UK minister denies Johnson said he would rather have bodies piled high than order lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a stream of allegations in newspapers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a stream of allegations in newspapers.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - A British minister on Monday (April 26) flatly denied a report that Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would rather have bodies piled "high in their thousands" than order a third social and economic lockdown to stem coronavirus infections.

Mr Johnson is facing a stream of allegations in newspapers about everything from his muddled initial handling of the Covid-19 crisis to questions over who financed the redecoration of his official apartment.

The Daily Mail newspaper cited unidentified sources as saying that, in October, shortly after agreeing to a second lockdown, Mr Johnson said at a meeting in Downing Street: "No more xxxxing lockdowns - let the bodies pile high in their thousands."

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News: "It's not true - it's been categorically denied by practically everyone." He said that Mr Johnson was focused on the Covid-19 response.

"We're getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories. You know - unnamed sources by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events. You know - look - none of this is serious," Mr Wallace added.

The Daily Mail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Britain has the world's fifth worst official Covid-19 death toll, with 127,681 deaths, after the United States, Brazil, Mexico and India, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

Mr Johnson did impose a third lockdown - in January - though critics say it could have been avoided had he yielded to pressure from senior ministers to make the second lockdown more stringent.

The Prime Minister's opponents say he acted too slowly to stop the spread of the virus, and then bungled both the strategy and the execution of the government's response, often delaying imposing lockdowns at crucial moments.

Mr Johnson has resisted calls for an immediate inquiry into the handling of the crisis, and ministers say that while they have not got everything right, they were making decisions at speed and have one of the best vaccination programmes in the world.

After Downing Street named Mr Johnson's former chief adviser Dominic Cummings as the source of leaks about the Prime Minister, Mr Cummings hit back on Friday, denying that he was the source and casting Mr Johnson as incompetent and lacking in integrity.

Mr Cummings, architect of the Brexit campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, left Mr Johnson's staff suddenly late last year, after having been his most influential adviser on Brexit and the 2019 election campaign.

Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson's plans to have donors pay secretly for the renovation of his Downing Street apartment were "unethical, foolish, possibly illegal - and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations".

Asked last month about the refurbishment plans, Mr Johnson's spokesman said all donations, gifts and benefits were properly declared, and that no party funds were being used to pay for the refurbishment.