Watch: Minister refuses to apologise 11 times for government's handling of COVID
A minister has refused to apologise 11 times in one interview for the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay was repeatedly asked by Sky News presenter Kay Burley to say sorry for the deaths of thousands of people, but kept dodging the question.
His interview came after a report by MPs found the failure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic was one of the country’s worst ever public health failures.
The 151-page report said the “decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.
Burley began her interview with Barclay on Tuesday morning by saying: “I suppose you want to start with an apology to the British public.”
But Barclay refused to apologise, despite constant attempts by Burley to get him to do so.
“I don’t understand why you don’t want to apologise,” she said at one point, later asking: “Why don’t you just say, ‘We’re sorry’?”
Instead, Barclay, who admitted he had not yet ready the scathing report on the government’s handling of the crisis, said: “I recognise the devastation to the families concerned, but we took logical decisions at the time, based on the information we had.”
He added: “The decisions were taken on the evidence and the scientific advice at the time, they were taken to protect the NHS.
“It was an unprecedented pandemic, we were learning about it as we went through and of course with hindsight there’s things we know about it now that we didn’t know at the time.
“Of course there are going to be lessons to learn, that’s why we’ve committed to an inquiry, but the government took decisions at the time based on the scientific advice it received, but those scientists themselves were operating in a very new environment where they themselves were learning about the pandemic.”
“We protected the NHS, we got the vaccine deployed at pace, but we accept where there are lessons to be learnt, we’re keen to do so.”
In a separate interview on Tuesday with LBC Radio, Barclay refused to apologise eight times when asked by presenter Nick Ferrari.
Barclay said: “I recognise it’s devastating and my heart goes out to any family, any of your listeners where they lost a loved one.
“As the prime minister said in May, he was sorry for the suffering the country has experienced, we take responsibility for everything that has happened, and that is why we’ve committed to an inquiry in order to get the answers to what has happened and to explain to those families the basis of the decisions that have been taken.”
The report on the handling of the pandemic said that while herd immunity was not an official government strategy at the beginning of the crisis, there was a “policy approach of fatalism about the prospects for COVID in the community”.
Experts and ministers sought to “only moderate the speed of infection” through the population – flattening the curve – rather than seeking to stop its spread altogether, MPs said.
The report added: “The policy was pursued until 23 March because of the official scientific advice the government received, not in spite of it.”
Watch: Serious errors and delays led to COVID deaths, MPs say