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We should shut down this Covid showtrial

This isn’t an inquiry – it is rewriting history to fit a pro-lockdown narrative.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Covid-19 Politics UK

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There was one moment today, during the grilling of former UK prime minister Boris Johnson, that seemed to sum up everything that is wrong with the Covid inquiry.

The inquiry is supposed to be an unbiased exploration of the facts about the UK’s handling of the pandemic. Its ostensible aim is to help us work out what went wrong (or right) and why, so that we can better face the next pandemic, saving as many lives as possible while minimising any potential economic and social harms.

But this inquiry is doing nothing of the sort. The judge and the lawyers running the show clearly made up their minds at the outset. They want us to think that the UK’s lockdowns should have come earlier and harder. And that Johnson, who at first was reticent to shut down the country, is an irresponsible leader whose failure to ‘follow the science’ led hundreds of thousands to an early grave. The inquiry is so certain of this that it has now started twisting the facts in order to meet its predetermined narrative.

Earlier today, the inquiry’s lead counsel, Hugo Keith KC, put it to Johnson that the UK had ‘one of the highest rates of excess deaths in Europe’. It’s the kind of statistic that would probably pass most people by. After all, we have all seen endless media reports denouncing the UK as ‘plague island’ and condemning Johnson as a careless spreader of disease.

But it’s just not true. Johnson, aware of this, hit back, citing data that put the UK in the middle of the pack of developed countries.

Keith then backtracked slightly, claiming that the UK had the highest excess deaths in ‘Western Europe’, apart from Italy. But this claim doesn’t make much sense either. Indeed, multiple data sets contradict the KC’s claim. Take the excess-death data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), released in May last year, several months after the UK had removed its last Covid restrictions. When ranked against the 27 member states of the EU, Britain comes a very average 15th. At this point, at the end of the pandemic, the UK actually had fewer excess deaths than Italy, Spain and even Germany, although the UK position has worsened in recent months. Equally, you could take the OECD’s data on excess deaths. The UK is currently roughly in the middle of the 35 member countries.

Keith’s claim seems to rely on a BBC analysis of deaths between early 2020 and the summer of 2023. The problem with this data set is that it only shows 10 seemingly randomly selected rich countries (it extends beyond Europe to include the US and New Zealand, too). It does not give a full picture of Europe or even just Western Europe.

When it comes to excess deaths, the one country that always comes out well is Sweden – the country that avoided lockdown entirely. Whichever data set you look at, it has either the lowest or second-lowest excess deaths in Europe. This is, of course, highly inconvenient for ardent proponents of lockdown. Even the BBC’s analysis that Keith seemed to be drawing on shows Sweden outperforming the rest of Europe. Tellingly, the accompanying BBC News article makes no mention of Sweden’s no-lockdown policy.

The Covid inquiry is apparently even less interested in what Sweden’s success might tell us than the pro-lockdown media. None of the politicians or scientists has ever been asked whether lockdown had the desired results or not. Or whether Sweden’s more liberal approach might have been a less destructive option.

Instead, the inquiry has become a soap box for pro-lockdown talking points and other liberal-elite obsessions. It has been used to bash Brexit. To wring hands over the supposedly ‘toxic’ culture in Johnson’s Downing Street. Today, the former PM was even pressed on whether he had the correct gender balance in his top team. Keith has also promised future sessions will look at the UK’s alleged problem with structural racism.

This inquiry is clearly not interested in saving lives from the next virus. And it’s certainly not interested in preserving our liberties from future lockdowns. It has become a stage for lame Boris-bashing, pro-lockdown dogma and woke preening. It is high time it was shut down.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Topics Covid-19 Politics UK

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