A SQUIRMING Cabinet minister today repeatedly refused to apologise after a damning report blamed Government failings for thousands of unnecessary Covid deaths.
Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was asked at least 16 times whether he wanted to say sorry to the nation for the devastating toll.
But he stonewalled the question again and again, insisting that Boris Johnson took the best decisions that he could with the information available.
Last night research by MPs concluded that the PM made “big mistakes” in his handling of the pandemic and the elderly were “just an afterthought”.
They slammed the decision not to lockdown sooner last Spring and the fact pensioners with Covid were sent from hospitals back into care homes.
The report accused ministers of falling victim to scientific “groupthink” which wanted to manage the spread of the virus rather than squash it.
And it blasted the “chaotic” performance of the £37 billion test and trace system which produced limited results.
Mr Barclay was this morning urged to apologise “on a human level” to the many thousands of families who lost loved ones to the virus.
But despite being pressed time and again he would only say No 10 “followed the scientific advice” and “took decisions based on the evidence”.
He also pointed to an upcoming public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic scheduled for Spring next year.
“That will be the opportunity to look at what could be done differently and what lessons we take into the future”, he added.
Experts have previously calculated that 20,000 more lives could’ve been saved last year if the UK had locked down one week earlier.
MPs from the Science and Technology Committee said the PM should’ve copied Asian countries like South Korea which tackled the virus hard and fast.
But Mr Barclay insisted: “The timing of the lockdown was based on the evidence and the scientific advice.
“At the time the concern was if we locked down too soon there wouldn’t be a willingness to lock down for a long period of time.
“We know now that there was a willingness of the British public to lock down for far longer than we envisaged.
“That reflects the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, the fact we’ve been able [to know] with hindsight different things to what we knew at the time.”
The minister did acknowledge the personal loss suffered by thousands of Brits up and down the country.
He added: “What happened to individual families was obviously devastating and a devastating personal loss, and our hearts go out to them.”
But he admitted he had not yet spoken to the PM, who is currently on holiday in Marbella, about his reaction to the report.
Although their report was damning of the early response to Covid, the MPs were full of praise for the UK’s world class vaccine rollout.
Tory MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, who led the inquiry, said: “In responding to an emergency, it is impossible to get everything right.
“The UK response has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes. It is vital to learn from both to ensure that we perform as best as we can during the remainder of the pandemic and in the future.”
They said Covid was the “biggest crisis our country has faced in generations” and thanked NHS staff, scientists, public servants, businesses and volunteers.
But the UK’s response was “inflexible” and scientific advice was not challenged enough, they said.