Matt Hancock to tell Covid inquiry he is being made scapegoat by No10 ‘to cover up failings’

The former health secretary’s allies believe he is being used as a ‘dead cat’, with witnesses so far criticising his ‘nuclear levels’ of overconfidence and painting him as a serial liar

Archie Mitchell
Saturday 11 November 2023 10:22 GMT
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Helen MacNamara recalls how Matt Hancock pretended to be cricketer in bizarre exchange

Matt Hancock will tell the Covid inquiry that he is being made a scapegoat by senior No10 officials to distract from the government’s failings during the pandemic.

The former health secretary’s allies believe he is being used as a “dead cat”, with witnesses so far criticising his “nuclear levels” of overconfidence and painting him as a serial liar.

He has so far not responded to repeated attacks on his record, promising only to answer questions when he appears before the inquiry this month.

But an ally of Mr Hancock told The Times: “We knew at the very beginning there was a chance we might be scapegoated for things that had gone wrong, but even I am surprised at how brazen the buck-passing has been by some of the witnesses.”

The former health secretary came under fire on Wednesday as the probe heard Britain’s top civil servant had urged Boris Johnson to sack him during the pandemic “to save lives and protect the NHS”.

Lord Sedwill said that Mr Hancock was ‘so far up BJ’s [Boris Johnson’s] a*** his ankles are brown’.

Former cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill said he made the suggestion as a joke in a WhatsApp message to then-No10 permanent secretary Simon Case.

Mr Hancock’s allies pointed to Lord Sedwill later denying that he had formally told Mr Johnson to sack the health secretary. But Lord Sedwill told the inquiry he left the former PM “under no illusions” about his view on Mr Hancock’s position.

The Covid inquiry on Wednesday was also shown WhatsApp messages between Mr Case and Lord Sedwill, in which the latter said that Mr Hancock was “so far up BJ’s [Boris Johnson’s] a*** his ankles are brown”.

It was the latest day in which the focus turned to Mr Hancock, with previous evidence sessions seeing the former boss of the NHS attack him for wanting to personally “decide who should live or die if the NHS became overwhelmed” during the pandemic.

Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings used the inquiry to attack Mr Hancock as a “proven liar”, a “problem leaker” and a “c***”.

And Helen MacNamara, the former deputy cabinet secretary, claimed Mr Hancock was “regularly” telling people things that they later discovered were not true and that No10 had a “lack of confidence” that what he said were happening “was actually happening”. She added that Mr Hancock displayed “nuclear levels” of overconfidence.

Backers of Mr Hancock have pointed to evidence from former NHS chief Simon Stevens, who said he was “not sure” he had seen evidence to back up claims about Mr Hancock’s dishonesty.

They have also highlighted the Department of Health’s permanent secretary Chris Wormald’s evidence, during which he said he was not aware of Mr Hancock having said anything untrue.

The dead cat strategy, synonymous with former PM Mr Johnson, sees politicians create shock to distract from whatever issue is causing them grief.

Backers of Mr Hancock believe Lord Sedwill used the former health secretary to distract from his own record, including having urged the PM to encourage chickenpox-style parties in the early days of the pandemic to boost immunity levels.

The Hancock ally also told The Times that Mr Johnson and his team repeated the same mistakes they made in the spring when the Department of Health noted action would be needed in summer 2020.

The ally said:“They didn’t want to know until it was too late, and then after the first wave they were in total denial about a second wave.”

They added: “[Chief scientific adviser] Chris Whitty explained it, but they didn’t want to know. From mid-August we could see it was coming but we couldn’t get any focus on the problem.”

A spokesman 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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