Matt Hancock insists he is 'no liar' as he blames 'toxic culture' in No10 for Covid failings

30 November 2023, 17:25

Matt Hancock gave evidence on Thursday.
Matt Hancock gave evidence on Thursday. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Matt Hancock has insisted he is "no liar" as he blamed the "toxic culture" in No10 for Covid failings.

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The former health secretary accused No10 chief adviser Dominic Cummings of creating a "culture of fear", adding that there was a "lack of generosity or empathy in understanding the difficulty of responding to such a challenge".

He said he had to "wake up Whitehall" to the Covid threat and that a lockdown should have been brought in three weeks earlier.

But during the inquiry, Mr Hancock has been accused of being untruthful by several officials.

Inquiry counsel Hugo Keith said a number of witnesses - including Boris Johnson's former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara - had made reference to Mr Hancock "lying", "getting overexcited and just saying stuff" and saying things "which surprise people because they knew the evidence base wasn't there".

Read more: Dominic Cummings was seeking to 'act as the Prime Minister in all but name', Covid inquiry hears

Read more: Michael Gove apologises to bereaved families for government mistakes during Covid

Mr Hancock said: "I was not. You will note that there's no evidence from anybody who I worked with in the department or the health system who supported those false allegations."

He added that "there were general sweeping allegations, which had no evidence whatsoever".

"What there was, was a great deal of hard work on our side and a toxic culture that we had to work with, which seemed to want to find people to blame rather than spend all of their effort solving the problems," Mr Hancock said.

"As I said before, I drove the system hard. Sometimes the people I was trying to push into action didn't think the action was necessary."

Matt Hancock giving evidence at Dorland House in London
Matt Hancock giving evidence at Dorland House in London. Picture: Alamy

Mr Keith pointed out that Mr Cummings had not only accused Mr Hancock of lying, but also expressed that he was unfit for the job of health secretary.

"The fact that the prime minister, his chief adviser, the deputy cabinet secretary, the cabinet secretary, all questioned your candour, and in large part fitness for the job, is a vital issue to any examination of how well the system responded," he said.

Mr Hancock said he would be "very happy to write with an explanation of each and every one" of the allegations.

He added: "The impact of the toxic culture, that essentially was caused by the chief adviser, but that clearly I can now see - not that I knew at the time - others were were brought into, that was unhelpful."

He said "the lesson for the future is systems need to be in place so that if there is a malign actor in No 10" or "people whose behaviour is unprofessional" the "the system needs to be able to work despite that".

Asked if he meant Mr Cummings, he said: "Well, in this case, that was the example but that may be in the future."

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