Matt Hancock knew that Dominic Cummings wanted him fired during the pandemic, the health secretary told MPs.
Appearing before a committee tasked with reviewing the lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis on 10 June, Hancock was asked by Conservative MP Greg Clark whether he knew the former senior aide to Boris Johnson wanted the prime minister to fire him.
Hancock answered: “Yes, because he briefed the newspapers at the time”.
Asked if he objected to this, Hancock replied: “Of course, and I had the prime minister’s wholesome support all the way through”.
Hancock said he had “no idea” why Cummings had a vendetta against him.
“I think the best thing to say about this, and this will be corroborated by lots of people in government, is that the government has operated better in the last six months,” Hancock added, when asked if the public reporting of a possible dismissal impacted his work at the time.
The evidence session with the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee is one of several Hancock and other leading government figures are set to appear at as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the UK’s Covid-19 response.
In November 2020, Cummings, who masterminded the Vote Leave campaign during the country’s referendum to leave the European Union in 2016, resigned from his position at No 10.
The former adviser made headlines at the beginning of the pandemic when it was revealed he had driven from London to Durham with his family while suffering from Covid-19 symptoms during the first nationwide lockdown. At that time, travel across the country was banned and the news of Cumming’s trip sparked calls for his resignation, which Johnson did not agree to.
During a colourful, seven-hour long evidence session, Cummings told MPs on 26 May that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was urged by cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill to tell the public to hold “chicken pox parties” to catch Covid-19 and help the country reach herd immunity.
The former aide also said the government response was ineffective as it was not often clear who was in charge of the government’s response to the crisis.
During his 10 June evidence session, Hancock denied ever lying to Johnson during the crisis – one of the allegations made by Cummings. The health secretary added that it was “telling” that Cummings had not been able to provide evidence to back up his claims.
On 27 May, Hancock told the House of Commons that Cummings’ dishonesty allegations were “not true” and “unsubstantiated”.
“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout,” he told MPs.
As of 9 June, there were 7,540 new cases of Covid-19 in the UK, with six deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
A total of 40.7 million first doses of the vaccine have been distributed and 28.5 million people in the UK are fully vaccinated, according to government data from 8 June.
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