Dominic Cummings’ WhatsApps read at Covid inquiry

Lord Frost has defended Boris Johnson’s Government’s focus on Brexit in the lead-up to the pandemic.

He was forced to after Britain’s most senior female civil servant told the Covid inquiry that Mr Johnson solely focused on Brexit to the exclusion of all else once entering No. 10.

Giving evidence to the inquiry, Helen McNamara argued that Britain had been on the “back foot” when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

However she did echo Matt Hancock, in arguing that the civil service’s planning for a ‘No Deal Brexit’ was “immensely valuable” when the Government was forced into its emergency pandemic response.

Lord Frost has now hit back, saying “of course” Brexit was the sole focus of Government in the latter half of 2019 – though it didn’t have to be that way.

READ MORE: Senior civil servant says Dominic Cummings’ C-word attack was ‘horrible to read’

He said: “We might not have had to, if the previous government, ministers *and* officials, had not bungled the negotiation so badly so that the referendum result could not be delivered.

“We were in the biggest constitutional crisis for a hundred years. That obviously had to be the government’s overwhelming priority.

“‘No deal’ Brexit planning certainly revealed many of the systemic weaknesses that became even more obvious during the pandemic, and even enabled us to build plans that turned out to be useful (eg on drugs supply), but it certainly did not cause them.”

He later argued with an X user who accused him of being the “absolute height of arrogance to suggest that a Brexit deal… was more important than the lives of British citizens”.

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Lord Frost pointed out that the final withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU was signed in mid-October 2019, and planning for such an exit was subsequently stood down ahead of the General Election.

He said: “No one outside Wuhan had heard of covid until January 2020.

“It is therefore simply a chronological impossibility that Brexit work in 2019 could have distracted from an unforeseeable crisis in 2020.

“As it turned out, no deal planning in 2019 actually *helped* us manage aspects of that crisis.”

He concluded: “This whole ‘Brexit distraction’ theory simply does not accord with the facts”.

The inquiry quizzed Ms MacNamara, citing other witnesses who had also agreed that the “experience of Brexit and in particular the preparations for a ‘No Deal Brexit’, were valuable as a precursor to the experiences of the pandemic”.

The former deputy Cabinet Secretary agreed with such arguments, saying they were “immensely valuable”.

“In retrospect actually it’s one of the frustrations, when I think about whether I should have been more reflective at the time, that we knew how hard that had been, how unnatural it had been for Whitehall to have to think across a whole system, and think about things we weren’t practised in doing, and work collectively across a huge range of policy and operational areas.”

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