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Boris Johnson branded ‘scatty, incoherent and rambling’ in key pandemic meetings by Welsh minister

11 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Vaughan Gething during a Welsh Government Covid briefing

Boris Johnson’s handling of key Covid meetings was “scatty, incoherent and rambling” an inquiry has heard.

Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister during the coronavirus pandemic, criticised the former prime minister’s handling of briefings, at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry hearing on Monday.

Mr Gething, who is now the minister for the economy and running to be the next first minister of Wales, said that COBR meetings – cabinet briefings where the Covid response was discussed – were better handled by former UK health minister Matt Hancock.

He made the comments in a written statement to the inquiry, which were read out by Tom Poole, lead counsel for the inquiry.

Mr Poole said: “When Matt Hancock chaired meetings of COBR there was administrative efficiency and it was a matter of regret that the same could not be said for the meetings chaired by Mr Johnson, who you describe as ‘scatty, incoherent and rambling’.”

Mr Gething told the hearing that “the identity (of the chair) really does matter”.

Frustration

The former health minister also expressed frustration that papers for some meetings were shared with the devolved administrations only 15 to 20 minutes before they started meaning there was no time to prepare.

He also accepted that the Welsh government was not as prepared for a pandemic as it thought ahead of Covid-19.

“The preparation we thought we had didn’t stand up as well as we thought it would in those early weeks,” he said.

“The hindsight is of course that we weren’t as prepared as we could have been but also we weren’t as prepared as we thought we were.

“And I think that’s not just in Wales, that’s across the UK.

Previous hearings of the inquiry has heard that the Welsh government had found out it would be in charge of its own pandemic response just days before the first lockdown.

Planning

Mr Gething also argued that if the Welsh government had known it would have started planning sooner.

He said: “Through March, even an extra day or two would have made a difference to your preparation.”

The hearing also heard that Mr Gething “made an error” during the first Welsh government cabinet meeting where Covid was discussed.

Unpublished minutes of a cabinet meeting show Mr Gething said there were no imported cases of Covid to the UK on February 25 2020.

He accepted that was an error at the inquiry, saying there had already been cases in the UK by that time and what he had meant to say was there were no cases in Wales.

He said: “I plainly made an error there, counsel, because in fact there had been plenty of imported cases by then.”

The inquiry opened with questions relating to Mr Gething’s WhatsApp messages from the pandemic period, which have been completely deleted.

He described their deletion as a “real embarrassment” and insisted they had been lost during a “security rebuild” and that he had spoken with the IT team at the Senedd on multiple occasions to attempt to get them back.

Bereaved Families 

Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group spoke outside the hearing.

They hit out at Mr Gething, saying: “Matt Hancock look like a strategic planning pandemic genius.”

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, who leads the group, said: “We all have to keep remembering that we are here today because thousands of people died in Wales because of these decisions.

“Today his responses were a word salad of waffle.

“In my opinion, he was not qualified to be health minister for Wales.

“He was meant to be in charge of protecting our loved ones and he just didn’t and my dad did not stand a chance along with all of our other loved ones.

“What’s most upsetting me is that there was zero acknowledgement of any mistakes.

“His arrogance of ‘we know best’ is just astonishing.”

Shambolic

Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, Plaid Cymru’s Health and Care spokesperson, said: “What’s clear from today’s shambolic testimony at the UK Covid inquiry is that the Labour Government in Wales were ill-prepared for Covid.

“Vaughan Gething is noted as telling Cabinet that there were no cases in the UK at the end of February 2020. Despite never disputing meeting minutes where this was noted and even repeating it in his written evidence to the inquiry, he’s now taken this back.

“The Labour Welsh Government didn’t treat Covid as an emergency until the start of March 2020. Their PPE stock was the wrong sort, and it couldn’t be used even though they knew that a coronavirus pandemic was likely.

“Plaid Cymru were saying back in March 2020 that the Welsh Government should postpone the Six nations games, but Vaughan Gething as Health Minister washed his hands of responsibility and was advising the WRU to decide themselves what to do.

“We also learned that he’s refusing to take responsibility for his disappearing Whatsapp messages. He says that decisions were not made over Whatsapps – but evidence from Government special advisers says otherwise.

“There will undoubtedly be more unanswered questions after today. We know, without doubt, that the Conservative UK Government’s handling of Covid was terrible. But in Wales, it’s becoming clear that the shambolic lack of preparedness by the Labour Government has had a long-lasting, devastating impact on Wales. The case for a Wales-specific Covid inquiry is clearer than ever.”


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A.Redman
A.Redman
1 month ago

The usual ” Not me Guv” response from Gething today.Will we get any better acknowledgement from Drakeford tomorrow? It is always someone else that is at fault! Transparency and accountability are sadly lacking.

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
1 month ago
Reply to  A.Redman

Also praise the one forced to resign.

Why vote
Why vote
30 days ago

With all the failings apparently littered throughout his time in government is he really suitable for a leadership position.

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