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Critics accuse Rishi Sunak of rewriting history as he claims No10 bowed to ’empowered scientists’

Rishi Sunk complained he ‘wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off’ between lockdowns to reduce the spread of Covid and the impact on the NHS backlog, economy and education

Rishi Sunak was today accused of desperately rewriting history by claiming it had been a mistake to ’empower’ scientists who ‘screwed’ Britain during Covid — despite originally backing ‘bold’ measures.

The ex-Chancellor last night sensationally claimed it was an error to bow so heavily to SAGE, the Government’s influential scientific committee, whose doom-laden forecasts swayed Boris Johnson into a series of damaging restrictions.

In the same blistering interview with the Spectator magazine, the Tory leadership hopeful argued No10 failed to acknowledge economic trade-offs ‘from the beginning’.

Despite helping to thwart the pandemic in the early days, the Government’s two-year cycle of curbs crippled the economy and saw NHS backlogs soar. Ministers eventually lost faith in draconian policies, instead to resorting to relying on vaccines and immunity to keep Covid at bay.

Mr Sunak, who describes himself as an ‘underdog’ in the race to become the next Prime Minister, complained he ‘wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off’ between the virus-controlling effects of lockdowns and the impact on the health service, economy and education — in a piece that heavily suggested he was opposed to lockdowns.

But SAGE scientists today accused him of passing the buck, arguing that ministers are the ones who make decisions and it is ‘not the fault’ of experts that ministers failed to source wider advice.

Other experts pointed out that SAGE’s viewpoints were dismissed because they were trying to urge the Government to act sooner.

Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist and one of the most outspoken members of SAGE, told MailOnline: ‘It’s an old adage that advisors advise and ministers decide. This is how it should be, how it has always been and how it was during the pandemic.’

And critics today accused him of political game-playing, questioning why he didn’t publicly speak out at the time if he was so against the measures. Social media commentators called his silence ‘weak’ and ‘pathetic’.

Lee Cain, Mr Johnson’s former head of communications, today dismissed Mr Sunak’s account of events as ‘simply wrong’, while the PM’s former adviser Dominic Cummings called his comments ‘dangerous rubbish’.

Mr Sunak already appeared to be back-tracking by midday, saying he was not arguing that the first lockdowns were a mistake — despite heavily suggesting last night that it would not have gone ahead without SAGE’s gloomy exaggerated modelling.

The PM candidate supported Britain’s tough stance when the virus first hit, even taking to a Downing Street podium in an April 2020 briefing to urge people to stay at home to protect the health service and save lives. Weeks earlier, he said it was ‘a time to be bold, a time for courage’.

Economic measures brought in to contain the pandemic, when Mr Sunak was Chancellor, cost up to £400billion but huge amounts were wasted on unusable PPE, while the furlough scheme was abused.

At the same time, the virus-controlling policies had a devastating effect on healthcare and are largely blamed for fueling diagnosis and treatment delays, especially among cancer patients, with thousands expected to die early.

But Mr Sunak boasted last month that he personally blocked another lockdown during the winter Omicron wave.

The number of people in England on the waiting list for routine hospital treatment hit a record 6.7million in June — meaning one in eight are now stuck in the backlog

The number of people in England on the waiting list for routine hospital treatment hit a record 6.7million in June — meaning one in eight are now stuck in the backlog

NHS cancer data shows only six in 10 people started their first cancer treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral in July — the worst performance ever reported and well below the 85 per cent target

NHS cancer data shows only six in 10 people started their first cancer treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral in July — the worst performance ever reported and well below the 85 per cent target

Rishi Sunak’s criticism of Government’s Covid response ‘dangerous rubbish’, says Dominic Cummings 

Rishi Sunak’s claims that the Government failed to consider the wider impacts of lockdown is ‘simply wrong’ and ‘dangerous rubbish’, Boris Johnson’s ex aide has argued.

Mr Sunak, the self-proclaimed ‘underdog’ in the Tory leadership contest, said he ‘wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off’ between lockdowns and their effect on health, education and the economy.

But Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former advisor, said his former colleague’s interview was ‘dangerous rubbish’, adding that it ‘reads like a man whose [epically] bad campaign has melted his brain [and] he’s about to quit politics’.

In a rare defence of the Johnson administration he also accused Mr Sunak, who was accused of back-stabbing his former leader with his resignation last month, of ‘unfairly’ pinning the blame on others.

Mr Cummings has been a sharp critic of his former boss ever since he departed Downing Street in late 2020 after allegedly briefing against the PM’s then fiancée, now wife Carrie.

In January, he referred to Mr Johnson as a ‘babbling f***wit’, and was instrumental in shoring up accusations that the outgoing prime minister hosted boozy lockdown-breaching patties.

Mr Cummings has faced his own Covid controversy after infamously travelling 260 miles from London to Durham to self-isolate during the 2020 lockdown.

Mr Sunak, who now hopes to inherit the mantel of prime minister, said he was forbidden from discussing the possible negatives of lockdown: ‘The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: “oh, there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy”’.

‘I felt like no one talked. We didn’t talk at all about missed [doctor’s] appointments, or the backlog building in the NHS in a massive way. That was never part of it.’

Mr Sunak claimed that meetings with ministers at the time were ‘literally me around that table, just fighting’, describing them as ‘incredibly uncomfortable every single time’.

In an interview with The Spectator, Mr Sunak argued the Government had given too little consideration to the wider impacts of lockdowns in areas such as health, education and the economy. 

He said: ‘The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: “oh, there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy”.

‘I felt like no one talked. We didn’t talk at all about missed [doctor’s] appointments, or the backlog building in the NHS in a massive way. That was never part of it.’ 

Mr Sunak said meetings with ministers were ‘literally me around that table, just fighting’, describing them as ‘incredibly uncomfortable every single time’.

He also hit out at the Government’s reliance on scientific opinion.

Ministers used modelling from SAGE — a committee of scientists advising the Government — to make key decisions on Covid restrictions on lockdowns. 

Scientists warned throughout that these figures showed what would happen if the current trends in infections, hospitalisations and deaths continued. 

They noted that the predictions did not not take account of changes in behaviour — with people reducing their social contacts without restrictions when cases start rising — or the wider impacts of Covid curbs and shutdowns.

The modelling became notorious for exaggerated figures about the impact of virus waves. 

In the winter Omicron surge, SAGE teams warned that daily hospitalisations could reach 10,000 — more than four times higher than actual peak of around 2,400. Deaths peaked 20-times lower than their worst-case scenario. 

And ahead of the winter 2020 surge, they warned deaths could hit 4,000 per day. A peak of 1,820 was logged.

Mr Sunak said: ‘If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed. We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did.

‘And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning. If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place.

‘We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools, for example.’ 

He said lockdowns — of which England had three, which lasted several month — could have been ‘shorter’, ‘different’ and ‘quicker’.

Mr Sunak said the public backed lockdowns because of the Government’s ‘fear messaging’, ’empowering the scientists’ and ‘not talking about the trade-offs’. 

He accused ministers of failing to ask about the wider effects of lockdowns, including cancelled NHS operations, delayed cancer treatment and the economic impact.

However, he told The Spectator that he doesn’t believe lockdowns were was a mistake. 

The pandemic resulted in very high levels of public spending. Estimates of the cost of Government measures range from about £310 to £410 billion. This is the equivalent of about £4,600 to £6,100 per person in the UK. Pictured: estimates of cost per person, according to estimates from the National Audit Office (left), Office for Budget Responsibility (middle) and International Monetary Fund (right)

The pandemic resulted in very high levels of public spending. Estimates of the cost of Government measures range from about £310 to £410 billion. This is the equivalent of about £4,600 to £6,100 per person in the UK. Pictured: estimates of cost per person, according to estimates from the National Audit Office (left), Office for Budget Responsibility (middle) and International Monetary Fund (right)

Total Government spending in 2020/21 was £1,094billion, £167billion more than the £928billion forecast in July 2020. This was the first time that total public spending has ever exceeded £1 trillion in a single year and was an increase of 23.5 per cent compared to the previous year

Total Government spending in 2020/21 was £1,094billion, £167billion more than the £928billion forecast in July 2020. This was the first time that total public spending has ever exceeded £1 trillion in a single year and was an increase of 23.5 per cent compared to the previous year

Most of the billions spent on the pandemic response went to public services, support for businesses and support for individuals (shown in both estimates of costs, from the National Audit Office (left) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (right)). However, they disagree on which of these is the highest. The NAO estimates that support to businesses has been the largest, at £154billion, while the OBR puts the total for this category much lower (at £64billion). For the OBR, spending on public services has been the largest

Most of the billions spent on the pandemic response went to public services, support for businesses and support for individuals (shown in both estimates of costs, from the National Audit Office (left) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (right)). However, they disagree on which of these is the highest. The NAO estimates that support to businesses has been the largest, at £154billion, while the OBR puts the total for this category much lower (at £64billion). For the OBR, spending on public services has been the largest

Rishi Sunak accused of ‘thrashing around like a wounded stoat’ as ex-chancellor’s supporters raise threat of rebelling against rival Liz Truss’s tax cuts in Commons

Rishi Sunak has been accused of ‘thrashing around all over the place like a wounded stoat’ as blue-on-blue attacks continued to ramp up today as the Tory leadership contest nears its end.

The ex-chancellor and his rival Liz Truss, who is widely expect to win the race for Number 10, will tonight face their penultimate hustings in front of Conservative members.

Ahead of their latest opportunity to win the support of the party’s grassroots – at this evening’s event in Norwich – the war-of-words between the Sunak and Truss campaigns escalated further.

It followed Mr Sunak’s refusal to confirm whether – if he is beaten in leadership contest – he would vote in favour of Ms Truss’s tax-cutting agenda in the House of Commons.

The ex-chancellor has recently claimed the Foreign Secretary’s focus on tax cuts, rather than ‘handouts’ for households during the cost-of-living crisis, would leave millions at risk of ‘destitution’.

Mr Sunak has also said it would be ‘immoral’ to not provide more direct support for hard-pressed Britons facing soaring energy bills.

At a hustings event on Tuesday evening, the ex-chancellor was quizzed on whether he would vote in favour of Ms Truss’s emergency fiscal package if she became PM.

He declined to be drawn on a ‘hypothetical’ question when asked if he would rebel against his rival.

And Mr Sunak insisted he was ‘not going to engage with these things’ when he was pressed on the issue again in a broadcast interview yesterday.

Pandemic measures are estimated to have cost the Government between £310billion and £410billion — equating to £4,600 to £6,100 per person. 

Meanwhile, the backlog of people waiting for routine hospital treatment spiraled from 4.2million to 6.7million. 

The focus on treating Covid patients effectively ground cancer care to a halt for some patients, with experts warning tens of thousands will die from delayed diagnosis and treatment.

He said he would have handled the pandemic differently by having a ‘more grown-up conversation with the country’.

But despite his new claims, Mr Sunak publicly supported Covid shutdowns during Downing Street press conferences, telling Britons to ‘stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives’.

He said protecting people’s health was ‘the single most important thing we can do’ and that ‘a collective national effort’ was needed to beat the virus. ‘This is why we are instructing people to stay at home, so that we can protect our NHS and save lives,’ Mr Sunak said in 2020. 

In response to Mr Sunak’s interview, Mr Cain dismissed the former Chancellor’s assessment of the situation as ‘simply wrong’. 

He said: ‘It would have been morally irresponsible of the Government not to implement lockdown in spring 2020 — the failure to do so would have killed tens of thousands of people who survived Covid.

‘In addition, without lockdown the NHS simply could not have survived and would have been overwhelmed.’

That would have resulted in an ‘even greater backlog’ and more excess deaths from incidents such as missed cancer appointments, Mr Cain suggested. 

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former advisor, labelled the interview as ‘dangerous rubbish’ that ‘reads like a man whose [epically] bad campaign has melted his brain [and] he’s about to quit politics’. He also accused Mr Sunak of ‘unfairly’ pinning the blame on others. 

And scientists today criticised Mr Sunak’s comments, saying it was for Government to analyse scientific evidence and weigh up what steps to take — rather than relying on their numbers. 

Professor Martin McKee, president at the British Medical Association (BMA), told MailOnline: ‘As Mrs Thatcher said, ‘Advisers advise, but ministers decide’. 

‘If Mr Sunak disagreed so strongly with scientific advice he was entirely capable of making his case in cabinet. 

‘However this is a very strange example to use given we now know just how important schools were in maintaining transmission. 

The effects of lockdown could be causing more deaths than Covid as nearly 10,000 more deaths than the five-year average are recorded, ONS data has found

The effects of lockdown could be causing more deaths than Covid as nearly 10,000 more deaths than the five-year average are recorded, ONS data has found

Government data shows record numbers of youngsters are obese or morbidly overweight by the time they start Reception or leave primary school after an 'unprecedented' rise in childhood obesity during the pandemic

Government data shows record numbers of youngsters are obese or morbidly overweight by the time they start Reception or leave primary school after an ‘unprecedented’ rise in childhood obesity during the pandemic

Britain’s Covid pandemic: The pivotal moments 

2020 

23 March – In an historic televised address, Boris Johnson announces a nationwide lockdown coming into effect on 26 March. All non-essential shops are required to close and public gatherings of more than two people are banned. Police are given new powers to enforce lockdown with fine.

26 March – The first ‘Clap for Carers’ event takes place across the UK at 18.00, applauding the NHS for their work during the pandemic.

27 March – Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock both test positive for Covid-19 as the virus rips through Westminster. Chris Whitty also starts self-isolating after suffering from Covid symptoms.

5 April – The Prime Minister is admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London for ‘precautionary’ tests after his symptoms persisted for 10 days. Queen Elizabeth II makes a rare televised broadcast to the UK and the wider Commonwealth, thanking people for following the government’s new Covid rules and telling the nation: ‘If we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it’.

6 April – Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after his condition dramatically worsens. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab stands in as deputy.

16 April – 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore finishes walking 100 laps of his garden, eventually raising almost £33 million for NHS Charities Together. Dominic Raab announces a three-week extension of the nationwide lockdown.

29 April – The Daily Mail’s new charity, Mail Force, flies in vital PPE worth over £1million for frontline hospital staff in dire need of equipment.

23 May – Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief political adviser, is revealed to have travelled 260 miles from London to Durham to self-isolate during lockdown.

26 May – In an extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret his lockdown-breaking journey to Durham amid calls for him to resign.

15 June – All non-essential retail opens in the UK, and places of worship open for private worship. Face coverings become mandatory on public transport.

4 July – Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers reopen as lockdown measures continue to ease in the UK.

14 September – Social gatherings of more than six are banned as Covid cases begin to rise across the country.

22 September – In a televised address Boris Johnson warns the nation ‘the fight against Covid is by no means over’ as he unveiled new restrictions including a 10pm curfew for pubs and £200 fines for those flouting rules.

14 October – A new three-tiered system of lockdowns comes into effect in the UK, rating areas in the country medium, high or very high.

31 October – Boris Johnson announces a second national lockdown for England to prevent a ‘medical and moral disaster’, lasting from 5 November to 2 December.

9 November – The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine is reported to be 90 per cent successful in preventing COVID-19.

23 November – The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is revealed to be 70 per cent effective. Boris Johnson confirms the previous three-tier system of COVID regulations will return once lockdown finishes on 2 December.

3 December – Britain becomes the first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine, with the Pfizer/BioNTech arriving the following week. But Boris Johnson warns the public should not get ‘carried away with over optimism’.

8 December – Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as the UK jab rollout begins.

14 December – Matt Hancock announces the discovery of a new variant of Covid that is spreading faster in some areas of the country.

19 December – Boris Johnson announces that London, the South East and East of England will go into new Tier 4 restrictions and Christmas bubbles will be scrapped in Tier 4 areas, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions of families.

2021 

4 January – The country is plunged into a third national lockdown from 5 January, shutting all non-essential retail and schools. Brian Pinker, 82, becomes the first person to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. 

22 February – Boris Johnson reveals his roadmap out of the third national lockdown in England, with schools opening on 8 March and non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality opening from 12 April.

8 March – Step one of the unlocking sees schools allowed to reopen and people allowed to meet one other person outside once a day.  The stay at home order remains in place.

29 March – The second part of step one allows people to leave their homes when they wish but they are advised to ‘stay local’. Up to two people can meet indoors and up to six outdoors, including in private gardens. Open air sports facilities can reopen.

12 April – Non-essential shops are reopened and restaurants and pubs are allowed to offer outdoor service as part of step two of the unlocking. Many other outdoor venues also reopen, including zoos and theme parks. Self-contained holidays are permitted. 

17 May – Step three of unlocking takes place. Social mixing rules are expanded to allow the rule of six indoors and up to 30 people to meet outdoors. Indoor venues can reopen, including cinemas, restaurants and pubs. Outdoor stadiums can seat up to 10,000 spectators.

14 June –  Boris delays ‘freedom day’ by more than a month after a surge in cases of the Delta variant. The new date for the final unlocking is scheduled for July 19, which the PM says will buy the country time to vaccinate more people.

19 July – The final part of the roadmap out of lockdown sees most legal limits on social contact lifted, including the rule of six. Nightclubs are also able to open their doors for the first time in months. People are asked to ‘gradually’ to return to their desks as the WFH advice is softened. The ‘one metre plus’ rule on social distancing is lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border and legal requirements to wear face coverings are ditched. 

4 November – UK becomes first country to approve an antiviral that can slash the risk of severe Covid. Nearly half a million doses of molnupiravir, a pill that can be taken twice daily at home, are due for delivery from mid-November.

16 November –  NHS begins Covid booster vaccine rollout campaign after approval from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

23 November: UK scientist sounds the alarm about ‘horrific’ new variant with 32 mutations on its spike protein – which is later named Omicron. The strain causes an explosion of cases in South Africa where it was first detected.  

27 November – The first two cases of Omicron are announced in the UK as ministers impose a ban on swathes of southern Africa in an attempt to limit the importation of cases.

30 November – The booster vaccine rollout is expanded to all adults aged 18 and over to tackle Omicron. 

8 December – Boris moves England to ‘plan B’ restrictions for winter as the Omicron variant is projected to send case rates to astronomical levels. Face masks become mandatory in most public indoor venues and NHS Covid Passes must be used to gain access to specific settings. People are asked to work from home when possible.

2022 

January 27 – The Omicron wave begins to settle a tidal wave of infections sent daily cases to more than 200,000 per day.

February 24 – The Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ is enacted, with all remaining restrictions ending. People who catch the virus no longer have to self-isolate, although they will still be advised to avoid others for five days. 

‘The real question is why the UK did so little compared to some other countries to support children when schools closed down. Perhaps, as Chancellor at the time, he could help us understand why.’

Professor Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said SAGE’s ‘narrow’ remit prevented it from examining the economic aspects of lockdowns.

He said: ‘There may be some truth to the argument that the scientific evidence often outweighed the economic data.

‘However, the answer is not to get less scientific evidence (or ignore some scientific evidence), but to build up a clearer picture of the economic and wider impact of different policies, using the best evidence available at the time. 

‘I am not aware of this happening in a systematic, open, peer-reviewed way. 

‘Where, for instance, was the equivalent of SAGE and all its subgroups on the economic side? Was there an army of economists in universities and research institutes across the country working night and day to collect, sift, analyse and project the possible impact of different policies? 

‘And if not, why not? As the Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr Sunak could have set up such a system, but did not.’

Professor Graham Medley, an infectious disease modelling expert and chair of SAGE sub-committee SPI-M, said: ‘Government have the power, so if one member of cabinet thinks that scientific advice was too “empowered” then it is a criticism of their colleagues rather than the scientists.

‘The SAGE meetings were about the science, not the policy options, and the minutes reflect the scientific consensus at the time. 

‘The disagreement comes out in the uncertainty. There is a balance between the consensus and the uncertainty — for example, we can either all agree that closing schools will reduce transmission with absolute certainty, or that closing schools will have a relatively small effect with lots of uncertainty. 

‘Science has no place in the decision whether to close schools or not, but it does have a role to say what the impact on the epidemic might be.

‘Hopefully the inquiry will address the question of how the very different spheres of science and politics can be better able to support each other during the next pandemic.’

Professor Ian Boyd, a biologist at the University of St Andrews and member of SAGE in the pandemic, said the committee provided advice based on information available at the time.

Those looking back at old advice need to consider what was and wasn’t known at the time, especially in the early stages of the pandemic when an ‘immense amount was not known’, he said. 

Professor Boyd: ‘SAGE did not make decisions, it tried to reflect its uncertainties in its advice and it worked by consensus. Members were acutely aware of the trade-offs associated with implementing specific actions.

‘To the extent that it was possible with the information available at the time, these trade-offs were included within the uncertainty expressed in the advice.’

Dr Simon Kolstoe, an expert in evidence-based healthcare at the University of Portsmouth, told MailOnline: ‘I think it is important to distinguish between scientists who are experts in their own area, and politicians whose job is to find compromises between people (or experts) of different areas. 

‘The fact that politicians chose to listen mostly to medical experts, and not economic or social science experts, is not the fault of the medical experts. 

‘Indeed Covid, especially the rapid production of vaccines and other anti-viral therapies, has been a victory for medical science. 

‘That it potentially came at a social or economic cost is the fault of politicians for not consulting more widely.’

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, said scientists weren’t empowered and the Government ‘continued to make policies which had no basis in science and killed [more than] 200,000 people [and] disabled hundreds of thousands while we screamed helplessly at every step’.

Rather than ’empowered’, she says SAGE was ‘dismissed’ by the Goverment.

‘You can try to revise history all you like — because the dead can’t speak. But there are many who won’t let them be forgotten,’ Dr Gurdasani added.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay declined to answer whether he agrees with Mr Sunak’s claim that independent scientists were given too much power during the pandemic.

He said: ‘Well of course I was in the Treasury with Rishi and you would expect Treasury ministers in particular to be focused on the wider economic consequences of the lockdown.

‘And that is why the Prime Minister was right when the Leader of the Opposition and many others were telling us to have further lockdowns, to resist that pressure, particularly in the summer when Keir Starmer was saying we should lock down again, and the Prime Minister resisted that because of the impact on the wider economy.

‘But of course it is the case that the challenge we have on the Covid backlog in terms of operations is because of measures we had to take through the pandemic, and that was part of the very difficult trade-offs that were discussed at the time.’ 

While Mr Sunak told The Spectator that he doesn’t believe lockdown was a mistake, his comments heavily suggest that the Government would not have gone ahead without SAGE’s advice.

But he backtracked on his comments by midday, telling BBC Radio 4’s World at One that he did not suggest a lockdown could have been avoided.

He said: ‘That’s not the point I was making. The point I was making was that looking back on it, it is right that we learned the lessons from it.

‘Obviously at the time, everyone was doing the best job they could in incredibly difficult circumstances, dealing with something that we’d never faced before.

‘There’s no point in trying to second guess those decisions, but it’s right that we learned the lessons from it.

‘And looking back, one of my reflections was that, you know, when things like that happen, I think we need to have all the facts and involve the trade-offs involved in those decisions very openly and honestly.’

Mr Sunak also claimed he averted a fourth lockdown during the December 2021 Omicron wave.

He revealed that he gathered his own evidence from Stanford University and JP Morgan, which showed hospitals in the UK would not be overrun — contrasting SAGE models that a lockdown was needed.

The Government announced a press conference and was ‘geared up’ to announce a shutdown until Mr Sunak returned to the UK earlier than planned from a trip to California.

He said: ‘I just told him it’s not right: we shouldn’t do this.’

Mr Sunak claims he implied he would resign if restrictions were brought in and urged the Prime Minister to gather reject SAGE’s advice — which he ultimately did.

But multiple Government sources told the Daily Mail last month that Mr Sunak had little or no involvement in the decision, which was taken by Mr Johnson in defiance of the Government’s scientific experts. 

Two Cabinet sources said that when Mr Johnson asked Mr Sunak for his views on the matter at a crunch meeting, he replied: ‘Oh no, no-one wants to hear from me, Prime Minister.’

One said the then Chancellor was ‘totally silent’ when chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance made the case for another lockdown.

A Whitehall source said: ‘He is rewriting history. It was a massive call and it was made by the PM. I don’t remember him making any meaningful contribution.’ 

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