Rishi Sunak confirms he helped block calls for ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown last year after wave of criticism for rejecting Sage advice
- Ministers faced criticism after rejecting advice from the Sage advisory group
- Rishi Sunak insisted there ‘wasn’t a clear-cut case’ for shutting down economy
- Scientists believed a two-three week lockdown could reverse a surge in cases
Rishi Sunak last night confirmed he helped block calls for a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown last autumn.
Ministers faced criticism after rejecting advice from the Sage advisory group for a temporary lockdown.
Mr Sunak insisted that there ‘wasn’t a clear-cut case’ for shutting down the economy.
He told ITV News: ‘These are difficult decisions to make and it’s why we weigh up all those factors.’
Sage papers revealed that government scientists believed that a two-three week lockdown could reverse a surge in cases that was threatening to run out of control.
Ministers faced criticism after rejecting advice from the Sage advisory group for a temporary lockdown. Pictured, Rishi Sunak
However, scientists acknowledged at the time that ‘multiple circuit breaks’ might have been needed to keep the virus at bay all winter.
Matt Hancock and Michael Gove are believed to have backed the idea of a circuit breaker. But Mr Sunak helped persuade Boris Johnson to reject it.
The Chancellor said the decision to ignore the advice from Sage was ‘ultimately’ taken by Mr Johnson, but said he had been against another lockdown.
He added: ‘Just remember what my job is. Everyone’s job in the Cabinet is to provide the Prime Minister with the best advice that they can in their area of expertise.
‘In the same way that you’d expect the Education Secretary to feed in about this on the impact on children’s education and learning.
‘And you’d expect me in my job to talk about the impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods and ultimately things that are bad for the economy are bad for our long-term health as well and our ability to fund things like the NHS. And those things have to go into the decision.’
Mr Sunak pointed out that the Welsh government did impose a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown at around the same time, which failed to prevent a major second wave of the virus.
Matt Hancock (pictured) and Michael Gove are believed to have backed the idea of a circuit breaker. But Mr Sunak helped persuade Boris Johnson to reject it
He insisted he did not regret his stance last year. But Whitehall sources say the Chancellor has not been agitating for abn earlier lifting of the current lockdown in the way he did with the original restrictions last year.
The Chancellor also predicted that the economy would bounce back rapidly as the lockdown is eased.
He said the vaccine rollout meant people could now ‘look forward, confidently and optimistically to the safe reopening of our economy and our country. And slowly getting our lives back to normal.
‘And I know as we do that, businesses are raring to go.’ Labour described the Chancellor’s opposition to the scientific advice as ‘astonishing’.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Mr Sunak had been ‘wrong at every turn’, adding: ‘We have it in black and white: he rejected scientific advice on the need for a circuit-breaker to control the virus and save lives – and he’s trying to pin the blame on the Prime Minister.’
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