British health secretary Matt Hancock has said he never lied to Boris Johnson and defended himself against a slew of allegations made by Dominic Cummings about his handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying it was “telling” the prime minister’s former aide had not provided evidence.
At a parliamentary committee hearing into the British government’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Hancock barely mentioned Mr Cummings by name but made a series of veiled digs at his conduct in government.
He denied there had been national shortages of PPE and a defended his target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day early in the pandemic, which Mr Cummings claimed had caused delay to a more badly-needed test-and-trace system.
Mr Hancock also defended the government’s actions in the run-up to the November lockdown, a time when according to Mr Cummings – who gave evidence to the inquiry last month – Mr Johnson was forcefully against another lockdown. Mr Hancock said the spread of the virus had been far more regional at that stage, in contrast to the initial wave across the country.
“Decisions are made through discussion,” he said. “Of course, people have a tendency for one side of the argument or the other at times, but actually at the moment everybody is very aligned.”
Despite verbal assurances, Mr Cummings did not provide written evidence for a number of serious allegations against Mr Hancock and others, including Mr Johnson, according to the committee’s co-chairman Greg Clark, who said the allegations should be “counted as unproven without it”.
Mr Hancock said it was “telling that no evidence has been provided” about some of the claims Mr Cummings made. “I can be quite forceful when I’m trying to get something through if it needs to happen,” he said. “But that’s what you have to do, and crucially, you have to bring the team with you.”
The health secretary said he had “no idea” why Mr Cummings held such a negative view of him, but said he knew the former aide had wanted the prime minister to fire him, adding that “he briefed the newspapers at the time”.
“The best thing to say about this, and this will be corroborated by lots of people in government, is that government has operated better over the past six months,” he said, in reference to Mr Cummings’s departure.
“Trust across the UK in the measures that the government have taken has increased significantly. I’ve noticed as secretary of state that it is now more efficient, more effective, there’s better communication inside of government, there’s better sense of teamwork, and that is so important in a pandemic, and the public have undoubtedly noticed this improvement.”
Questioned as part of the joint inquiry by the House of Commons science and health committees on May 26th, Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock should have been fired for “at least 15 to 20 things – including lying to everybody on multiple occasions”.
Asked by Mr Clark if he had ever said anything to the prime minister that he knew to be untrue, Mr Hancock replied: “No.”
In another veiled dig at Mr Cummings, Mr Hancock said he had always worked collegiately and transparently. “I know that I can face the mirror each morning and despite my deep regret about the deaths that have occurred, I know that I did that with the right motive and being straight with people throughout.”
Mr Hancock said getting hold of PPE was a huge challenge but there was “never a national shortage” and the government had worked to remove bureaucracy that put a limit on the price of PPE, so it could pay “at the top of the market” for protective equipment.
He also denied claims he had assured Mr Johnson that all patients would be tested before they returned to care homes. “My job was to build that testing capacity and with the team we absolutely did,” he said. – Guardian