Ministers have denied claims that Boris Johnson was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order another coronavirus lockdown, as the fallout from Downing Street’s bitter briefing war continued.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “not true” to suggest Mr Johnson made that comment, while Health Minister Nadine Dorries said it was an “outright lie”.
The remarks were reportedly made after the Prime Minister agreed to a second lockdown, and suggest Mr Johnson was prepared to face a mounting death toll rather than order a third set of tough restrictions, something he was eventually forced to do.
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.
The Daily Mail carried the claim that, following the lockdown, the Prime Minister said he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a third one.
The paper did not give a source for the allegation, but ministers hit out at “gossip” spread by “unnamed advisers”.
Mr Wallace told Sky News: “We are getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories – unnamed sources, by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events.
“None of this is serious. The Prime Minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside Cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid.”
Ms Dorries said it was “mendacious, vexatious, co-ordinated gossip” aimed at destabilising the Tory campaign ahead of the May 6 elections.
Regardless of the denials of this comment, he does have form for making a similar remark in October 2017.
When he was he said Libyan city Sirte could be the new Dubai, adding, “all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away”.
His comments at a Conservative fringe meeting sparked anger, with a number of Tory MPs calling for his sacking and Labour labelling him “crass and cruel”.
Mr Johnson claimed his critics had “no knowledge nor understanding of Libya”.
At the time a Downing Street source said it was not an “appropriate choice of words” but the PM regarded the matter as closed.
However at the time Emily Thornberry, said: “It is less than a year since Sirte was finally captured from Daesh by the Libyan Government of National Accord, a battle in which hundreds of government soldiers were killed and thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire, the second time in five years that the city had seen massive loss of life as a result of the Libyan civil war.
Callous and cruel
“For Boris Johnson to treat those deaths as a joke – a mere inconvenience before UK business people can turn the city into a beach resort – is unbelievably crass, callous and cruel.
“If these words came from the business people themselves, it would be considered offensive enough, but for them to come from the foreign secretary is simply a disgrace.
“There comes a time when the buffoonery needs to stop, because if Boris Johnson thinks the bodies of those brave government soldiers and innocent civilians killed in Sirte are a suitable subject for throwaway humour, he does not belong in the office of foreign secretary.”
The then Tory MP Heidi Allen, now Advocacy and Policy at the RSPCA Tweeted: “100% unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party.”
100% unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party. https://t.co/v2RHlbjlnB— Heidi Allen (@heidiallen75) October 3, 2017
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston called on Mr Johnson to apologise and urged him to “consider his position”, adding that the comments were “crass, poorly judged and grossly insensitive – and this from the person who is representing us on the world stage. I think they were really disappointing.”