Matt Hancock, health secretary, has rejected as “not true” claims by Dominic Cummings, the former Number 10 adviser, that he lied on numerous occasions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cummings said on Wednesday that Hancock should have been sacked on at least 15 separate occasions and that he lied on issues including the measures put in place to protect care home residents from the virus.
The former adviser claimed that Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary, had told Boris Johnson that he “no longer had confidence in the honesty of the secretary of state”.
But answering questions in the House of Commons, Hancock said: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.” He added: “I’ve been straight with people in public and private throughout.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said on Thursday he disagreed with Cummings’ claim that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily because of the government’s stumbling response to the pandemic.
Asked on a visit to a hospital if he agreed with Cummings’ allegation, Johnson said: “No, I don’t think so, but of course this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we’ve taken lightly.”
On Cummings’ assessment that he was “unfit for the job”, the prime minister replied. “Some of the commentary I’ve heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.”
Hancock was the target of especially fierce criticism from Cummings during seven hours of evidence to a joint hearing of the Commons health and science committees, which is trying to draw lessons from the crisis.
The health secretary, answering an urgent question in the Commons, did not rebut each of Cummings’ allegations, instead insisting that he had been “straight” with colleagues and the public throughout.
He said the government had faced “unprecedented difficulties that come with preparations for an unprecedented event”.
Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Commons health committee, offered some support for Hancock, saying he was waiting to see evidence from Cummings to back up his claims.
“Until that evidence is provided these allegations should be treated as unproven,” Hunt said.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour health spokesman, said either Cummings’ allegations were true — in which case Hancock had lied and breached the ministerial code — or Johnson had employed a “fantasist” as his chief adviser.
Ashworth said Cummings claim that Hancock allowed people to go from hospital into care homes without being tested for Covid-19 — in spite of alleged assurances to the contrary — was especially serious. “The truth matters,” he said.