Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been trying to defend himself against claims by former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings that he should have been sacked for dishonesty and incompetence in the early weeks of the Covid-19 crisis.
It isn’t going well!
Cummings said he called for Matt Hancock to be sacked “almost every day” due to alleged “criminal” behaviour but claimed Boris Johnson was advised to retain the health secretary because “he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along”.
He said Hancock should have been fired for “at least 15 to 20 things – including lying to everybody on multiple occasions”.
And he implied that Hancock should face charges of corporate manslaughter for allowing unnecessary deaths.
Cummings accused Hancock of being obsessed with meeting a “stupid” target he set himself to offer 100,000 Covid tests a day and of diverting officials’ attention away from the task Cummings had set them to build a test-and-trace scheme from scratch capable of processing 1m tests a day.
Recalling a major battle in Whitehall, Cummings said he had to call around and tell people “do not do what Hancock says, build the thing properly for the medium-term”. Meanwhile Hancock was telling them to “down tools on this” and “hold tests back so that I can hit my target” in order for him to crow about his success in TV interviews.
Cummings also said he warned the prime minister in February and March that if Hancock was not fired, “we are going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe”.
Turning to the times Cummings said Hancock lied, he recalled that the health secretary blamed Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, for a shortage of personal protective equipment, claiming they had “blocked approvals”. Cummings said he asked Sedwill to investigate to find out if that was correct, and that Sedwill later told him it was “completely untrue”, meaning he had “lost confidence in the secretary of state’s honesty in these meetings”.
Asked if he made a note of Sedwill’s findings, Cummings said yes and promised to supply proof to the two committees quizzing him.
He said there were numerous other examples, also citing Hancock claiming over the summer that “everyone who needed treatment got the treatment they required”.
Cummings claimed: “He knew that was a lie because he’d been briefed by the chief scientific adviser [Sir Patrick Vallance] and the chief medical officer [Prof Chis Whitty] himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved. Many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”
It seems Tory MPs leapt to Hancock’s defence, even though it is unlikely they knew any of the facts:
I have just caught up with news. Do you know what is disgusting, that Tory MPs are closing ranks on today 's account defending Matt Hancock's conduct. It's sickening. Heads must roll. People could still be alive today if it wasn't for this Govt.
— Cath #Standup 💙💔 💚🐝 (@dem_cath) May 26, 2021
Are there any more pathetic, amoral, biddable, say-what-they’re-told-to-say people than the current intake of Tory MPs?
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) May 26, 2021
Hancock himself said he didn’t watch Cummings’ testimony because he was busy “saving lives” – attracting a huge amount of ridicule, of which the following is just a part.
That’s a weird time for him to suddenly decide that’s a good idea. https://t.co/HXDJbEI4uE
— Jonathan Pie (@JonathanPieNews) May 27, 2021
… by having an afternoon nap. https://t.co/cVGIqBh7ar
— Russ Jones (@RussInCheshire) May 26, 2021
We know some of the facts:
Matt Hancock allowed patients to be sent back to care homes without being tested for Covid, thus infecting not only other care home patients but also their carers. Some if not many of those who were infected died.
At what point do the police open an investigation into this?
— Jon Jones (@JonJonesSnr) May 26, 2021
Fact-checking by The Guardian states that Dominic Cummings’ claim – that Matt Hancock had said a protective shield would be put around care homes but that this was nonsense – was true.
Journalists shouldn't let the government get away with the lie that "we did our best given what we knew at the time".
We've one of the world's worst death tolls because they didn't do what was possible.
We told them to follow a Zero Covid plan like in East Asia. They refused.
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) May 27, 2021
Responding to MPs’ questions in the House of Commons today, Hancock started by saying the government had met every goal it had set. This is clearly nonsense.
Did the government reach its goal of testing 100,000 people a week by May 1? No – and Hancock lied about it. This Site reported the facts at the time.
Other lies included the claim that Covid-19 vaccines only won swift approval in the UK because the UK is no longer part of the European Union. In fact, the approvals were granted according to EU rules. This Site reported the facts at the time.
He lied that suicides had decreased during the pandemic. This Site reported the facts at the time.
And as late as February this year, he lied that there had never been a national shortage of personal protective equipment. Again, This Site reported the facts at the time.
So his evidence to the Commons didn’t get off to a good start: consciously lying to Parliament is a sacking offence.
He said the government had been straight with MPs and the people. Judging from the evidence above, this is clearly another lie.
He said scientific developments had been followed by ministers – but this is another lie. Boris Johnson admitted lying about “following the science” in February.
He has dodged questions about the “test and trace” fiasco. The government launched a privatised scheme and threw £37 billion at it. Nearly a year later, it still doesn’t work.
He has been asked why there was no national plan for the pandemic, and said that the government has been learning how to respond by dealing with Covid-19. This is dissembling. The Tories do have a national plan for dealing with a pandemic emergency – but it was last updated in 2011 and was hopelessly out-of-date when Covid hit the UK.
This appearance has been a tissue of lies and evasions which even the most cursory fact-check can tear apart with ease.
Hancock was clearly trying to hide the fact that he has failed to handle the Covid-19 crisis with anything like the competence expected of a government minister.
He was also trying to hide the fact that he has lied to Parliament and to the nation on dozens of occasions – by lying yet again.
He has to go. More to the point, the prime minister who protected him has to go as well. When will Boris Johnson face a similar interrogation?
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Whatever you think of Cummins there is a lot of truth in this report.