Boris Johnson was “bamboozled” by the graphs and data presented to him by scientists during the pandemic, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

Diary entries by former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance were shown to the probe on Monday as the he gave evidence. 

One entry from May 4 2020 said: “Late afternoon meeting with the PM on schools. My God, this is complicated. Models will not provide the answer. PM is clearly bamboozled."

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Others, also written in May 2020, said: “PM asking whether we’ve overdone it on the lethality of this disease. He swings between optimism, pessimism, and then this.

“PM still confused on different types of test. He holds it in his head for a session and then it goes.”

In June, Sir Patrick wrote: “Watching the PM get his head round stats is awful. He finds relative and absolute risk almost impossible to understand.”

The Herald:

Sir Patrick told the inquiry that the issue of helping politicians understand the data was not unique to the UK: “I would also say that the meeting that sticks in my mind was with fellow advisers from across Europe, when one of them – and I won’t say which country – declared that the leader of that country had enormous problems with exponential curves, and the telephone call burst into laughter, because it was true in every country,” he said.

“So I do not think that there was necessarily a unique inability to grasp some of these concepts with the prime minister at the time, but it was hard work sometimes to try and make sure that he had understood what a particular graph or piece of data was saying.”

An entry from September 2020 said: “Clare Gardiner talked PM through the graphs. It is difficult, he asks questions like which line is the dark red line – is he colourblind? Then ‘so you think positivity has gone up overnight?’ then ‘oh god bloody hell’. But it is all the same stuff he was shown six hours ago.”

Sir Patrick told the inquiry: “I think I’m right in saying that the Prime Minister gave up science at 15.

“I think he’d be the first to admit it wasn’t his forte and that he struggled with the concepts and we did need to repeat them – often.”

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Another notebook entry from Sir Patrick Vallance described a “broken” Boris Johnson being distressed by seeing everyone in masks at a Battle of Britain memorial service.

It also refers to Mr Johnson asking if the human race was “too shit” to get our act together.

It read: “5 hr of meetings with the PM. He came back from Battle of Britain memorial service and was distressed by seeing everyone separated and in masks – ‘mad and spooky, we have got to end it’.

“Starts challenging numbers and questioning whether they really translate into deaths. Says it is not exponential etc etc.

“Looked broken – head in hands a lot. ‘Is it because of the great libertarian nation we are that it spreads so much?’ ‘Maybe we are licked as a species’… ‘We are too shit to get our act together.’

“We went round in circles and then the famous whiteboard emerges. Discussed Package A (mild [increase] measures) and Package C (full lockdown) and when and how to do a circuit breaker… eventually sort of agree circuit breaker and stricter measures… but PM keeps clutching at straws.”

Andrew O’Connor KC, counsel to the Covid inquiry, put it to Sir Patrick that Mr Johnson did “not seem to have been the easiest of decision-makers” to provide scientific advice to.

Referring to the September 20 2020 post-Battle of Britain memorial entry in his diary, Sir Patrick replied: “It was difficult at times.

“And this is an example of where I suspect, in this meeting, I would not have tried to get across too many scientific concepts.

“I would have waited for a better opportunity to do so and spoken to some others.”

The inquiry continues.