Boris Johnson faces inquiry calls over 'bodies pile high' claim

There were growing calls last night for a public inquiry into the “grubby cabal in charge of the UK” after Boris Johnson denied saying he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order another coronavirus lockdown.

The Prime Minister was forced to deny making the statement suggesting he was prepared to face a mounting death toll rather than order a third set of tough restrictions as he faced questions about the bitter briefing war that has hit No 10.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove also said yesterday that he "never heard language of that kind" in the meeting where Mr Johnson ordered the second shutdown in England.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she did not find it difficult to believe that Mr Johnson had made a “crass” remark about Covid deaths, based on her own interactions with the PrimeMinister.

Boris Johnson on a visit to Wales on Monday

The allegation has been strenuously rejected by Number 10, with Mr Johnson denying yesterday that he had made the comment.

But at Westminster, Labour's Dame Margaret Hodge said Mr Johnson has been "caught out" for the "third time in the space of just one week", and questioned how much more of his behaviour ministers will accept.

Accusing Mr Johnson of "corrupting the standards of public life expected in high office", shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves warned that "the fish rots from the head down".

And SNP MP Alison Thewliss said a full independent public inquiry was needed to get to the root of all the allegations surrounding the Conservatives.

Nicola Sturgeon has said the claims about Boris Johnson are "eminently believable".

She said: "With each day that passes, further details of the Tory sleaze engulfing Westminster come to light. Reports of Covid contracts for cronies, donations for decorating, and texts for tax breaks, simply cannot be brushed under the carpet.”

In addition to Mr Johnson’s alleged “bodies” comments, other allegations include:

- The Prime Minister is facing a claim from former adviser Dominic Cummings that he once planned to have donors “secretly pay” for the revamp of the Downing Street flat;

- Mr Johnson allegedly told Sir James Dyson in a series of texts that he would “fix” an issue over the tax status of the entrepreneur’s employees in relation to the supply of ventilators for coronavirus patients;

- Former prime minister David Cameron has been criticised for lobbying ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, on behalf of Greensill Capital, in which he had a commercial interest.

MPs questioned Mr Gove on the allegation, with the Daily Mail having cited an individual "close to" the minister as being among the sources in its report on the claim.

"The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible," Mr Gove told the House of Commons.

He added that "I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind", in a defence stopping short of a full denial that the comments had been made.

However, a report in the Spectator magazine suggested Mr Johnson made the remark in his study just after he agreed to the second lockdown.

The Daily Mail did not name the source for the allegation, which was later also reported by the BBC citing "sources familiar with the talks", but ministers hit out at "gossip" spread by "unnamed advisers".

Asked if he made the comments, Mr Johnson told reporters in Wrexham: "No, but I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a Government is to make sure that the lockdowns work.

"They have, and I really pay tribute to the people of this country, this whole country of ours, really pulled together and, working with the vaccination programme, we have got the disease under control."

When asked about Mr Johnson’s remark while campaigning for the Scottish Parliament elections, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m afraid to say that based on my interactions, including over the past year, I don’t find it impossible to believe – on the contrary, I think it’s eminently believable.”

She added: "In my interactions with him, the constant reaching for the glib phrase which he might think funny, but most people think is crass, is not unusual, and there have been moments in the pandemic where he has been reluctant to do the things other people thought were necessary.

“The shock that any leader would think something as glib about human life, never mind articulate those thoughts, would shock most people. I don’t find it difficult to believe, which perhaps tells its own story.”

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Asked about her own party’s issues with sleaze, including two current investigations into SNP MPs, she said: “When issues arise about the behaviour of individuals, we deal with that appropriately, which is right and proper.

"Would I prefer these situations didn’t arise? Obviously I would and I think it’s important that when they do, we deal with them in a proper way.

“But what we’re seeing surrounding the Tories right now is of a different order in terms of substance and scale.”

She added: “I do think there’s a need for proper and real investigation and scrutiny of the swirling allegations around Johnson and the Tory party. There’s a real stench of sleaze and it’s in the public interest that these things are properly addressed and answered.”

The decision on the second lockdown last autumn was leaked and is the subject of an inquiry to find the so-called "chatty rat" who tipped off the press.

Appearing before MPs, the UK's most senior civil servant declined to say whether Mr Cummings had been cleared over that leak, as the former aide has claimed.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) that it is "probable" that the culprit will never be identified.

But he said the Prime Minister did not try to block the investigation, after his former Vote Leave ally alleged he had considered the move.

Ms Sturgeon said the storm around Mr Johnson had made her reflect on the pressure she had been under as a result of the Alex Salmond inquiry in Holyrood and the investigation into whether she had broken the ministerial code.

"It wasn’t comfortable or pleasant or the most enjoyable few months of my political career, but I accept it was absolutely right,” she said.

“I had the Tories calling for my resignation before I uttered a single word in my defence, and I contrast that with Douglas Ross saying ‘Boris Johnson says it’s not true, so we just have to move on’.

“I do think there’s a need for proper and real investigation and scrutiny of the swirling allegations around Johnson and the Tory party. There’s a real stench of sleaze and it’s in the public interest that these things are properly addressed and answered.”

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