Peston warns ‘anxious’ Matt Hancock he needs key ally to break silence to save his job

Matt Hancock responds to Dominic Cummings allegations

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The Health Secretary was repeatedly savaged by Mr Cummings, who branded him a “serial liar” who should have been sacked on at least 15 occasions over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking today in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock sought to defend himself, insisting Mr Cummings’ allegations – specifically that government mistakes led to thousands of extra Covid deaths – were “not true”.

It is a stain that Hancock will only be able to wash clean if Sir Mark Sedwill is prepared to call Cummings a liar

Robert Peston

However, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston said the biggest problem Mr Hancock faced was Mr Cummings’ insistence that Sir Mark Sedwill, the former Cabinet Secretary, had been similarly critical.

Mr Peston, in a column published on ITV’s website, wrote: “So the most anxious person in the cabinet today is probably Matt Hancock, accused by Cummings of serial deceit and incompetence.

“It is a stain that Hancock will only be able to wash clean if the former Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, who Cummings cites as a witness, is prepared to call Cummings a liar.

“Sedwill, who is no friend of Cummings, knows that his silence does not make him neutral.”

During his evidence session, Mr Cummings claimed the Prime Minister had been told “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes” from hospital by Mr Hancock – something which did not happen.

It was “complete nonsense” to claim the Government had put a shield around care homes, Mr Cummings claimed.

He said Mr Hancock should have been sacked on 15 to 20 occasions and, sensationally, claimed Sir Mark, Whitehall’s top mandarin at the time, had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty”.

Furthermore, he accused Mr Hancock of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.”

Mr Hancock today insisted: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.

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“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”

He added: “Every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I’ve got up each morning and asked ‘What must I do to protect life?’

“That is the job of the Health Secretary in a pandemic.

“We’ve taken an approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and of what we don’t know.”

Sir Mark, 56, stepped down from his role in September 2020, and was replaced by Simon Case.

In December it was reported that he was joining investment bank Rothschild & Co the following month as a senior adviser.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source with close ties to Westminster who also knows Mr Cummings told Sir Mark, whom he also knows “second-hand”, was now in an awkward position.

The insider explained: “He will assume that what he said in private would have stayed private. That assumption has been proven wrong!

“The big issue for civil servants is now whether they can give honest and private advice or whether this gets quoted on TV some weeks later.

“If the latter, you won’t get good civil servants. Only good press officers.”

Asked whether Sir Mark had been contacted by No 10 to allow him to deny the claims, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “I’m not aware of any communication on that front.”

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