Furious Tory MPs say No10’s use of SAGE modelling is a ‘national scandal’ as they accuse ‘Professor Lockdown’ of seeking publicity for ‘hysterical forecasts’
- Conservative Bob Seely called for a debate on scientific modelling during Covid
- Steve Baker accused modellers of bouncing No10 into lockdown restrictions
- MPs were told to calm down after the debate erupted into a shouting match
Furious MPs today slammed ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson for ‘hysterical forecasts’ that have created a ‘national scandal’.
Conservative Bob Seely called for a debate on scientific modelling during the pandemic in which he accused forecasters of wildly inaccurate predictions.
Echoing Winston Churchill, Mr Seely said of the modelling: ‘Never before has so much harm been done to so many by so few.’
He slammed SAGE epidemiologist Professor Ferguson for producing ‘doomsday scenarios’ that were proven wrong time and time again.
Professor Ferguson’s prediction of 500,000 people dying a day if nothing was done to curb the virus’ spread is widely credited with spooking Boris Johnson into announcing the first lockdown in March 2020.
Mr Seely argued this prediction followed a long line of inaccurate models produced by Imperial College London — where Professor Ferguson works — that have caused radical policies, starting with the mass culling of millions of animals during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001.
He was joined by the Covid Recovery Group deputy chair Steve Baker, who accused modellers of bouncing No10 into restrictions throughout the pandemic.
But the debate erupted when SNP MP Brendan O’Hara accused the politicians of not wearing face masks in the hall and MPs were told to calm down during an angry shouting match.
Conservative Bob Seely (right) called for a debate on scientific modelling during the pandemic in which he accused forecasters of wildly inaccurate predictions. He was joined by the Covid Recovery Group deputy chair Steve Baker (left), who accused modellers of bouncing No10 into restrictions throughout the pandemic.
They slammed ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson (pictured) for ‘hysterical forecasts’ that have created a ‘national scandal’
Professor Neil Ferguson described how he had become ‘something of a marmite figure’ as he admitted he ‘made mistakes’ and ‘oversimplified things’ during the pandemic.
The Imperial College epidemiologist, whose initial modelling helped shape Britain’s Covid response, said while it had been challenging for most Western governments to act in a timely manner the science throughout the crisis ‘had basically been right’.
However the scientist, nicknamed ‘Professor Lockdown’, admitted he had ‘made mistakes for which he apologised for’ as he spoke of the public scrutiny that his private life had come under.
He also described how there had been ‘a lot of political opposition’ as he and scientists spoke of case numbers rising and the hospitalisations and deaths that would follow if action wasn’t taken last year.
The scientist’s comments come after he resigned from the government’s scientific advisory group (SAGE) last year after claims emerged that Antonia Staats, who was reported to be his lover, visited him at home – in breach of lockdown rules.
Mr Seely said: ‘Thanks to some questionable modelling, poorly presented and often misrepresented I think it is true to say that never before has so much harm been done to so many by so few based on so little, questionable, potentially flawed data.
‘I believe the use of data is pretty much getting up there for national scandal.
‘This is not just the fault of the modellers but it’s how their work was interpreted by public health officials, by the media and yes, by politicians and sadly by Government too.
‘Modelling and forecasts were the ammunition that drove lockdown and created a climate of manipulated fear.
‘I believe that creation of fear was pretty despicable and pretty unforgivable.’
He said Professor Ferguson’s models back in 2001 — which have since been harshly criticised by other experts — led to millions of animals being unnecessarily slaughtered because of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Britain.
The second stage of the ‘scandal’, he said, was Ferguson’s intervention prior to the March 23 lockdown in 2020.
Ferguson’s modelling team released a paper on March 16 claiming Covid deaths would reach 500,000 a day if restrictions were not implemented.
Imperial later released studies suggesting lockdown had saved hundreds of thousands of lives, which amounted to ‘marking their own homework’, Mr Steely said.
He cited experts in Sweden who described the modelling as ‘almost hysterical’.
And the third stage came this winter when Ferguson’s team, along with modellers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University of Warwick, predicted further thousands of deaths and NHS collapse because of the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, Mr Baker said Professor Ferguson’s death projections ‘disgracefully’ bounced Mr Johnson into a lockdown.
He said: ‘This is no way to do policy, but the reason someone — we won’t speculate who — bounced the Prime Minister is because they’d been shown those terrifying death projections.
‘They couldn’t possibly be tolerated [but] they were wrong.’
But Mr O’Hara stoked tensions in Westminster Hall when he described the Conservative MPs of a ‘libertarian pile-on’.
He said: ‘I will not be participating in the libertarian pile-on led by people who I must say even in these circumstances, in a chamber as small as this, still do not use face coverings.’
Mr O’Hara refused to give way to a rebuttal from Mr Baker, saying: ‘I think the libertarian right have had enough of a kick of the ball in this debate.’
At the end of his speech, Tory MPs shouted ‘shame’, with Sir Edward Leigh forced to tell them to calm down.
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