in a generation.

The Chair of the inquiry, Baroness Hallett, has reported back to the Prime Minister on the Government’s draft Terms of Reference and made a series of hugely important recommendations and suggested changes. 

The Terms of Reference, once finalised, will decide the scope of the inquiry. 

What it covers, in what order it covers them, who it engages with, how it’s run, and so on. There will be new and very serious questions for Boris Johnson himself to answer about the decisions he made during the pandemic, and their impact.

The Prime Minister, as the sponsoring minister for this inquiry, will decide on the final Terms of Reference and whether Baroness Hallett’s recommendations will be accepted. The inquiry can’t begin until this happens. 

I find this deeply, deeply concerning. How can we trust that this inquiry will deliver what the British public needs it to deliver when our Prime Minister and his team so nonchalantly broke their own laws, and so casually tried to cover it up?  

Independent scrutiny, transparency and accountability really matter to this inquiry. But we are dealing with a Prime Minister who reportedly demanded a secret meeting with Sue Gray days before the report’s publication

It begs the question: what have they got to hide?

If he is willing to undermine and interfere with a report of this magnitude, how can we trust he will not do the same with the Terms of Reference of the inquiry?

This is especially pertinent given one of Baroness Hallett’s recommendations is to add in the word ‘enforcement’ to the probe’s scope – meaning that this will allow her to look into the police investigation into the No. 10 lockdown parties, and whether their actions influenced public behaviour.

And he has already moved the goalposts several times in terms of the inquiry’s start date, too. We were promised time and time again it would start in Spring this year. It didn’t. 

We have now been told next year. And it’s looking increasingly more likely the inquiry now won’t report until at least the end of 2025, possibly later. 

In other words, not until after the next general election. Convenient for a Prime Minister who missed five consecutive emergency COBRA meetings in the lead up to the pandemic’s onset in the UK. He will try any trick in the book to avoid scrutiny.

It begs the question: what have they got to hide?

Baroness Hallett’s suggested changes to the Terms of Reference are absolutely fundamental and Labour fully supports them. She consulted groups and bereaved families all over the country and received 20,000 responses to her consultation. 

The overwhelming consensus of the UK public was that the inquiry should include the pandemic’s impact on children and young people, in particular school closures, the mental health and wellbeing of the UK population and how well regional, devolved and national government worked together.

The next deadly pandemic will not simply wait for the inquiry to publish its findings (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The pandemic also exposed the latent inequalities that 12 years of Conservative government have embedded in the UK. I was therefore really pleased to see Baroness Hallett recommend that the Terms of Reference be reframed to put inequalities at the forefront of the entire inquiry. She is absolutely right. 

In addition to the chair’s recommendations, Labour believes there needs to be a commitment in the Terms of Reference to engage with groups and professional networks representing those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act. 

We also wish for it to include the rampant waste and cronyism the pandemic unleashed at the heart of Government and investigate the impact 10 years of austerity has had on NHS staffing levels and capacity. 

To restore any sort of trust in the process, the Prime Minister must accept the Chair’s recommendations in full. Seeing them as nice, optional extras would be totally unacceptable.

To dilute them would be to dilute the desires of the British public and turn an independent inquiry into a political one. 

He also needs to accept them immediately. We cannot wait any longer for this inquiry to start, and every day it is delayed will further blunt its impact when it finally airs. 

More: Boris Johnson

The next deadly pandemic will not simply wait for the inquiry to publish its findings. Time is of the essence.

We see right through our Prime Minister’s cynical attempts to delay it until after the next election, and I’m here to tell him history will not judge him kindly for it. 

Every effort must be made to ensure it reports in this Parliament so Ministers can be held to account.

But after reading Sue Gray’s report, I won’t hold my breath. 

The best hope that we will learn crucial lessons from the pandemic and move on is for this discredited Prime Minister to step aside

The public deserve the truth – and Britain deserves better.

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