Boris Johnson: Eat Out to Help Out scheme was not a 'gamble'

08 December 2023 by
Boris Johnson: Eat Out to Help Out scheme was not a 'gamble'

Boris Johnson has defended the government's controversial Eat Out to Help Out scheme brought in to help businesses during the pandemic, saying he did not think it was a "gamble" at the time.

The former prime minister told the Covid inquiry that the scheme, which encouraged people to return to hospitality businesses in August 2020, was "within the budget of risk".

He cast doubt on claims the government's medical experts were not informed of the scheme, but admitted chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty referred to it as ‘eat out to help out the virus' by September that year.

Johnson said: "Logically, if we were going to allow the hospitality sector to take advantage of the freedom that our collective efforts had won them, then it seemed to me to make sense that they actually had some customers. That was my thinking."

Eat Out to Help Out was introduced by chancellor Rishi Sunak after the first national coronavirus lockdown and saw the government subsidise 50% of the price of food and drinks at participating hospitality venues.

More than 49,000 businesses claimed £849m through the scheme, with over 160 million meals discounted. However, the government has faced criticism the initiative helped drive up coronavirus cases.

Johnson questioned these claims and said he had not seen evidence it had helped spread the virus.

"I don't think I thought that the scheme in itself was a particular gamble at the time," he added.

"It certainly wasn't presented to me as such. Nor am I confident that there is substantial evidence that it did indeed add to the R [number]. I defer to what your inquiry has discovered, but I can't see anything that conslusively showed that it made a big difference. At the time, it wasn't presented to me as something that would."

Sunak is expected to face questions over the scheme when he gives evidence to the inquiry on Monday.

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