Boris Johnson is branded ‘heartless’ by families of Covid victims for declining a meeting after ignoring five requests – despite previously insisting ‘of course’ he would speak with the bereaved
- Prime Minister said ‘of course I’ll meet the bereaved’ when questioned last week
- But letter has since emerged in which he said he would not be able to meet them
- Campaigner Jo Goodman criticised Mr Johnson for turning down her request
- Today the PM insisted he could not meet families because of a legal challenge
Boris Johnson has been accused of a fresh U-turn after declining to meet campaigners representing families bereaved during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Prime Minister said ‘of course I will meet the bereaved’ when questioned last week in an interview about attempts by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group to secure a meeting.
But the campaigners trying to secure a swift public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the crisis shared a letter from Mr Johnson in which he ‘regrettably’ declined to meet with the group.
‘It’s a U-turn followed by a U-turn,’ said campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father Stuart to the virus.
‘The Prime Minister has done a 360: dodging five letters, then agreeing on live TV to meet with us, and now quietly telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.’
The PM later told MPs he had to cancel the meeting due to an ongoing legal challenge, and that he would ‘certainly’ meeting them once the litigation had concluded.
The Prime Minister – pictured yesterday – said ‘of course I will meet the bereaved’ when questioned last week in an interview about attempts by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group to secure a meeting
Labour leader Sir Keir told the Commons: ‘Before the recess, I asked him if he would meet with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group.
‘I had the privilege of meeting the families on July 15. They gave me incredibly moving accounts of how Covid-19 had taken their loved ones from them.
‘On Sky News last week, the Prime Minister was asked if he would meet the families and he said, and I quote, ‘Of course I will meet the bereaved, of course I will do that’.
‘But yesterday they received a letter from the Prime Minister saying that meeting them was now ‘regrettably not possible’. The Prime Minister will understand the frustration and the hurt of those families that he said one thing to camera and another thing to them.’
Responding, the Prime Minister said: ‘It’s absolutely typical of him that he should frame it in that way… of course I would be very happy to meet the families of the bereaved and sympathise deeply with all those who have lost loved ones throughout this pandemic and we all feel their pain and their grief.
‘It turns out that this particular group that he refers to are currently in litigation against the Government and I will certainly meet them once that litigation is concluded.’
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran had earlier written to the Prime Minister saying she was ‘shocked’ to learn that he had ‘refused’ to meet the group – which says it represents 1,600 families.
On Wednesday, Mr Johnson told Sky News: ‘I am not aware of those letters but I will of course write back to every letter we get.
‘Of course I will meet the bereaved.’
But writing to Ms Goodman, the Prime Minister acknowledged ‘a letter will be of little comfort against the grief and heartbreak that families have suffered’ as he declined a meeting.
‘As much as I would wish to be able to offer my condolences in person to all those who have suffered loss, that is regrettably not possible and so I am unable to meet with you and members of Bereaved Families for Justice,’ he wrote.
Mr Johnson also said he understands the group have instructed solicitors who are in pre-action legal correspondence over an independent inquiry.
He said he will hold the inquiry ‘at the appropriate time’ and urged all further correspondence to be dealt with by their respective legal teams.
Mr Johnson wrote a letter to say it would not be possible for him to meet the bereaved families of Covid victims
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: ‘The Prime Minister has responded to Bereaved Families For Justice to express his sincere condolences to all families who have sadly lost loved ones to this terrible disease.
‘He remains committed to meeting with members of the public and families of key workers who have been bereaved as a result of Covid-19.
‘The Prime Minister is resolute in his determination to beat this virus and prevent further families from suffering such dreadful loss.’
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘These revelations that bereaved families had to write to Boris Johnson five times asking to meet him – for him to privately go back on his public word and refuse are astounding, and upsetting for so many whose families and lives have been impacted by Covid in this way.
‘41,504 people have tragically lost their lives to this virus. The very least the Prime Minister could do is respond truthfully to their families, and have the heart to meet some of them and their representatives.
‘The Prime Minister has been going back on his word all summer – but to not even meet with grieving families hits a new low.’