Unite’s Howard Beckett calls for ‘criminal prosecutions’ as Boris Johnson promises public inquiry into COVID response

Unite’s Howard Beckett calls for ‘criminal prosecutions’ as Boris Johnson promises public inquiry into COVID response

- in GMB, TUC, Unite

Unite’s assistant general secretary took to Twitter in response to PM Boris Johnson’s announcement that a public inquiry into the government’s response to COVID-19 will take place in the next year.

Boris Johnson has pledged there will be a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the current parliamentary session.

Speaking on the first day of a new session of Parliament, the prime minister told MPs that he had already made it clear that an inquiry was essential. He was responding to a question from Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who said he was speaking “on behalf of bereaved families”.

As a session of Parliament is typically a year, Mr Johnson’s response was seen as as a pledge to hold the inquiry in the next 12 months. The Prime Minister replied: “I can certainly say that we will do that within this session. Yes, I have made that clear before. I do believe it’s essential that we have a full, proper public inquiry into the Covid pandemic.”

Today was the first time Mr Johnson had committed to a timeframe on when a public inquiry will be held, amid calls from trade unions and other organisations for a thorough inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Last month the TUC called for an “immediate inquiry” into COVID deaths, insisting the inquiry should focus on whether workers were kept safe enough throughout the pandemic after about 15,000 people of working age died from Covid in England and Wales.

The GMB union, meanwhile, said the prime minister’s reported comments that he would rather see “bodies piled high” than approve a third lockdown “shows why a public inquiry is needed now”. The union said its members “deserve to know why they were put in harm’s way unnecessarily and if the PM think it’s OK for them to die”.

In response to the prime minister’s announcement today, Unite assistant general secretary and leadership contender Howard Beckett took to Twitter to call for stronger action. He said: “Discharging Covid hospital patients to care homes murdered the elderly and most vulnerable.

“No Inquiry delays, criminal prosecutions now.”

The Prime Minister’s revelation today came as a surprise, as just last month Downing Street officials told a campaign group there was “simply no capacity” for the government to divert resource to what would be an “intensive” public inquiry.

The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group has been lobbying the Prime Minister since last summer to launch an independent investigation into the pandemic. Group co-founder Jo Goodman said: “An inquiry must begin this summer. The prime minister may feel he can wait for answers, but bereaved families certainly can’t.

“Learning lessons from the pandemic is critical to saving lives now and in the future.”

Responding to today’s news, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “We welcome this commitment and will hold the prime minister to it.

“It must be entirely open and truly independent, have the trust and confidence of bereaved families, and cannot be an exercise in the government marking its own homework.”

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