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Under-fire Matt Hancock to give evidence before Covid inquiry


By PA News

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Matt Hancock is expected to contest accusations made about his performance as health secretary during the pandemic as he appears before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

The ex-minister’s evidence is expected to take up the whole of Thursday’s sitting hours following repeated criticism made against him by a number of other witnesses.

The former Tory MP, who now sits as an independent after losing the party whip for appearing on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity reality TV show, played a key role in the UK’s pandemic response.

But various witnesses have expressed concern about his approach, with the inquiry hearing that the country’s most senior civil servant at the time, Lord Sedwill, wanted Mr Hancock sacked.

Dominic Cummings repeatedly urged the then prime minister Boris Johnson to sack Mr Hancock (James Manning/PA)
Dominic Cummings repeatedly urged the then prime minister Boris Johnson to sack Mr Hancock (James Manning/PA)

The inquiry heard that in one WhatsApp exchange with the permanent secretary at Number 10 Simon Case – who is the current Cabinet Secretary – Lord Sedwill joked it was necessary to remove Mr Hancock to “save lives and protect the NHS”.

Earlier this week, Andy Burnham told the inquiry the former health secretary knew Tier 3 restrictions would not work when he imposed them on Greater Manchester.

The mayor accused the Government of administering a “punishment beating” for the city in late 2020, following an argument over financial support for residents who were unable to work due to the restrictions.

Quoting from written evidence from Mr Hancock, Mr Burnham said: “He says in his evidence about Tier 3, ‘I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.’”

WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry also revealed that former top Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings repeatedly pushed Boris Johnson to fire the former minister.

At one stage, Mr Cummings claimed Mr Hancock had “lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it”.

Helen MacNamara, who served as deputy cabinet secretary, also claimed in her evidence that Mr Hancock displayed “nuclear levels” of overconfidence and a pattern of reassuring colleagues the pandemic was being dealt with in ways that were not true.

Sir Christopher Wormald, a senior civil servant in the Department of Health, suggested it was a “very small number of people” claiming that the minister was “actually telling untruths”.

But he added that there were a lot who thought he was “overoptimistic” and “overpromised” on what could be delivered.

Mr Hancock will have an opportunity to defend himself when he gives evidence.

Mr Johnson and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are both expected to appear before the inquiry before Christmas.

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “Mr Hancock has supported the inquiry throughout and will respond to all questions when he gives his evidence.”

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