Matt Hancock denies lying to Boris Johnson as MPs grill him about pandemic

The Health Secretary is being questioned about his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has denied lying to Boris Johnson at any point during the pandemic, telling MPs he has always been driven by an approach of “honesty and integrity”.

The Health Secretary was questioned over allegations made by the Prime Minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings to the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.

Asked by science committee chairman Greg Clark if he ever said anything to the Prime Minister he knew was untrue, Mr Hancock replied: “No.”

He said he has always answered “questions both in public and in private to the best of my ability”.

Answering questions on topics ranging from personal protective equipment (PPE) to testing and vaccines, Mr Hancock told the committee he had “no idea” at the time that Mr Cummings was against his testing target, but had since become aware the aide had wanted him fired.

He struck back at Mr Cummings, saying that the Government “has operated better in the past six months” since the controversial aide left Downing Street.

The Health Secretary said he has “no idea” why Mr Cummings had a dispute with him.

Asked if he knew the ex-aide wanted him to be fired, Mr Hancock told MPs: “Yes, because he briefed the newspapers at the time. Or somebody briefed the newspapers, I now have a better idea who that was.”

He added: “I think the best thing to say about this, and this will be corroborated by lots of people in Government, the best thing to say, is that Government has operated better in the past six months.”

Mr Hancock told MPs he had “no idea at the time that there were others who were not as supportive as I might have hoped” regarding his 100,000 tests a day a target, adding he was a “bit surprised” by Mr Cummings’ testimony on that point.

Mr Cummings told the committee that Mr Hancock’s public promise to deliver 100,000 tests a day by the end of April 2020 was “incredibly stupid” because it was already an internal goal and meant “the whole of April was hugely disrupted by different parts of Whitehall fundamentally trying to operate in different ways completely because Hancock wanted to be able to go on TV and say ‘look at me and my 100k target’.”

Mr Hancock told MPs the Prime Minister had always been behind that particular target.

Regarding Mr Cummings’s claims that he told Mr Johnson in March 2020 that people being discharged to care homes would be tested, Mr Hancock said: “We set out a policy that people would be tested when tests were available, then I set about building the testing capacity for us to be able to deliver on that.”

Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in the UK
(PA Graphics)

He said the “challenge was not just that we didn’t have the testing capacity” but there were concerns that people would be falsely told they did not have the disease.

“At the same time, the clinicians were worried that, because it took four days to turn a test around, that if they leave somebody in hospital for those four days they might catch Covid and therefore go back to a care home with a negative result but having caught it,” he added.

The Health Secretary said it was “telling” that Dominic Cummings had not produced any evidence to back up his allegations against him.

“Throughout this I have got out of bed every morning with the view and the attitude that my job is to do everything I could to save lives and get this country out of the pandemic,” he said.

“I approached that with a mission-driven determination to make it happen. I tried to do that with an approach of honesty and integrity and critically answering questions both in public and in private to the best of my ability.”

Earlier, Mr Clark said the committee had not received any written evidence from Mr Cummings to back up his claims or any explanation as to why it had not been provided.

Mr Hancock also told MPs he did not ever say personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages were the fault of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak or NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens, and did not accuse them of blocking approvals, as suggested by Mr Cummings.

On why testing was not ramped up earlier in the pandemic, Mr Hancock said he had been “driving the system to drive up testing capacity” in January 2020 but, while Public Health England’s advice was good regarding the science, “there was simply not the experience to drive up the capacity”.

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