Rishi Sunak has admitted he was opposed to having a circuit break lockdown in September, insisting there “wasn’t a clear-cut case” for doing so.
Ministers last year were accused of ignoring scientific advice after Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) recommended at a meeting on September 21 that a lockdown should be implemented to slow the spread of Covid-19.
In an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, the chancellor also said that all of the decisions taken are “ultimately” ones that prime minister Boris Johnson makes.
Asked whether he would admit to opposing the lockdown recommendation, he said: “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.
“These are difficult decisions to make and it’s why we weigh up all those factors.
“And at the time it wasn’t a clear-cut case.”
Sunak said that the “trade-offs” around decision making should not be underestimated.
He said: “I think all of these decisions, ultimately are ones that the prime minister makes.
“They’re impossibly hard decisions to make.
“And I’ve seen him day in, day out for the last year, wrestle with these things as only he can.
“And our job around the cabinet table is to give him input from all of our different perspectives and the departments we’re responsible for.
“And he has to weigh these things up and they’re enormously difficult decisions and I don’t think we should underestimate, you know, the trade-offs involved in all of these things.
“But by and large, I think, as we’re seeing now with the vaccine rollout, people can hopefully look forward, confidently and optimistically to the safe reopening of our economy and our country.
“And slowly getting our lives back to normal.”
Asked about the prospect of a fast economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic, the Chancellor said: “I am confident that we’re in a good position to recover strongly.
“And also, in-part to the vaccine rollout, which is proceeding very well and that is enabling us to take these steps to safely reopen our economy over the coming weeks and months.
“And I know as we do that, businesses are raring to go.
“And hopefully the support that we’ve provided to them has enabled them to get through to this period.
“And now once they’re open again, we can hopefully get things back to them.”
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds criticised Sunak over his comments, saying that he had called the crisis wrong “at every turn”.
“This is an astonishing confession by the Chancellor,” she said.
“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.
“From failing to support self-isolation and provide decent sick pay, to ordering workers back to the office early and forcing a delay to the autumn lockdown, the chancellor has called this crisis wrong at every turn.
“That’s one reason why we have the worst economic crisis of any major economy.”