Matt Hancock says he's 'been straight' with people throughout the pandemic
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has rejected claims by Dominic Cummings that he lied, telling the Commons he has "been straight with people in public and private" throughout the pandemic.
Hancock faced an urgent parliamentary question from Labour's shadow health spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth, following Cummings' appearance before MPs yesterday.
Addressing MPs, the health secretary said: "These allegations that were put yesterday and repeated by the Rt. Hon Gentleman are serious allegations and I welcome the opportunity to come to the House to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true, and that I've been straight with people in public and in private throughout.
"Every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I've got up each morning and asked what I must do to protect life. That is the job of a health secretary in a pandemic.
"We've taken an approach of openness, transparency and an explanation of what we know and what we don't know. Since last January, I have attended this House over 60 times. With the Prime Minister, we have together hosted 84 press conferences. I've answered 2,667 contributions to this House, and answered questions from colleagues, media and the public."
He added: "What matters remains the same - getting vaccinated, getting tested, delivering for our country, overcoming this disease and saving lives. And that is what matters to the British people."
In response to a question from former health secretary Jeremy Hunt about the spread of the Indian variant, Hancock said: "It is true that the Indian variant is spreading across the country. My assessment is that it is too early now to say yet whether we can take the full step forward on the 21st of June. We'll only do that if it's safe."
Appearing before a Commons committee yesterday, the Prime Minister's former adviser said Hancock had "performed far, far, disastrously below the standards that the country has a right to expect".
Cummings said the health secretary should have been fired "for at least 15-20 things," including lying on "multiple occasions".
Hancock will face MPs this morning to answer an urgent question tabled by Labour and is expected to take charge of the government's coronavirus press conference later.
Cummings yesterday claimed that he, then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, and other senior government officials advised the Prime Minister to sack Hancock.
He alleged that Sedwill, who stepped down from his former role in September, said he had "lost confidence" in Hancock's honesty after a meeting about the government's PPE supplies early in the pandemic in which he refused to accept responsibility for shortages in hospitals.
Cummings told MPs: “Just before the Prime Minister and I were diagnosed with having Covid ourselves, the Secretary of State for Health told us in the Cabinet Room ‘everything is fine on PPE, we've got it all covered, etc, etc’.
“When I came back, almost the first meeting I had in the Cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how actually hospitals all over the country were running out.
“The Secretary of State said in that meeting ‘this is the fault of [NHS chief] Simon Stevens, it's the fault of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it's not my fault, they blocked approvals on all sorts of things’.
“I said to the Cabinet Secretary, please investigate this and find out if it's true, the Cabinet Secretary came back to me and said ‘it's completely untrue, I have lost confidence in the Secretary of State's honesty in these meetings’.”