The Government’s top science adviser, who is said to have once referred to the Rishi Sunak as “Dr Death”, is to appear before the UK Covid-19 inquiry on Thursday.
Professor Dame Angela McLean, the Government’s chief scientific adviser (CSA), is expected to be asked about the Government’s controversial Eat Out to Help Out scheme, introduced during the pandemic in a bid to help boost business in restaurants and cafes after the first national lockdown.
It comes after the inquiry heard that Dame Angela made the remark about Mr Sunak in a WhatsApp exchange with epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds during a meeting in September 2020.
Dame Angela messaged Prof Edmunds, referring to “Dr Death the Chancellor”, the inquiry was told in October.
Prof Edmunds told the inquiry the reference “could well be” about the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
Then-prime minister Boris Johnson and Mr Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, had called the meeting to hear from scientists.
Many of those in attendance were from the “let it rip brigade”, the inquiry heard, understood to mean those against lockdown.
Dame Angela also referred to a “f***wit” in her messages, which Prof Edmunds inferred was in reference to Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford.
It comes after the Government’s chief scientific and medical advisers during the crisis said they were not consulted about Eat Out to Help Out.
England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Sir Chris Whitty; the former deputy CMO for England, Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam and former CSA Sir Patrick Vallance each told the inquiry they were not consulted on the project as they appeared before the inquiry on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sir Jonathan said that he first heard about it “from the TV”, while Sir Patrick told the inquiry that “we didn’t know about until it was announced”.
And Sir Chris said the Government’s advisers “should have been” consulted.
Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked Sir Chris: “Boris Johnson says ‘It was properly discussed, including with Chris and Patrick’, do you agree with that?”
Sir Chris replied: “On this one, neither Patrick nor I can recall it and I think we would have done.”
Meanwhile, in evidence submitted to the inquiry, Mr Sunak said he “(did) not recall any concerns about the scheme”.
Asked during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday if scientists were consulted about the plan, Mr Sunak said: “It was the case that the Government took advice from scientific advisers.”
Meanwhile Dame Angela will likely be quizzed about an email exchange where she was critical about the Treasury’s interpretation of the epidemiological model.
The email, written when Dame Angela was chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and also the deputy Government CSA at the time, read: “I have emailed Chris (Whitty) and Patrick (Vallance) saying HMT (Her Majesty’s Treasury) changed the model after I QA’d (quality assured) it and I don’t know how.
“Anything HMT says about infectious disease modelling therefore has no endorsement from me – they are on their own.
“Given their inability to spot egregious errors in other things they were sent I do not have confidence in their ability to hack a simple, sensible model.”
The inquiry is taking evidence as part of its second module on core UK decision-making and political governance.