'Why not say sorry?': Minister refuses to apologise for Covid failures eight times

12 October 2021, 08:43 | Updated: 12 October 2021, 17:44

By Will Taylor

A cabinet minister has refused to apologise eight times after a damning report blamed the Government for serious errors and delays that cost lives during the Covid pandemic.

Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, repeatedly refused to say sorry for the lives lost when speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

Nick either directly asked or prompted him to say sorry on eight occasions, as he went through the critical report which said thousands of deaths could have been avoided.

Mr Barclay said he had not seen the damning cross-party publication, composed by MPs, which found ministers waited too long to lock the country down last year and caused a higher death toll, because it was published at midnight.

"What happened to individual families was obviously devastating… our hearts go out to them," Mr Barclay told LBC.

Read more: Govt's 'catastrophic' Covid response biggest public health failure in history - report

"It was a global pandemic, it was an unprecedented time..." he added, admitting there were lessons to be learned and pointing to an inquiry into what happened.

"Doesn't help if you’ve lost grandma, does it? So you can apologise for that?" Nick asked, to which Mr Barclay replied that the Government followed available scientific advice at the time.

When pushed over mistakes, such as moving patients back to care homes earlier in the outbreak, Nick again asked Mr Barclay to apologise to LBC listeners.

"What's so hard about the word sorry?" he asked.

"Because we followed the scientific advice that we had at the time," Mr Barclay replied.

"On a human level, as minister for the cabinet office, you can't apologise to people who've lost loved ones?" Nick fired back.

"I'm saying we followed the scientific advice and the knowledge at the time, Nick, that was the logical thing to do," the minister said.

"But what we're committed to doing for all those families is having an inquiry, ensuring we address any issues from that time – but we followed the advice we had at that time."

Nick then asked if the scientific advisers needed to apologise, if not ministers, but Mr Barclay said they did not because the understanding about coronavirus has changed since the early days of the outbreak.

"Thousands die needlessly and nobody needs to apologise?" Nick said, adding: "I have no doubt that everybody did what they did for what they thought were the right reasons... but candidly a lot was wrong, I'm just asking on a human level for an apology."

"I recognise the devastation to the families concerned but we took logical decisions at the time based on the information we had," the minister said.

Asked about the Duchy of Lancaster Stephen Barclay's refusal to apologise for policy failings that led to deaths, Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: "I never really understood why politicians have such a problem in apologising.

"And so yes, of course I'm prepared to apologise to all of those who have suffered during the pandemic.

"This was a new disease that we've never seen before. None of us knew how it was going to impact, none of us knew how it was going to spread, none of us had any idea of the fact that it could be spread even without showing any symptoms.

"Of course we had a huge amount to learn and I'm pleased to say that we have learned over the course of the pandemic.

The report found UK policy was to take interventions like social distancing in a "gradual and incremental approach", a deliberate policy which has now been shown to be "wrong" and led to a higher death toll.

MPs said the "decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic - and the advice that led to them - rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced".

The report highlighted the fact thousands of elderly people died in care facilities during the start of the pandemic, as patients were moved out of hospital and into homes.

It also criticised the confusing regional tier system, test and trace systems, the lack of scientific evidence for a 10pm pub curfew, previous use of "light touch" border controls, and the "seminal failure" of abandoning community testing on March 12.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the cross-party report from MPs on the coronavirus pandemic should serve as a "wake-up call" to the government.

"It's quite clear that what some of us have been saying for some time has been found to be true, which is the government was ill-prepared in relation to this pandemic, made mistakes during the course of this pandemic, and many people may have lost their lives as a consequence of that," he said.

"It's important the government doesn't wait for a public inquiry, but learns lessons in real time, and... (makes) sure that this autumn and winter isn't as bad as last year's."

On Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to apologise and bring forward the Covid inquiry.

The Labour leader said: "They [the government] are very good at blaming other people.

"They need to accept responsibility and apologise.

"I'm quite surprised that today the government hasn't found it within themselves to just go out and apologise."