Spectator editor Fraser Nelson debunked claims put forward by Liz Truss that No 10 has enjoyed several “successes” in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nelson, who now manages the magazine once edited by Boris Johnson, said polling has shown no citizens were more disappointed in their government’s response to the virus than Britons.
The trade secretary and Nelson appeared on BBC’s Politics Live on Tuesday to discuss Boris Johnson’s latest speech.
Asked if the government’s handling of the virus had been a “success”, Truss replied: “We have faced a very, very challenging situation, like governments across the world have.
“We’ve put our shoulders to the wheel. Have things gone perfectly? No, but the public recognise that we have made a gargantuan effort and we have had significant successes whether it’s the Nightingale hospitals, whether it’s protecting the National Health Service, whether it’s the furlough scheme.
“Of course there have been difficulties and issues but that, I’m afraid, is inevitable when we’re facing such an unprecedented circumstance.”
Asked how ministers could praise No 10’s response as “phenomenal” and “outstanding” despite the UK having one the highest excess death rates in Europe, the trade secretary said: “Of course, these deaths are a tragedy and we have to work to prevent as far as possible any more deaths.
“But I think sometimes these international comparisons are difficult to make because you’ve got countries with very different circumstances, different densities of cities, and different time horizons.”
When the question was turned to Nelson, he responded: “But, if you look at opinion polls around the world no government has been judged to have done a worse job by its people [than Britain].
“There is a graph showing approval rates on how governments have managed Covid-19 around the world and Britain came worst on that.
“Britain has gone worst in the world on the deficit figures as well.
“So, no matter how you look at it, you struggle to say that the government has handled this well or in a way people would think is competent.
“We’re pretty much the worst in the developed world on that score.
He said the excess death rate showed the “overall hit” on the UK because it consisted of deaths from the virus and from lockdown and was a cause for concern given government was looking to introduce tighten restrictions.
Truss said it was important to look at how the UK performed “after the fact”.
“And the big picture for us is to protect lives and protect livelihoods,” she explained.