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Inside politics

Rishi’s lockdown rebellion

Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

Only now are the true costs of lockdown becoming clear, says Fraser Nelson in The Spectator: the exams “madness”, the huge NHS waiting list, the unexplained deaths, the judicial backlogs, the economic chaos. Was any or all of this expected? Did our leaders think it a “price worth paying”?

Rishi Sunak tells me they always knew lockdown would be a gamble. But when evidence of its harmful side effects began to roll in, he says, “a strange silence grew in government; dissenting voices were filtered out and a see-no-evil policy was applied”. When the then-Chancellor raised the problem of children not being in school, no one responded. There was virtually no discussion of missed doctor’s appointments, or the growing NHS backlog. “I wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off.”

Because No 10 wanted to look like it was “following the science”, Sunak says, the Sage expert panel was effectively given the power to lock the country down. Yet their internal deliberations were never revealed to ministers – all they got was modelling of horrific infection “scenarios” with no information on how they were calculated. It was only last December, when Sage wanted a lockdown for omicron, that Boris Johnson finally overruled them. Sunak says he heavily implied to the PM that if Sage had their way, he would resign.

No doubt some will say Sunak is exaggerating his role, says Nelson. But his critics in government always told me at the time he was “on a one-man mission to torpedo lockdown”. And there are “important lessons” in his account about how profound decisions were taken without being properly weighed up – decisions we’re now living with the consequences of. “Democratic scrutiny” must be protected in any future crisis, no matter how convenient it is for the government to “suppress the debate”.