Rishi Sunak says he returned from a government trip last December to prevent the country from entering a new COVID lockdown.
The former Chancellor and Conservative leadership candidate told LBC the UK was “hours away from a press conference” announcing the measures due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
But he said he “fought the system very hard” to prevent the lockdown from being introduced.
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At the end of 2021, Omicron became the dominant variant in the country and cases rose rapidly, with Boris Johnson advising people to exercise ‘caution’ around preparing for Christmas and health officials urging public to limit contact.
Rumors abounded that the government would impose further restrictions as businesses – particularly in the hospitality sector – called for more support as people canceled events.
But on December 16, Mr Johnson said there were no orders for people to call off rallies and excluded any locking “by stealth”.
On the same day, the Treasury confirmed that Mr Sunak would cut short a trip – apparently one day – to return from the United States to speak with business leaders about the impact of the variant.
This followed questions about his whereabouts as cases grew, with Labor telling him to ‘get out of Hollywood and get back to reality’.
In an interview with Andrew Marr, Mr Sunak said: “What I did in December was come back from a government trip abroad.
“And I came back to this country to stop us from sleepwalking into a national lockdown, because we were hours away from a press conference that was going to lock this country down again because of Omicron.”
He added: “I came back and fought very hard against the system because I thought it would be the wrong thing for this country, with all the damage it would do to businesses, to children’s education, to people’s lives.”
Mr Sunak made the remarks a day after reaching the bottom two of the Conservative leadership race, facing Liz Truss on the ballot.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs is currently leading the raceaccording to a poll of Conservative party members, who will decide their next leader and new prime minister within the next six weeks.
Mr Sunak said he was happy to have ‘won’ the argument last year, and said it should give voters confidence that he was ‘ready to push hard and fight for the people. things I believe in even when it’s hard.”
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