Multiple sources have contradicted Boris Johnson’s denial of explosive remarks that he would rather “see bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a third coronavirus lockdown.
The Prime Minister has flatly denied the comments which allegedly came after he reluctantly accepted a second lockdown last autumn as Britain faced a further deadly wave.
Mr Johnson, asked on a visit to Wales if he had made the hurtful remarks, replied: “No.
“The important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a Government is make sure the lockdowns work. And they have.”
No 10 has dismissed the claims as “just another lie”, but they are deeply damaging for Mr Johnson whose Government is already engulfed in a series of rows.
He is engaged in a bitter fall-out with his former closest No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings over leaked text messages and his handling of the pandemic.
Further sources have come forward to different news organisations since Mr Johnson’s denial, raising questions about his integrity.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves blasted the PM for “corrupting the standards of public life expected in high office”, adding: “The fish rots from the head down”.
The Government also faces damaging questions over Tory lobbying and cronyism, as well as the PM and fiancee Carrie Symonds’ refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
Mr Johnson was said to have made the ‘bodies’ remarks after begrudgingly agreeing to a second lockdown last autumn when senior ministers warned him the NHS faced being overrun.
Standing in his No 10 study, his frustration bubbled over and he blasted: “No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!”
The PM’s critics believe the country could have avoided the need for such a long lockdown this Spring had Mr Johnson been willing to go further than November’s four-week ‘circuit breaker’.
He told the Commons: “We’re dealing with one of the most serious decisions this Prime Minister and any Government has had to face, people have been pointing out quite rightly that tens of thousands of people were dying.
“The Prime Minister made a decision in that meeting to trigger a second lockdown, he made a subsequent decision to trigger a third lockdown.
“This is a Prime Minister who was in hospital himself in intensive care. The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible.”
He added: “I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind.”
Despite the denials, further sources came forward to confirm that the PM had indeed made the inflammatory comments.
ITV’s Political Editor, Robert Peston, who first broke the story about the second lockdown, said two additional sources had since come forward to confirm the claims.
In his blog, he wrote: “I am told he shouted it in his study just after he agreed to the second lockdown ‘in a rage’.
“The doors to the Cabinet room and outer office were allegedly open and supposedly a number of people heard.
“I am bothering to repeat this assertion about what the Prime Minister said because two eyewitnesses – or perhaps I should say “ear witnesses” – have corroborated the account to me.”
He denied that the text tipping him off about the imminent lockdown restrictions had come from Mr Cummings “or anyone within a mile of him”, suggesting the ex-aide was not the “chatty rat” leaker.
The BBC also reported sources saying the PM “made remarks like that during a very fraught moment” during talks ahead of a second lockdown.
A further source told the Mirror that they had first been informed of the remarks three weeks ago – but had not passed them on until they saw the claims reported.
Mr Johnson claimed that “stuff that people are talking about” in Westminster were not the issues being raised on the doorstep ahead of May’s local elections.
But Tory candidates reported differently amid mounting public anger and polls showing a dip in support for the party.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign said: “These ‘bodies’ were our loved ones.
“Mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, grandparents, husbands and wives.
“Those who have lost loved ones already have to cope with the lack of dignity many of their loved ones faced as they passed.
“Is it too much to ask that the Prime Minister would be sympathetic and respectful to our loss?
“These callous comments will have caused untold hurt to hundreds of thousands of us across the whole of the country.
“This demonstrates exactly why an urgent inquiry is so vital, to understand the decisions, rationale and consideration in protecting our loved ones that the Government chose.”
In the Commons, Labour’s Ms Reeves said: “This is a Prime Minister who would rather that bodies pile high than act on scientific advice.”
She demanded the Government apologise for the “stomach-churning” comments and launch a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.
“This is all about conduct, character and decency and frankly our country deserves an awful lot better than this,” she added.
No 10 insiders fear Mr Cummings, who had access to some of the most confidential information in Government, is ready to present a bombshell dossier before the joint committee of MPs investigating the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis next month.
Allies claim he has audio recordings of many of his conversations while in No 10.
But Britain’s most senior civil servant confirmed last night that Mr Cummings is still under investigation over Tory leaks,
The ex-top aide had claimed he had been cleared amid the hunt for the “chatty rat” leaker of the second lockdown.
But Cabinet Secretary Simon Case signalled to MPs he had not cleared the Prime Minister’s ex-top aide.
He told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: “I am very constrained in what I can say given the security classification of the exercise of this leak inquiry.
“What I can say is the investigation is ongoing and this is a clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified.”
He also denied the PM tried to block the investigation into who leaked the decision to impose the November shutdown lockdown – as he admitted it was “probable” the culprit was unlikely to be identified.
The Cabinet Secretary admitted it was a matter of “vital public concern” and covered “classified” issues.
But the leak did not break the Official Secrets Act or cross the threshold for a prosecution for misconduct in public office.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle receives regular updates on Privy Council terms, the committee heard, because of the “significant public and parliamentary concern around this leak”.
The last briefing to the Speaker was two weeks ago and the PM will reveal the findings of the probe to Parliament.
Mr Johnson has also come under pressure over claims he looked at setting-up a charitable trust – funded by Tory donors – to fund refurbishments of the Downing Street living quarters.
No10 has insisted the PM paid £58,000 for a luxury renovation of the No11 flat where he lives with fiancee Carrie Symonds, their son Wilfred, and their dog Dilyn.
But it was reported on Monday night that Tory HQ had covered the initial costs of refurbishing the flat and Mr Johnson was now paying back party coffers.
The PM will have to declare the loan immediately or else he could be in breach of the ministerial code.
If the funds came to the party from a Tory donor, as has been claimed, then that would also have to be declared as a potential conflict of interests.
Mr Johnson has asked the Cabinet Secretary to review what had taken place with the revamp – which went way over the £30,000 PMs are given to carry out a makeover – and to report to Parliament within the next few weeks.
Amid escalating claims of Tory sleaze, Mr Case admitted he was “alarmed” by the Government job handed to financier Lex Greensill after officials could find no trace of a contract for the No10 aide.
Cabinet Office ethics Director-General Darren Tierney confessed it looked like “a screaming, glaring conflict of interest”.