Open letter to Rishi Sunak raising concerns about the Covid Inquiry

The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP
Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street

Copy to: The Rt Hon Baroness Hallett DBE

20 December 2023

Dear Prime Minister,

Concerns in relation to the UK Covid Inquiry

We write as a community of parents, experts, parliamentarians and other concerned individuals asking you urgently to review the Terms of Reference for the Covid Inquiry.

We support the Covid Inquiry’s stated objective to learn lessons that will inform future pandemic responses in the UK, but we have serious concerns about the approach of the Inquiry to date.

In particular we fear that the Inquiry’s current approach is not only failing adequately to identify those lessons, but risks entirely undermining the validity of its future findings by failing to examine a number of critical and highly salient points relating to the nature of the pandemic and the desirability and effectiveness of the UK’s response.

Deviation from its stated aims

According to its Terms of Reference, the overriding aim and purpose of the Inquiry is to identify lessons to be learned “to inform preparations for future pandemics across the UK”. In a number of highly material respects, however, we believe the Inquiry as currently proceeding is failing to meet these stated aims.

Harms, costs, QALYs

The Inquiry is creating the impression – reflected in extensive print media and social media commentaries – of having predetermined that lockdowns were necessary, proportionate and justified, notwithstanding the very extensive documented harms they have caused, and continue to cause.

On numerous occasions the Inquiry appears to have failed to consider whether there was any alternative to the lockdowns that were imposed on this country and has instead appeared to be almost exclusively focused on whether lockdowns should have been implemented harder, sooner and for longer. [1]

The question of whether lockdowns were necessary, proportionate and justified, however, can only meaningfully be considered in the context of available alternative strategies (including by examining international comparators) and – crucially – only once one has attempted to evaluate the harms caused by locking down.

Many in the UK, including respected members of the scientific community, believe lockdowns were not necessary, proportionate, or adequately justified by the evidence, and that the harms caused by mass mandatory lockdowns were more severe than the harm that would have been done by the virus had a more consensual, focused protection policy been adopted (e.g. as in Sweden). An important report published by the Centre for Social Justice just last week [2] underlines the catastrophic impact of successive lockdowns on the social fabric of the UK, most particularly those already disadvantaged. Its findings include that “[t]he lockdown measures, meant to curb the spread of the virus, had severe consequences on various aspects of life for the most disadvantaged” and it states that although the disadvantage gap was already significant prior to 2020, “the lockdown implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic was the dynamite that blew it open”.

Prime Minister, as you said yourself in your testimony to the Inquiry, a quality-adjusted life years (QALY) analysis carried out by two leading UK academic institutions “suggested that the lockdown in its severity and duration is likely to have generated costs that are greater than the likely benefit”. We believe this to have been a vital piece of evidence and are deeply concerned that the Inquiry’s focus on deaths from Covid-19 as the sole or primary measure of the success or otherwise of the Government’s approach to lockdowns [3] grossly underweights the harms of lockdowns and other NPIs. Certainly it underweights in particular the known severe impacts on children and young people, who were substantially less likely to become ill or to die as a direct result of the virus, but far more likely to face increased risk from lockdown and school closures.

The Inquiry cannot satisfactorily contemplate lessons learned from the pandemic, and specifically the impact of the response to the pandemic, unless alongside the actual or perceived benefits it objectively, openly, and fairly considers the harms of lockdowns, school closures and other measures of lockdowns for children, the young and society as a whole, including on a QALY basis. Similarly, any objective and fair consideration of the harms of lockdowns and other measures must include the short- and long-term impacts of approximately £400,000,000,000 of debt incurred by the Government to fund pandemic-related policy decisions, which must now be repaid by future generations.

Decision-making processes

Extensive questioning of witnesses to date has been devoted to examining the relationships between Ministers and their advisers and officials, and in particular to building an impression that poor working practices, and individual instances of political indecision or incompetence in the face of uniquely reliable scientific expertise, caused delays in implementing unquestionably necessary interventions, including lockdowns in particular.

Yet topics of potentially critical significance to our collective understanding of how decisions were made – and therefore how better decisions might in future be made – have been entirely omitted, including: the manner and extent to which Ministers considered it appropriate to brief and seek the support of Parliament for nationwide interventions which profoundly impacted human and civil rights in this country and which implicated massive public spending commitments; and the ethical aspects of policy-making, including the role and apparently premature standing down of the Government’s own expert ethics advisory group in December 2021.[4]

The inquiry has also shied from considering the effect on decision-making of the suppressive activities of both the Government (through its CDU and RRU agencies in the DCMS and Cabinet Office respectively) and private sector partners (including in particular media and social media organisations) in relation to academic, journalistic and clinical commentaries, opinions and advice perceived as casting doubt on the Government’s policy decisions.

Approach to experts and their evidence

It is a matter of public record that the Inquiry’s approach to the selection of core participants and to the selection of witnesses to give evidence in person has given rise to an impression among members of the public and a significant element of UK print media that the Inquiry has consistently selected and favoured those who supported lockdown policies.

A criticism levelled at the Inquiry – fairly, in our view – is that by elevating and leaving unchallenged the opinions and disputed advice of Government-appointed scientific experts, while appearing to disparage the credentials and opinions of experts who have not supported the ‘official science’, the Inquiry is perpetuating an impression that it has a preconceived view of what is ‘the right’ scientific opinion and is closed to considering dissenting views, when it should be inquisitorial and open-minded about the competing scientific perspectives at pivotal moments in the pandemic response.

Conclusions and corrections

For the reasons stated above, we each hold serious concerns about the conduct of the Inquiry to date and believe the Inquiry’s approach is now damaging public confidence in its proceedings and by extension in any recommendations which might ultimately be made.

It is critical that the very significant public expense of the Inquiry is not wasted, and that the Inquiry adopts an inquisitive open-minded approach to its proceedings so that lessons can genuinely be learned, rather than appearing to be predetermined.

To that end, we respectfully ask that you take prompt action to endorse a review and update by the Inquiry of its Terms of Reference, in particular to:

● ensure that metrics other than deaths from COVID-19, including QALYs lost as a result of lockdowns, are adopted for judging the response to COVID-19;
● ensure that there is an independent and thorough review of all relevant data with respect to NPIs, including a rigorous examination of underlying assumptions (especially those which have since been shown to have been unreliable);
● commit to explore the extent, role and impact of the agencies of Government engaged in the monitoring and suppression of commentaries and opinions perceived as casting doubt on the Government’s pandemic policy decisions; and
● commit to explore the ethical aspects of decision-making, including in relation to the Government’s public communication campaigns.

We also respectfully ask that you take such action as you can to support or require the Inquiry to ensure that witnesses will be selected and their evidence treated in such a way as to avoid any appearance of favour based on support for the Government’s lockdown policies. Doing so should enable relevant counterpoint perspectives to be adequately taken into account, which we believe to be critical if the public is to have confidence in the Inquiry’s findings.

We are aware that a letter was sent to the Inquiry on 15 December 2023 by JMW Solicitors acting on the instructions of UsForThem which has signalled that, unless the Inquiry can promptly correct its course to address these issues of predetermination and fairness, the validity of its eventual findings are likely to be subject to a legal challenge. We support the objective of that letter and we would support the principle of a legal challenge to the Inquiry’s findings should it fail now to address these critical issues.

Yours faithfully,

Signatories Include:

Lord David Frost
Lord Zac Goldsmith
Baroness Foster
Baroness Fox
Baroness Morrissey
Lord Daniel Moylan
Lord Ian Strathcarron
Lord Andrew Robathan
Ian Paisley MP
Rt Hon Sammy Wilson MP
Sir Desmond Swayne MP
Sir Robert Syms
Danny Kruger MP
Philip Davies MP
Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP
Miriam Cates MP
Chris Green MP
Professor Karol Sikora
Professor David Paton
Professor David Livermore
Doctor Tetyana Klymenko
Doctor Chao Wang
UsForThem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The starkest example of many can perhaps be found in the questioning of Michael Gove, where Counsel to the Inquiry stated: “There was no real argument as to whether, for good and obvious public health reasons, these measures had to be contemplated. They were matters of life and death. So there wasn’t really a thesis and an antithesis position here, Mr Gove. All the public health advice on a public health crisis were pointing in one direction” and later in questioning of Boris Johnson: “on the premise that the lockdown was necessary on 23 March, was it nevertheless imposed too late?”.

[2] https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/CSJ-Two_Nations.pdf

[3] This was apparent from the very outset in Counsel to the Inquiry’s opening speech: “However, if the protection of life is the pre-eminent duty which every government owes to the people, the numbers of those who died is the marker against which the government’s response must be judged. This is the stark metric which matters most”. (https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/06170713/C-19-Inquiry-3-October-2023-Module-2-Day-1-2nd-Revision.pdf)

[4] https://dailysceptic.org/2023/11/24/the-scandal-of-how-the-government-shut-down-its-ethics-committee-after-it-tried-to-intervene-on-the-vaccination-of-children/

 

 

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