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Covid inquiry live: Matt Hancock grilled over affair scandal in awkward exchange

Hancock appears before inquiry again after conceding government should have locked down earlier and denying claims that he is a liar

Matt Hancock questioned over resignation after affair with Gina Coladangelo

Matt Hancock has admitted his affair with aide Gina Coladangelo in breach of his own lockdown rules damaged public confidence, as he gave evidence to the Covid inquiry.

Taking the stand for a second day on Friday, the ex-health secretary suggested that “the lesson for the future is very clear” in that “it is important that those who make the rules abide by them”, adding: “I resigned in order to take accountability for my failure to do that.”

Mr Hancock also defended his decision to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for Covid-19 as “rational and reasonable”, adding: “Nobody has yet brought to me a solution to this problem that I think, even with hindsight, would have resulted in more lives saved.”

The MP claimed on Thursday that a phone call he had with Boris Johnson on 28 February 2020 marked the moment government “really started to come into action”, and claimed that had his own “doctrine” been followed, the first lockdown would have come three weeks earlier – saving 90 per cent of those who died in the first wave.

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That’s the end of our live updates for today – thanks for following here.

We’ll be back next week for two days of bombshell testimony from Boris Johnson.

You can read our latest coverage on Matt Hancock’s hearings by clicking here, or else keep scrolling to catch up on today’s events, as we reported them:

Katy Clifton1 December 2023 18:45
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Opinion | The strange allure of super-dweeb Matt Hancock

In this Independent Voices piece, Rowan Pelling writes:

Matt Hancock is what my schoolfriends and I, aged 17, would have unkindly called a “dweeb”. Maybe even a super-dweeb. What we would have meant by that is he seems gawky, bungling, eager but hopeless, fatally lacking in charisma, wit and social graces. Politics’ very own version of Frank Spencer.

And yet somehow, during lockdown, he managed to attract the undeniably gorgeous Gina Coladangelo to his side – a woman he’d known since his Oxford student days, but who seemed out of his league back then. So, what’s changed? Or to alter the question made famous by Mrs Merton: what was it that first attracted you to cabinet minister Matthew Hancock?

The fact is power works like catnip on many women. Men who wouldn’t have warranted a second glance as an accountant, or even a backbencher, suddenly acquire a sexy sheen when they are promoted to secretary of state, with the sudden ability to hold sway over huge budgets and millions of lives. Even more so, you imagine, when they’re in charge of the nation’s health during a crisis, when they can muster top scientists and logistics people round a table and talk about “saving lives”, “battling the virus” and using language more suited for war.

The strange allure of super-dweeb Matt Hancock | Rowan Pelling

Rowan Pelling is immune to the former health secretary’s charms, but has seen professional women brought to their knees by powerful men – and knows how Westminster is a strong aphrodisiac

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 17:39
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Analysis | Covid inquiry half-time report: the winners and losers so far

The Covid inquiry is supposed to be about delineating what happened during the pandemic, learning lessons, and making findings that can be treated as recommendations. It is independent, and run by senior judge Baroness Hallett, who has been visibly fair in her role. Being statutory, established under the Inquiries Act 2005, and with the chair able to run it as she deems fit, it has no political agenda. It is an investigatory tribunal, and nobody is on trial.

Even so, the reputations of many politicians and civil servants are being tested. The final report, which will focus on institutional and “structural” factors, may still criticise or censure key players. There is a human factor.

Thus far, there have been some notable winners and losers. Matt Hancock, who was health secretary for most of the pandemic, is a case in point. And on Wednesday and Thursday next week, Boris Johnson will offer his testimony…

Our associate editor Sean O’Grady gives his half-time verdict:

Covid inquiry: the winners and losers so far

A back-pedalling Matt Hancock came unstuck (again), the ‘two gentlemen of corona’, Vallance and Whitty, were candid, clear and balanced – but overall the hearings will play badly for the Conservative Party, says Sean O’Grady, as he looks ahead to next week’s appearance by Boris Johnson

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 17:21
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Recap: What did Hancock say in his first day of evidence?

For those who missed yesterday’s evidence, Matt Hancock:

  • Accused Dominic Cummings of creating a “culture of fear”, abusing staff and lying to the inquiry
  • Said the nation should have gone into lockdown on 2 March 2020
  • Kept concerns about Eat Out to Help Out out of the news because he believed in a “team effort”
  • Denied wanting to play God after accusations he wanted to “decide who lived and who died”
  • Admitted he was not reading minutes of Sage meetings until February

Our political correspondents Archie Mitchell and Adam Forrest have more in this report:

Matt Hancock insists he’s not a liar and blames allegations on ‘toxic’ Cummings

Former health secretary labels Boris Johnson’s ex-adviser ‘malign actor’ – and insists ‘many lives’ could have been saved if UK had gone into lockdown earlier

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 16:53
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Watch: Hancock grilled over affair with Gina Coladangelo during lockdown

Matt Hancock grilled over affair with Gina Coladangelo during lockdown
Andy Gregory1 December 2023 16:25
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ICYMI: Matt Hancock admits protective ring around care homes was not ‘unbroken circle’

Matt Hancock has admitted the so-called protective ring he said had been put around care homes early in the coronavirus pandemic was not an unbroken one, as he insisted he understands the strength of feeling people have on the issue.

You can read the full exchange here:

Matt Hancock admits protective ring around care homes was not ‘unbroken circle’

The former health secretary was addressing the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 15:53
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Hancock grilled on aide’s claim that ‘people dying in care homes were often near the end regardless’

WhatsApp messages between Matt Hancock and his media adviser in which the aide said that “the people dying in care homes are often people who were near the end regardless” were revealed at the inquiry (see post at 1:22pm)

Asked if he was aware that care homes were not just home to those “near the end regardless”, but also disabled people living in long-term residential care from a young age, Mr Hancock said: “I absolutely had that at the front of my mind and, before the pandemic, had done significant work in trying to improve outcomes for those who are in adult social care.”

Mr Hancock said the fact his response to the WhatsApp message did not correct his adviser “in no way implies that wasn’t what I was thinking”.

The former health secretary said his aide was “one of the most exceptional public servants”, but added that he was approaching the issue “from a comms angle in terms of what the newspapers might say”.

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 15:36
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Hancock says he would like to double sick pay in UK

Sick pay in the UK “is far too low” and “I’d double it”, Matt Hancock has claimed, after the Trades Union Congress (TUC) asked him about self-isolation payments for people with from Covid-19.

In March 2020, the government made sick pay available from day one rather than day three. But messages at the time from Mr Hancock suggested that, while he was supportive, it only solved half the problem.

Asked what the other half of the problem was, Mr Hancock said: “Well sick pay in this country is far, far too low. It’s far lower than the European average, it encourages people to go to work when they should be getting better.

“Having low sick pay encourages the spread of communicable diseases. Having higher sick pay... would encourage employers to do more to look after the health of their employees.

“Before the pandemic, I’d been on an internal government campaign to significantly increase sick pay. I’d double it if I had a magic wand. So moving from three days to one day of payment was a small step, which obviously was necessary for the pandemic – and I enthusiastically embraced – but I would have gone far, far higher.

“We needed isolation payments from the start. We got them in the end by September. And I pay tribute to the Trades Union Congress for their campaigning on this issue, which helped me get it over the line.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 14:58
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Hancock: I was opposed on lockdown by ‘coordinated group'

Matt Hancock has said he was opposed by a “co-ordinated” group that argued against lockdown in Parliament.

The former health secretary added that the need to maintain “parliamentary consent” was a reason why he thought a circuit breaker proposal was not the best way forward.

Mr Hancock told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry: “Those arguing against lockdown in Parliament were formulating a group - they were co-ordinated, they were campaigning, and this became more of a problem later on.

“And so we needed to keep parliamentary consent and public support. And that was one of the reasons that I thought in practice a circuit breaker proposal wasn’t the best way forward.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 14:26
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ICYMI: Matt Hancock bemoans ‘toxic culture’ at heart of Government

In his first day of evidence yesterday, Matt Hancock defended his record as health secretary, hitting out at a “toxic culture” and “deep unpleasantness” at the heart of Government during the pandemic.

The former minister denied there had been “absence of a plan” and insisted his department “rose to the challenge” of responding to the biggest public health crisis in a century.

You can read more here:

Covid inquiry: Matt Hancock bemoans ‘toxic culture’ at heart of Government

The former miniser denied there had been ‘absence of a plan’ and insisted his department did ‘rise to the challenge’ of the pandemic.

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 14:03

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