Rishi Sunak Narrowly Escaped Questions Over Controversial “Eat Out to Help Out” Scheme

Rishi Sunak faces relentless scrutiny from the public and the COVID-19 inquiry, fielding a barrage of inquiries about his crucial actions during the pandemic. While addressing questions about his ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative, he staunchly defended his tenure as Chancellor amidst the pandemic.


Sunak Defends His Predecessor 


When scrutinising the UK’s COVID-19 response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed profound regret for the loss and grief suffered. The incumbent UK Prime Minister, previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer during Boris Johnson’s tenure, stood by Johnson’s initiatives in the inquiry. Despite evading certain inquiries, this scrutiny hints at a distrust in leadership and sparks wider apprehensions regarding the government’s capacity to handle forthcoming crises.


Scientists were Not Consulted on the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme

The epicentre of this scrutiny was the polarising “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, a flagship initiative unveiled in Sunak’s economic update in July 2020. He argued the scheme had been designed to lift non-pharmaceutical interventions to use the capacity of scientists. The inquiry heard that scientists were only informed about the scheme once it was announced. There are concerns about the impact of Sunak’s lockdown-sceptical stance and his persistent efforts to sustain economic activity during the pandemic. 


PM Denies Failure of His Scheme  

Anna Morris KC, representing the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, asked about funding and support for care workers during the pandemic. She added that Scottish and Welsh leaders were concerned about funds not being released by the UK government when they made lockdown decisions. Sunak responded the policies around supporting these workers were out of his area of responsibility but the remit of the chief secretary to the Treasury. Sunak added the Treasury made the unprecedented decision to provide extra funding to the devolved nations. 


Ex-Chancellor’s Scheme Helped Out the Virus 

The Controversial “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme was an invention of Sunak’s economic strategy to revive the hospitality industry. The initiative offered a tempting 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks, becoming a praised economic stimulus and a magnet for criticism. Some scientists called the scheme “eat out to help out the virus.” Such discussions add to the inquiry’s examination of Sunak’s decision-making.


Britons Consider the Scheme a Bad Idea 

Preceding Sunak’s appearance, a YouGov survey for The Times revealed that over half of respondents deemed the Eat Out to Help Out scheme a “bad idea.” Sir Patrick Vallance, a key figure in the government’s COVID-19 response, added weight to the scepticism by stating that the scheme was “highly likely” to have increased COVID-related deaths. Some critics have protested ahead of the Prime Minister’s appearance and used slogans like “Covid likes this,” directly implicating the scheme in the pandemic’s exacerbation.


Tories’ Future Position Is Uncertain 

The ramifications of this inquiry are expected to resonate far beyond the confines of Dorland House, where Sunak was giving evidence to the UK COVID-19 inquiry. The narrative crafted during this inquiry will influence public opinion on the Tories’ leadership. The inquiry is a critical chapter in the evolving story of how the Tory leaders navigated the challenges of an unprecedented crisis. Moreover, it prompts reflection on the lessons learned from previous experiences for future competency. 

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