Health secretary Matt Hancock has denied breaching the government’s 10pm drinking curfew in the House of Commons bar.
The minister’s spokesperson insisted he had broken no rules after the Mail on Sunday quoted a “senior Tory MP” as saying Mr Hancock remained drinking past the deadline imposed on drinkers across the country in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The MP told the newspaper the health secretary had remained in the bar drinking wine until at least 10.25pm last Monday.
While Commons venues are not legally required to close at 10pm because they are classed as "workplace canteens", speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said that bars in parliament must abide by the same rules as English pubs following a backlash over the exception.
The unidentified MP was quoted as saying: “It was extraordinary that at 10.25pm our health secretary – the man who maybe more than Boris himself has lectured the nation about respecting the Covid rules – was knocking back a glass of vino when out in the real world, drinkers and diners had been kicked out of pubs and restaurants across England.”
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “The proposed timeline of events is false and no rules have been broken.
"The secretary of state was in the smoking room prior to the vote that evening. The secretary of state left the smoking room to vote. The vote took place at 9.42pm. The secretary of state then departed the Parliamentary estate to go home."
Fellow Conservative MP Vicky Ford also dismissed the allegation, tweeting: "Matt Hancock left the room when the vote was called which was well before 10 pm and was not there after the vote when I went back to collect my bag (also before 10pm)."
But one person present claimed Mr Hancock had returned to the bar following the vote and ordered a large glass of wine.
“Everyone is panicking and trying to cover for Matt, but I know what I saw and I can tell the time,” said the MP, who added another minister had ordered a bottle of wine at 9.59pm and stayed drinking it with colleagues.
Mr Hancock has also come under pressure to apologise for a “tasteless” joke he made in the bar about the UK’s coronavirus failings.
“The drinks are on me – but Public Health England are in charge of the payment methodology so I will not be paying anything,” he reportedly said, in reference to a data error which lost nearly 16,000 positive coronavirus test results for more than a week. The health secretary had answered questions about the failure in parliament hours earlier.
Mr Hancock’s spokesperson did not deny reports of the joke were acccurate but did not comment on it.
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson called on Mr Hancock to apologise, tweeting: “Disgusted. The man has no shame.”
“If these tasteless remarks are accurate, he must apologise,” she added.
"Thanks to his incompetence, we have a failing test-and-trace system which has left thousands mourning loved ones and millions worrying about their livelihoods as they face yet further lockdown measures.
“Instead of taking responsibility, he's making jokes at their expense and blaming everyone for his incompetence. The British public will not forget.”
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