According to The Sun, Johnson told Conservatives: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.”
Unsurprisingly, he hastily sought to backtrack. The Sun also reports that Johnson told MPs that he “[regretted] saying it” and repeatedly asked colleagues to “forget I said that”.
The comments came on the same day that the country marked one year since the first lockdown in response to the pandemic, and the more than 126,000 people who have since lost their lives to the virus.
Speaking at Tuesday’s coronavirus press conference, Johnson said there were “many things” his Government would have done differently to tackle the crisis, while Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said the UK’s performance represents a “bad outcome” on an international level.
There was, of course, plenty of response to the comments. Nick Dearden, director of the Global Justice Now campaign, which is campaigning for wider international access to jabs, said: “The Prime Minister will call this comment a slip of the tongue, but it’s an incredibly revealing remark.
“It shows just how warped his understanding of this crisis is. We have a vaccine because of massive public investment and the remarkable work of scientists at publicly-funded universities. We’ve rolled it out because of our incredible National Health Service.
“Greed, however, drove big pharma to privatise this work and withhold doses from millions worldwide to protect their profits.”
Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester and former health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Celebrating ‘greed’ in a pandemic? Same old Tories.”
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said: “It’s in the throwaway comments that the PM reveals himself. Greed will destroy us.”
Johnson’s comments have also faced heavy criticism online, with people describing his comments as “wrong” and “disgusting”:
The comments also risk inflaming a row with the European Commission over access to vaccines, with the organisation’s president Ursula von der Leyen threatening a ban on exports of jabs to the UK because it is angry that AstraZeneca has not supplied the doses expected for the bloc.
Watch this space...