Johnson ‘massive supporter’ of Hancock despite ‘hopeless’ messages – minister
Boris Johnson is a “massive supporter” of Health Secretary Matt Hancock despite criticising him as “hopeless” in messages revealed by Dominic Cummings a Government minister said.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said the Prime Minister is “firmly behind” Mr Hancock following the extraordinary revelation of private WhatsApps from his former chief aide.
No 10 has not disputed the authenticity of the messages from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic but insisted Mr Johnson has full confidence in his Health Secretary.
Mr Cummings published one screenshot in which the Prime Minister described Mr Hancock as “totally f****** hopeless” in an exchange about testing.
In another message about struggles to procure ventilators, Mr Johnson responded: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
Mr Norman began his broadcast round on Thursday by saying he had “no idea” what Mr Johnson thinks about the subject but strengthened his message throughout the morning.
“I think this is some of the biggest nonsense I’ve heard,” he later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The Prime Minister obviously, as anybody would detect, is a massive supporter of the Health Secretary, he’s coming firmly behind him. There can be no question of loss of confidence.”
The minister offered the context to the messages of being “in the middle of the biggest economic and public health catastrophe for a century”.
“What you’re alluding to is a tiny snapshot of one side of the story without any context or without hearing from the other side,” he said.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg also defended Mr Hancock following criticism by his Labour counterpart Thangam Debbonaire.
Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “As regards text messages, there’s a great line from Dr Johnson that in lapidary inscriptions a man is not on oath and I think the same applies to text messages which are essentially the trivia, the flotsam and jetsam, the ephemera of life and fundamentally unimportant.
“The fact the honourable lady finds them so exciting shows how little she has to go on.”
Mr Rees-Mogg later described Mr Hancock as the “brilliant, one and only, successful genius” who has been running the Health Department.
Meanwhile, Downing Street issued a defence of the Prime Minister’s style of chairing crucial Covid-19 meetings following Mr Cumming’s blog post attack on Wednesday.
The former ally suggested Mr Johnson fails to chair meetings properly and instead tells “rambling stories and jokes” and – when under pressure – shouts “forward to victory”, does a thumbs-up and swiftly departs the room before anyone can disagree with him.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “That’s not true. The Prime Minister works with the whole Cabinet very effectively and that’s been demonstrated to our response to the pandemic with the vaccine rollout.”
Previously, Downing Street declined to reject most of the allegations in the blog post by Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street in November during a power struggle.
But the spokesman did reply “yes” when asked by journalists in a Westminster briefing if Mr Johnson maintains full confidence in the Health Secretary.
The spokesman did not deny the WhatsApp exchanges are genuine and instead said: “Our focus is not examining those specific images but delivering on the public’s priorities.
“I don’t plan to get into the detail of what’s been published.”