A Tory MP has been condemned by Labour and his own party after claiming Covid statistics “appear to have been manipulated.”
Serial lockdown sceptic Sir Desmond Swayne was slammed for his comments in November to the group Save Our Rights UK, which has spread doubts online about the coronavirus vaccine.
He claimed the government was “in thrall” to a “scientific orthodoxy” which has advanced little since the 1920s.
Sir Desmond, a former minister, added: “Yes, there is a risk of the NHS being overwhelmed but that risk has to be set against the certainty of huge economic damage.”
He went on: “It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly given the way the figures appear to have been manipulated.
“We’re told there is a deathly, a deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment.
“That is difficult to reconcile with intensive care units actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.”
Since his comments in November, the UK death toll of people who tested positive in the last 28 days has doubled.
He also told the group to “persist” and said “I’ll persist too”.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner wrote to the Tories last night accusing Sir Desmond of spreading “dangerous misinformation” and saying he “endorsed conspiracy theories about the veracity of the disease”.
Ms Rayner said the “manipulation” claim was “a deeply dangerous claim for which there is absolutely no evidence”.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove today said Sir Desmond was “wrong” and “completely out of order”.
He told Sky Sir Desmond should “retract, withdraw and say sorry” for his claim.
“I would hope he would issue a full and complete retraction and apology for what he said. It’s unacceptable,” he added.
The Tory Chief Whip is speaking to Sir Desmond and will ask him to attend a meeting with scientific advisers.
But the MP still retains the party whip – despite Ms Rayner saying his claims “could have truly devastating consequences.”
Sir Desmond took to Twitter to defend himself after Sky reported he “urged anti-vaccination campaigners to keep going”.
He tweeted: “Sky is wrong. Aside from my question to the PM this afternoon, an examination of my blogs will reveal that I am a most enthusiastic vaccinator.”
But he has repeatedly condemned lockdown measures in the House of Commons despite rising virus rates and deaths.
He has complained wearing a cloth mask is a “monstrous imposition” and said lockdowns are “not working”.
The group he spoke to has shared claims about the vaccine online that are contested by official sources, government advisors and regulators. Last month it claimed there is “no way to make reliable statements” about how effective the vaccine is despite numerous clinical trials and approval by the UK’s regulator.
Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), which has been investigating online misinformation about coronavirus and vaccines, said Sir Desmond’s words had given “legitimacy to crank anti-vaxxers”.
“This MP’s judgment needs to be seriously questioned when, by virtue of association, he lends legitimacy to crank Anti-Vaxxers and peddlers of falsehoods about Covid,” Mr Ahmed said.
“When we wear a mask or get vaccinated, we don’t just protect ourselves, we also protect those we love, the community we spend time in, and in turn help secure our country against coronavirus.
“While Covid continues to kill, turning science into a political football is a Trumpian act of grotesque irresponsibility.”
Responding to Sir Desmond, a spokeswoman for the Tory whips’ office said: “We completely condemn these comments.
“It is on all of us to work together to control the virus to protect the NHS and save lives. People across the country are sacrificing so much to help beat the virus and we thank them for their efforts.”
Tory chairman Amanda Milling said: “We completely condemn these comments.
“While we continue to roll out the vaccine it is on all of us to carry on supporting the national effort to control the virus by staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”