It was unclear what sort of Boris Johnson we would see making his debut appearance at the UK Covid inquiry.

Would the former PM be heated and combative as he was in March during a grilling by MPs investigating the Downing Street 'Partygate' fiasco?

Would he try to bluster his way through, or blame others for defects in decision-making?

In the end, the Johnson who gave evidence seemed - by his usual flamboyant standards at least - low-key and contrite.

Yet his apologies provided little consolation to the bereaved and those whose lives and livelihoods have been irrevocably changed by the pandemic.

Campaigners who disrupted proceedings as well as those outside the inquiry's London headquarters have already issued their verdicts, insisting that the former PM had failed to give them the "straightforward answers to simple questions" that they desired.


Some 5000 WhatsApp messages had vanished from his old mobile phone, unable to be retrieved due to a "technical" problem, but the available evidences - colleagues' messages, memos, diary entries and witness testimonies led at the UK inquiry since it began its hearings back in June - has already painted a damning picture of the PM as hopelessly indecisive and struggling to get to grips with the science and statistics of a fast-moving crisis.

From claims that he wanted to "let the bodies pile high" rather than resort to a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020, to suggestions that he "wanted to be injected with Covid live on television" to reassure the public, Johnson has emerged as somewhere between callous and clownish.

In finally being given his right of reply, he lost his composure only twice: once when he became visibly emotional in describing the "tragic, tragic" toll of 2020; and secondly, when he defended holding talks with the Treasury in the run up to lockdown.

Clearly irritated by the implication that he might have prioritised the economy over saving lives, he told the inquiry that doing otherwise would have been "negligent".

"I've got the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that there's a risk to the UK bond market and our ability to raise sovereign debt - this matters massively to people in this country, it matters to the livelihoods of people up and down the land.

"I had to go through the arguments and that's what I was doing."

The Herald: Boris Johnson leaving the UK Covid inquiry following his first day giving evidence on December 6 2023Boris Johnson leaving the UK Covid inquiry following his first day giving evidence on December 6 2023 (Image: PA)

One of the key questions is why concerns surrounding asymptomatic transmission - a problem being discussed by key advisors as early as January 2020 - did not filter down to the PM until March, as he claims.

That people could be infected - and infectious - without showing any symptoms had huge and inconvenient implications for a country with a paltry test-and-trace infrastructure and a pressing desire to empty its hospitals of elderly "bed blockers".

Divergence between the UK and its devolved governments was also highlighted, with Mr Johnson favouring "a single message" approach.

There was a sense, however, that this would be a UK-led one rather something equally agreed between all four nations.

Day two of the inquiry, moving onto the circumstances surrounding the second lockdown, will be arguably more difficult: if errors and delays were inevitable the first time round, why were so many of them repeated?