Families of Covid victims are accusing Boris Johnson of breaking his pledge to involve him in choosing the head of a planned public inquiry after weeks of silence.
In September, after refusing to do so for nearly 400 days, the prime minister finally met with the families – and agreed to give them a “clear role” in both the investigation’s terms of reference and the selection of its chair.
Mr Johnson also vowed the chair would be in place until Christmas, a move that is seen as crucial to an investigation scheduled to take place next spring, two years after the pandemic hit.
But the justice group for the Covid-19 bereaved family says it hasn’t heard anything from Downing Street in eight weeks, fueling anger among its members.
There are only three weeks left for Parliament to prepare for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday on 16 December.
Group spokesman Lobby Akinola said: “We met with Boris Johnson less than two months ago, and he looked us in the eye and promised us that by Christmas a chair would be appointed and we would be consulted.
“So why is the Prime Minister ghosting us? Christmas is a difficult time for those of us who have lost loved ones to the virus.”
The failure to consult is the latest controversy surrounding the inquiry, which Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to launch since the calls were first made in the summer of 2020.
He argued it would distract officials from the task of keeping the coronavirus under control – even though all legal restrictions were lifted in England in July and none were reimposed.
The prime minister has been accused of trying to delay the investigation’s highly important findings until after the next general election, which could take place by 2024.
Even if the investigation begins in the spring, that is only the deadline for the process to begin – meaning the actual evidence hearing is further closed.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that a private firm running the much-criticised test and trace system had been awarded a government contract to produce “evidence” for the investigation.
Mr Akinola urged Mr Johnson to do a “decent job” by speaking with the group, adding: “With Christmas now just a month away, the government needs to consult with us immediately.”
In May, Mr Johnson finally dropped his protest to set a timetable for the investigation, telling lawmakers it would be ongoing – but not for another year.
It would be completely free and would have “the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and to take oral evidence publicly”, he pledged.
But he added: “We must not unintentionally distract or distract those on whom we depend in the heat of our struggle against this disease.
“I expect that the right time to start the investigation is at the end of this period, in the spring of next year, spring 2022.”
Because it is being established under the Inquiry Act of 2005, the government has control over the appointment of the panel and its chair, including whether or not that person is a judge.
However, in September, when Mr Johnson met with the families, he “clearly acknowledged the importance of ensuring that bereaved families are at the center of lessons learned”, he later said.
His statement read: “The Prime Minister should appoint a chair as soon as possible and he should play a role in his commitment to the bereaved families and setting the chair and the terms of reference.
“We hope that we can accept in good faith the Prime Minister’s commitments and going forward, there will be continued and fruitful interactions with the bereaved families.”
The group said the prime minister described a wall of 150,000 hand-drawn red hearts, in front of the Houses of Parliament, as a “strong candidate” to become an official monument to the pandemic.
When asked about the criticism, a No. 10 spokesman said: “When the Prime Minister met with the group in September, he welcomed the opportunity to hear directly about the areas he would like to be covered in the investigation and Importance of choosing the right chair.
“As was done earlier, the chair of the inquiry will be appointed by Christmas and the bereaved families and others will be consulted on the terms of reference before finalizing them.”
Opposition parties want the investigation to find punitive financial aid for those isolated due to Covid, handing out lucrative contracts to firms run by Tory allies and detecting test-and-trace failures.
An investigation by two Commons committees last month found that delaying lockdowns and failing to protect the elderly and vulnerable in care has killed thousands.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /