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Cross-party group created to lead calls for independent inquiry into UK coronavirus response

Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, in Westminster. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

A cross-party parliamentary group is to be created to lead calls for an an urgent independent inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The group, chaired by Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, will consist of Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, SNP, Green and Plaid Cymru MPs and peers.

Members include Dr Dan Poulter, Clive Lewis, Dr Philippa Whitford, Liz Saville-Roberts, Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones.

The group is a March for Change initiative, which has been calling for a public inquiry into the UK’s response since April. It says the group’s objective is to ensure that lessons are learned from the UK’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak so far such that the UK’s response and preparedness may be improved in future.

The cross-party group is expected to hold its inaugural meeting in the next couple of weeks, when the chair will be elected, with Layla Moran already receiving the informal backing of the other members.

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Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: ‘The UK is the worst-affected country in Europe by this pandemic. As medical experts and scientists have said, an independent review is urgently needed into what has gone wrong so far.

‘This cross-party group will provide an honest, constructive and non-partisan appraisal of the UK government’s response to the coronavirus. By bringing together respected voices and expertise from across Parliament, we can develop practical recommendations and hold the government to account.

‘This isn’t about attributing blame, it’s about working together across political parties to ensure the right lessons are learned ahead of a potential second wave.’

Dr Dan Poulter, Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, added: ‘I know that coronavirus has pushed NHS staff and care workers to their limits. We know that our response in the UK has not been perfect and there is more we can do to support and protect frontline staff if we face a second wave of infection.

‘It is vital that we are not complacent during the summer months and use this time wisely to urgently learn lessons and ensure we are better prepared for the potentially dangerous winter months ahead.’

Nationwide research conducted two weeks ago (10-11 June), by YouGov on behalf of March for Change, found that 53% of adults think there should be an inquiry – a 4% increase on the previous March for Change poll conducted on 29 May. Only 33% said there shouldn’t be a public inquiry, down 2% compared to the equivalent poll on 29 May.

A third of Tory voters (33%) want an inquiry, compared to 68% of Lib Dem voters and 81% of Labour voters.

The survey also found that nearly two thirds (63%) think there will be a second wave of coronavirus infections this year, compared to just 13% saying there will not. Of those who want an inquiry, over two thirds (67%) believe it should happen before this winter, including 63% of Leave voters and 70% of respondents in the North of England.

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, said: ‘Fighting this virus – and the fallout from the first wave – is a truly national endeavour. This government tried to do it alone at the beginning of the year and soon lost public trust. Now is the time to take stock and plan for the months ahead. This time, let’s review where we are together, involving all parties and a fuller range of science and health professionals. Let’s have that urgent public inquiry and get it right this time.’

Dr Philippa Whitford, the Scottish National Party MP for Central Ayrshire, and SNP Health spokesperson in the House of Commons, said: ‘In the first wave of COVID-19, the UK response was too slow and behind the curve. In early March, with the virus spreading exponentially, cases were doubling in less than a week. Delays of even a few days in taking action meant soaring cases and, tragically, greater loss of life.

‘We cannot let this happen again if there is a second wave later this year. It is important to have a rapid inquiry, involving cross-party MPs and Peers along with the science and health community, to consider the key components of the response; including testing, contact tracing and PPE provision.

‘It’s vital to learn the lessons of the last five months so we don’t end up back at square one.’

Liz Saville-Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said: ‘We need to learn lessons fast and prepare for the new problems emerging. A huge challenge now seems to be how to act fast on flare-ups. This government cannot handle this alone by centralist thinking – it needs to be reviewed by experts and cross-party structures with a focus on empowering local areas. That’s why an urgent independent public inquiry is vital to change the approach.’

Dr Sarah Wollaston, former chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee and former chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, and supporter of March for Change, said: ‘An inquiry needs the flexibility to be wide ranging in scope and able to produce its conclusions in time to improve the preparedness and response to any second wave.

‘It is vital that it commands both public and cross-party support and trust. That would be helped if its membership included impartial cross bench scientific and clinical expertise from the Lords.’

Tom Brufatto, director, March for Change, added: ‘We are not at the end of this pandemic, and with the highest death rates in Europe, we cannot afford to be complacent during the summer months.

‘People are shocked that here in the UK, a country known for its world-leading science and envied healthcare system, we have suffered so much more compared to other countries across Europe and the world. The government approach has eroded public trust, and it must be a priority of any government to ensure it is restored.

‘We do not know if coronavirus will rear its ugly head again later in the year, and we cannot afford to make the same mistakes twice. We need an urgent public inquiry now, while we still have time to learn lessons and save lives.’

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