Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Sunak apologises during ‘day of shame’

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Rishi Sunak’s Commons apology for the contaminated blood scandal was reasonably comprehensive. The statement opened with him saying he wanted to speak directly to the victims and their families, and ‘make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice’. The Prime Minister listed what the government was apologising for: the failure in blood policy and blood products, the repeated failure of the state and medical professionals to recognise the harm caused; for the institutional response to the failings, including denying and attempting to cover them up. He said: ‘This is an apology from the state to every single person impacted by this scandal. It did not have to be this way. It should never have been this way.’ 

When Sir Brian Langstaff launched his report this afternoon, the inquiry’s chair made clear he was expecting a full apology, and clarity from the government about what the apology was actually for. Sunak answered that essay question with his opening statement. But there were other questions he did not address. One was compensation, which he and ministers had been clear the government was not going to respond on today because they wanted the report’s findings to get proper coverage, and for the victims and their families to be heard. That is fair enough. But there was a more specific question from Diana Johnson, the Labour MP who has campaigned tirelessly for the victims and who was instrumental in the inquiry happening at all. She asked whether Sunak accepted that he had made the situation  worse for victims by refusing to set up a compensation ahead of the publication of this final report. This was an interim recommendation of Langstaff’s from last year. Sunak did not answer that question.

His statement and the question-and-answer session following were both short because the government will offer a fuller response tomorrow. Most of the focus will be on the compensation. But the statement will need to address how the government intends to ensure that the things Sunak is apologising for today do not happen again in another context. Sorry, as children learn, means you won’t do something again. It’s a lesson governments often forget.

Isabel Hardman
Written by
Isabel Hardman
Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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