UK premier faces pressure on 'dead bodies' remarks

Boris Johnson is alleged to have said he preferred 'more deaths than lockdowns' but ministers play down comments.

UK premier faces pressure on 'dead bodies' remarks

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure after repeated claims from various sources that the prime minister said he would prefer to see “bodies pile high in there thousands” than implement a third lockdown.

Government ministers have sought to play down the alleged remarks, denying that Johnson made the claim “no more [...] lockdowns - let the bodies pile high in their thousands.” Anger and shock, however, from the bereaved public over the comments continue to rise, with British media outlets confirming the comments.

Johnson’s purported comments were first reported by the Daily Mail on Monday and were made after he reluctantly agreed to implement a four-week lockdown in November last year over soaring COVID-19 infections that left the UK with one of the world’s worst death tolls. The prime minister, however, warned that this would be the last lockdown he would implement.

In an interview with the BBC News on Monday, Johnson profusely denied making such comments, saying: “No, but again I think the important thing is the people want us to get on and do is to make sure the lockdowns work and they have and I really pay tribute to the people of this country that has really pulled together and working with the vaccination program we have brought this disease under control.”

Despite his denials on live TV, unnamed sources have provided evidence of when the remarks were made and in what context they were said. According to ITV News, the “let the bodies pile high” comments were shouted from an office in No.10 after an urgent meeting rather than during the meeting with ministers. The BBC appears to also have confirmed the comments, saying they were made “during a heated discussion in No. 10.”

According to The Guardian, a source confirmed ITV’s account of the events, saying the comments were heard by a few people who happened to be outside of Johnson’s office at the time. A second source, however, offered a slightly different account, instead, recalling the phrase “no more [...] lockdowns […] no matter the consequences.”

Downing Street, however, continues to categorically deny the remarks with Michael Gove, a staunch ally of Johnson, telling parliament: “This is a prime minister who’s been in a hospital himself in intensive care. The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible. I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind.”

Government of 'sleaze and cronyism'

The revelations on the prime minister’s remarks are the latest in an erupting and explosive conflict between Johnson and his former chief adviser and one time staunch ally Dominic Cummings, who resigned from Downing Street last year following disagreements with Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds.

Last week, Cummings launched an unprecedented attack on his former boss where he accused Johnson of planning to use Conservative Party donations to refurbish his Downing Street flat. Cummings had launched his attack against the prime minister after he was accused of leaking confidential information on Johnson and his government that point to cronyism and lobbying.

The leak in question involved text messages between Johnson and billionaire businessman Sir James Dyson in which the prime minister promised to “fix” Dyson’s tax concerns if he were to set up a ventilator manufacturing plant in the UK during the pandemic.

The explosive revelations have forced the government on the defensive with mounting calls from the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party for a public inquiry into Johnson’s refurbishment plans as well as his dealings with Dyson. Cummings has confirmed he will provide evidence to a committee of MPs next month, evidence that amounts to a trove of materials, including tape recordings collected during his time at No.10.

Accusations of sleaze and cronyism also follow the Greensill scandal in which former Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied the government in 2018 on behalf of the now-defunct financial services company Greensill Capital for a loan scheme that was funded by taxpayers money.

Johnson also stands accused of intervening in a failed bid by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to take over English football club Newcastle United. Johnson has faced criticism for his actions, which also included lobbying, as they took place shortly after the gruesome murder of Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Bin Salman has been implicated in the murder which took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.