The Covid Inquiry is to investigate whether Brexit had a positive or negative impact on how the pandemic affected the UK.
Baroness Hallett’s probe will look at whether Britain leaving the European Union on 31 January 2020 – the day the first UK Covid cases were confirmed – played a part in the government’s subsequent response to the virus.
The Covid Inquiry will start hearing evidence in public for the first time on Tuesday.
Ministers have long argued that being outside the EU as the pandemic hit in 2020 allowed the UK to pursue its own vaccine strategy, including procuring and licensing jabs for use in the country months ahead of member states.
However, while it was true that the UK’s vaccines rollout happened faster than the EU, the suggestion that this was due to Brexit was rejected in 2021 by Kate Bingham, the former head of the government’s vaccines taskforce, and the UK’s medicines watchdog the MHRA, which said it had approved the first Pfizer vaccine under EU law.
While the UK’s vaccines response is being investigated by Lady Hallett’s inquiry later on, under Module 4, her first module – which will examine whether the country was prepared for a pandemic – includes taking evidence on “any impact arising from the UK’s departure from the European Union”.
The public inquiry will open with a statement from Lady Hallett and a film of people bereaved by the virus will be played to the hearing.
Former prime minister David Cameron, his chancellor George Osborne and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary in the years before Covid, will be called to give evidence on how much preparation was made for a pandemic. They are expected to be called to the witness box next week.
They are likely to be grilled by inquiry KC Hugo Keith on whether their government’s cuts to public services played a part in hampering preparedness efforts.
i revealed last week how Mr Hunt’s health department rejected advice for more spending on PPE including eye protection and gowns from 2016 onwards.
Lady Hallett will hear evidence this week from lawyers for groups affected by Covid, including bereaved families, and a number of experts who have produced reports setting out the context for how prepared the UK was, including how the government and specialist bodies dealt with risk management and civil emergency planning.