LONDON — Boris Johnson declared himself “epileptically bored with COVID” in 2022 as he mulled scrapping free tests for the virus, according to his former communications chief.
Guto Harri, who served as a senior aide to Johnson in 2022, told his Global podcast series that the U.K.’s then-prime minister grew to see the pandemic as an “irrelevance,” and made those views known in tense government debates about whether to keep using state cash to provide Brits with free tests for the virus.
Harri said that there was “an almighty row” over the issue between Johnson and his Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who eventually resigned in the summer of 2022 in a move that dealt a mortal blow to Johnson’s struggling administration.
According to Harri, Johnson was concerned that providing free tests was “dwarfing the budgets of entire departments,” and argued that the U.K. should instead focus on trying to “spot the next COVID.”
The former comms director added: “Boris, at the time, declared himself ‘epileptically bored with COVID. What people are getting now is not killing them,’ he thought. ‘It’s a matter of stupendous irrelevance, as long as we have a good pair of eyes in the crow’s nest, so we will not miss another iceberg.’”
He added of Johnson: “That essentially was what he was after, just being able to spot the next COVID, if, God forbid, it ever happened. He carried the day on that occasion and saved a fortune.”
In February last year, Johnson announced the end of free mass testing. Instead, free tests would be targeted at those most vulnerable to the virus.
Johnson’s spokesperson has said the former PM doesn’t recognize Harri’s account of his premiership as detailed in the podcast, and stressed that Johnson had no part in creating the series.
Harri — who has made a series of eye-opening claims in recent weeks about his time working for Johnson — also used his latest podcast to shed light on the tensions between Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Sunak is now the U.K.’s prime minister, but at the time was the chancellor running the powerful Treasury. He quit just after Javid last summer.
According to Harri, Johnson laid into Sunak as the Cabinet began discussing the possibility of a recession in the U.K.
“Fuck this shit,” it’s claimed Johnson said. “We need to clear out the Treasury. Begin anew as Singapore-on-Thames. The department has basically become a bank manager.”
“Had the whole government not imploded shortly afterwards, I doubt the chancellor would have lasted the summer,” Harri added.
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