Boris Johnson Partygate
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

A one-time aide of former UK prime minister Boris Johnson has claimed that the PM, in a meeting, asked why they should "destroy" the economy during the pandemic for people who "will die anyway soon".

The revelation by Imran Shafi, Johnson's former private secretary, was made during one of the meetings of the COVID inquiry committee.

Shafi told the inquiry that the statement from the former prime minister came during a meeting with then-chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2020, just before the first lockdown in the UK.

Shafi was asked by inquiry counsel Hugo Keith KC to explain an excerpt from his handwritten notes from the meeting. Someone is believed to have said: "We're killing the patient to tackle the tumour. Large number of ppl who will die, why are we destroying economy for people who will die anyway soon?"

Shafi said: "I can't say for sure, I think it was the former prime minister."

The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, was ordered by the government itself in 2021. It had ordered the government to hand over key communications sent between January 2020 and February 2022.

The UK's top civil servant, Simon Case, made similar claims about Johnson's handling of the pandemic. The WhatsApp messages from September 2020 submitted to the inquiry committee revealed that Case found it tough to manage Johnson and other ministers.

He said that the former PM was making government "impossible" and that "we cannot support him in leading with this approach".

"I am at the end of my tether," he said, adding that the other ministers were "weak". In fact, Case told his colleagues in private that Johnson "cannot lead" at the peak of the COVID pandemic.

Recently, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak came under fire for failing to provide his WhatsApp messages to the inquiry committee examining the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PM was supposed to hand over the messages from his time as chancellor to the inquiry committee probing the government's handling of the pandemic. Sunak has said that he does not have the messages from the time because he had to change his mobile several times and failed to back them up.

So far, the government has only submitted incomplete versions of the documents, asserting that personal and private information unrelated to the inquiry has been redacted. Hallett, however, insists that the entirety of the specified documents is potentially relevant to the lines of investigation pursued by the inquiry.

According to a report in The Guardian, Johnson and his wife apparently hosted at Chequers during the COVID restrictions. The person, identified as Dixie Maloney, a corporate events manager, stayed at the house overnight in May 2021.

Maloney helped the couple plan their wedding. The incident took place when indoor gatherings were banned unless "reasonably necessary". However, Johnson's office said Maloney's visit was "entirely lawful" and "covered by relevant provisions in the COVID regulations".

It was one of several gatherings that took place at Chequers and Downing Street.

Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to resign from his position last year following the "Partygate" controversy. Several photos emerged of him drinking at a Downing Street party during the lockdown in 2020. He came under fire for breaking COVID-19 protocols and was forced to quit eventually.

He was even fined by the police for attending an event celebrating his birthday in June 2020. He is currently being investigated by a parliamentary committee to ascertain whether he misled the House of Commons about COVID rule violations.

The former prime minister maintains that he did not mislead Parliament during the pandemic. He was forced to hand over pandemic-era WhatsApp messages and notebooks to the government.

The messages and notebooks contain details of the decisions taken by the government when Johnson was prime minister.