Boris Johnson continues to have “full confidence” in Matt Hancock as health secretary, despite leaked text messages in which he apparently branded him “totally f*****g hopeless”, Downing Street has said.
The private WhatsApp messages were published by former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings in an explosive blogpost in which he again accused the health secretary of lying over his handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
Downing Street today refused to confirm or deny the veracity of the screengrabbed messages, saying that they were “not going to engage with individual allegations”.
But Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said the PM continued to have “full confidence” in Mr Hancock as health secretary.
And in an apparent sign that Mr Hancock will keep his job, the spokesperson added: “The prime minister has worked very closely with the health secretary throughout and will continue to do so.”
Mr Johnson was confronted over the Cummings statement by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons.
But he did not respond to Mr Blackford’s demand for him to “clarify whether or not those (WhatsApp messages) are genuine and whether the derogatory comments he expressed on his health secretary are valid or not”.
WhatsApp messages published by Mr Cummings suggest that Mr Johnson’s criticism of Hancock came at 12.15am on 27 March, just minutes before the PM was told he had tested positive for coronavirus.
It followed a message from the adviser at 11.39pm telling the PM that the US was testing 100,000 people a day while the UK remained stuck on 5-7,000, and that Mr Hancock was now saying he was now “sceptical” about reaching 10,000 daily tests by Monday, having previously said the target would “definitely” be hit.
Mr Johnson’s reply was a curt three words: “Totally f*****g hopeless.” (Asterisks added by The Independent.)
The message log shows a series of missed calls from Johnson around half past midnight, which Cummings said were the PM attempting to tell him about the diagnosis while he was unable to locate his mobile phone.
A further exchange on 27 March shows Cummings complaining that offers of ventilators had been turned down because “the price has been marked up”, prompting the response from Johnson: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
Mr Cummings alleged that the health secretary’s behaviour during the early months of the pandemic folllowed a pattern: Mr Cummings said his exasperation was driven by Mr Hancock following a familiar pattern: “Big talk in front of the PM, brief nonsense to the media, fail to deliver, and the rest of the system’s planning disrupted because nobody could rely on what he said in the Cabinet room because he would say anything he thought would get him through the meeting.”
Asked about the comments, Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “I don’t plan to engage with every allegation made. The prime minister has set out that he will hold a public inquiry next year, the health secretary has given hours of evidence to the parliamentary committee and I’ve taken a number of questions on this issue previously.
“Our focus is on recovering from the pandemic, moving through the roadmap, distributing vaccines and delivering on the public’s priorities.”
The spokesperson declined to say whether Downing Street was taking legal advice over the blogpost.
Asked whether Mr Johnson wanted Mr Cummings to stop publishing the messages, the spokesperson said: “It’s a matter for the individual concerned.”
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