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UK Covid inquiry to start evidence-gathering stage of its work – UK politics live | Politics

UK Covid inquiry to start evidence-gathering stage of its work – UK politics live | Politics

Covid inquiry begins evidence-gathering stage of hearings

Good morning. Today marks the start of an event that will be in the news, and will dominate public policy thinking, for years. The Covid inquiry has been up and running since last year. But until now all the public hearings have been on procedural matters. This morning marks the start of the evidence-gathering stage of hearings and, after an opening statement this morning from Heather Hallett, the chair, and statements from counsel for the core participants, the first witnesses will be up tomorrow. These hearings focus on “resilience and preparedness” and the really interesting hearings will start next week, when David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt are expected to appear.

Yesterday Boris Johnson formally resigned as an MP, ending, or reducing, his exposure to parliamentary scrutiny. But the inquiry may expose him to a more intense level of scrutiny than he has faced before.

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Public inquiries of this kind always take years, and so Johnson and other ministers may be assuming that judgment day will be some way off. But, as Paul Waugh pointed out in an i column recently, that would be to misunderstand how this inquiry is operating. He explained:

Crucially, some critics have missed the simple fact that the modular nature of this inquiry means that Hallett and her team will be making regular reports after each (a few months apart), complete with recommendations for action as well as key findings. Unlike the Chilcot inquiry into Iraq, there won’t be years of evidence and then “one big” report in 2026.

Here is Robert Booth’s guide to how the inquiry will operate.

And here is Nimo Omer’s guide to some of the wider issues at stake.

The inquiry proceedings get going as the Johnson “clown show” (as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar calls it) continues to preoccupy the Conservative party – and most of the rest of Westminster too. I’ll be covering that as well.

Here is the agenda for the day.

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Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

9.30am: Keir Starmer gives a speech at London Tech Week.

10am: Heather Hallett, chair of the Covid inquiry, opens the evidence-taking stage of its work with a statement. Then there will be opening statements from counsel. The first witnesses will appear tomorrow.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Afternoon: Peers will debate the Public Order Act 1986 (serious disruption to the life of the community) regulations 2023, a new law that that makes it easier for the police to stop peaceful protests, and a motion tabled by the Green peer Jenny Jones to block the regulations.

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If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a PC or a laptop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

Key events

A man recalls calling 999 when he was really ill. He woke up again in hospital. When he did wake up, he learned his wife had died. They had been married for 48 years.

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A woman recalls her father’s funeral. There were just 15 people there. She did not hug anyone, from when she learnt her father was dying until after the funeral. It was a very lonely time. Grief was compounded by loneliness, she says.

A woman recalls taking her mother to hospital. They “waited and waited and waited”. Then a doctor called, who just announced that her mother had passed away. She was expecting to go and see her again, but she was told she had died.

The video features multiple clips from participants. The woman who was featured earlier, talking about her father and sisted dying within five days of each other, is talking about the moment her sister died.

A woman, Jane, recalls her father being taken to hospital. She accompanied him, and urged her dad “to be the strongest you’ve every been”.

Another woman recalls being so ill she was “spitting blood”. She went to hospital, and was taken to ICU where she was intubated. She woke up six weeks later. On three occasions she was so unwell they stopped treatment. But slowly and steadily she recovered.

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The video is being shown now. It features interviews with members of the public recalling their experience of the pandemic. One woman recalls, at the start of the pandemic, discussing with her boss how they would know people who would die as the pandemic developed. But she never realised it would be “my dad and my sister five days apart”, she says, holding back tears.

Hallett says the inquiry will shortly play a 17-minute video about the impact of the pandemic. It is very moving, she says. She says people in the room who do not want to watch are free to leave.

Hallett confirms the inquiry will be publishing interim reports as it goes along

Hallett says that she hopes that the inquiry’s recommendations will over time “save lives and reduce suffering in the future”.

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She also confirms that she intends to publish reports as she goes along. She says:

My plan, as people now know, is to publish reports as we go along. So that when the hearings for this module finish, work will begin on preparing the report for this module. When that report is ready, it will be published. In the meantime, the other module teams and I will be working on the next modules.

Heather Hallett sets our three key questions she wants Covid inquiry she is chairing to answer

Heather Hallett, the inquiry chair, is opening the hearing. There is a live feed at the top of the blog.

She starts by referencing the vigil by relatives of people who have been outside the inquiry building. Their grief was obvious, she says. She says on behalf of those people she intends to answer three questions.

Was the UK properly prepared for a pandemic?
Was the response to it appropriate?
And can we learn lessons for the future?

She says an “extraordinary amount of work” has already been done by the inquiry team.

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Q: Do you use ChatGPT and what do you ask it?

Starmer says he has a 14-year-old son who gives him a “masterclass” on this every day. He does not see it as outlandish. He thinks of its as something that will be part of his life. What it can do is incredible.

But Starmer also says he sees the potential impact of AI in his work all the time. For example, he recently talked about how it can be used to improve scanning for cancer, he says.

Starmer says Tory ‘political tantrums’ are damaging reputation of UK and deterring investors

Keir Starmer is speaking at London Tech Week now. There is a live feed here.

He says this time last year Boris Johnson was PM. Now we are on our third PM, and our fourth chancellor since then, he says. And we have three byelections just caused by political fallout. Essentially they have been caused by “political tantrums”, he says. He says that is “unprecedented”.

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There is a price, he says. People want government to focus on the cost of living, not issues like this.

And he says disruption likes this affects the reputation of the UK. And it deters investors.

Q: What effect will the implosion of the SNP have?

Starmer says the implosion of the SNP has been profound. It has had two effects.

First, it has led to the SNP’s record in government being examined. And it is not very good, he says.

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And he says people are open to listening to Labour’s case as to what it could do for Scotland.

Starmer says government needs to operate with ‘Labour values’ to ensure everyone benefits from AI revolution

Keir Starmer is giving a speech to the London Tech Week conference this morning. According to extracts released in advance, he will argue that artificial intelligence will pose challenges that will require “Labour values” from government if it is going to ensure that everyone benefits. He will say:

Our country is facing a choice about who benefits from the huge disruption that tech will bring. Will it be those who already hold wealth and power, or will it be the starter firms trying to break in and disrupt the industry, the patients trying to book at appointment with their GP, the worker using technology to enhance and improve their role …
The question facing our country is who will benefit from this disruption? Will it leave some behind, as happened with de-industrialisation across vast swathes of our country? Or can it help build a society where everyone is included, and inequalities are narrowed not widened?
This moment calls for Labour values, of working in partnership with business, driving technology to the public good, and ensuring people and places aren’t left behind. Labour would take a whole-economy approach, recognising that tech is not just a sector, but every job and every business must become digital if we are to address the UK’s productivity problem. Diffusing the latest technology across our economy and public services will be as important as supporting the latest unicorns.

Three years ‘far too long’ for Covid inquiry, says former health minister Lord Bethell

Ben Quinn

Three years of public hearings by the Covid inquiry is “far too long” according to a Tory peer who served as a health minister over the period examined and who warned this morning that Britain had now “gone backwards” in terms of planning for a future pandemic.

Lord Bethell told Sky News:

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The desire to answer the concerns of families is entirely right but there are practical matters for what should be done in preparing this country for another pandemic that is likely some time in the future.
“That work should be done today and it’s taking far too long to learn the practical lessons of the mistakes we made the first time round.

The peer was speaking ahead of the beginning this morning of public hearings by the UK’s Covid Inquiry, which is initially looking at pandemic preparedness.

But while the inquiry is not due to conclude hearings until 2026, new mistakes had already been made, he said, pointing to the dismantlement of testing facilities while surveillance was “not good enough”. He went on:

We have gone backwards rather than forwards in terms of planning for any future pandemic. We do not have a good pandemic plan in place.

Libby Brooks

Libby Brooks

The deputy leader of the SNP, Keith Brown, has insisted that Humza Yousaf is “sticking to principles of natural justice” as he resits demands to suspend his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon.

Yousaf has refused to bow to calls from opposition and a handful of SNP politicians to remove the whip from Sturgeon or suspend her membership following her arrest on Sunday as party of the ongoing investigation into the party’s finances.

Brown told BBC Radio Scotland:

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Nicola Sturgeon has not been charged, she has not been accused of anything, the arrest I appreciate is a dramatic thing to have happened and its perhaps not well understood that arrest is to ensure the interview and information gathering is put on to a formal footing.

Asked about instances within the SNP of Sturgeon suspending Margaret Ferrier, Michelle Thomson and others because of their involvement with police investigations, Brown said “there are different circumstances in each of these cases”.

Brown said it was “fairly straightforward” that Yousaf had said he was not taking steps to suspend Sturgeon. Asked if there needed to be a more transparent process rather than simply having the first minister making the decision, Brown said Yousaf had taken early action to review governance and transparency in the SNP.

Brown said he had not spoken to Sturgeon in the last few days but that she had made a “very strong defence of her position” in the statement she posted immediately following her release that protested her innocence.

Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice hold photos of relatives who died during the pandemic outside the building in London where the Covid inquiry will start its evidence-gathering proceedings this morning.
Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice hold photos of relatives who died during the pandemic outside the building in London where the Covid inquiry will start its evidence-gathering proceedings this morning. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Covid inquiry begins evidence-gathering stage of hearings

Good morning. Today marks the start of an event that will be in the news, and will dominate public policy thinking, for years. The Covid inquiry has been up and running since last year. But until now all the public hearings have been on procedural matters. This morning marks the start of the evidence-gathering stage of hearings and, after an opening statement this morning from Heather Hallett, the chair, and statements from counsel for the core participants, the first witnesses will be up tomorrow. These hearings focus on “resilience and preparedness” and the really interesting hearings will start next week, when David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt are expected to appear.

Yesterday Boris Johnson formally resigned as an MP, ending, or reducing, his exposure to parliamentary scrutiny. But the inquiry may expose him to a more intense level of scrutiny than he has faced before.

Advertisement

Public inquiries of this kind always take years, and so Johnson and other ministers may be assuming that judgment day will be some way off. But, as Paul Waugh pointed out in an i column recently, that would be to misunderstand how this inquiry is operating. He explained:

Crucially, some critics have missed the simple fact that the modular nature of this inquiry means that Hallett and her team will be making regular reports after each (a few months apart), complete with recommendations for action as well as key findings. Unlike the Chilcot inquiry into Iraq, there won’t be years of evidence and then “one big” report in 2026.

Here is Robert Booth’s guide to how the inquiry will operate.

And here is Nimo Omer’s guide to some of the wider issues at stake.

The inquiry proceedings get going as the Johnson “clown show” (as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar calls it) continues to preoccupy the Conservative party – and most of the rest of Westminster too. I’ll be covering that as well.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Advertisement

Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

9.30am: Keir Starmer gives a speech at London Tech Week.

10am: Heather Hallett, chair of the Covid inquiry, opens the evidence-taking stage of its work with a statement. Then there will be opening statements from counsel. The first witnesses will appear tomorrow.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Afternoon: Peers will debate the Public Order Act 1986 (serious disruption to the life of the community) regulations 2023, a new law that that makes it easier for the police to stop peaceful protests, and a motion tabled by the Green peer Jenny Jones to block the regulations.

Advertisement

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a PC or a laptop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

Andrew Sparrow

Published: 2023-06-13 09:14:24

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