Awkward moment Jess Phillips tears into Matt Hancock on TV over 'COVID contracts for mates’

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·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
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Watch: Matt Hancock squirms as Jess Phillips grills him over PPE contracts given to his friends

Matt Hancock looked visibly uncomfortable as he was grilled by a senior Labour MP on ITV's Peston over accusations of handing out multimillion pound personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts to his friends. 

The former health secretary had a fiery exchange with Labour MP Jess Phillips on the show, his first broadcast appearance since being forced to resign from cabinet after breaking COVID regulations. 

Hancock appeared to squirm as Phillips questioned him on why Conservative donors were handed lucrative contracts over British manufacturers that already did make the items.

Questions have been repeatedly raised about Hancock’s involvement in helping his friend and West Suffolk constituent Alex Bourne – the former landlord of his local pub – to obtain a multimillion-pound contract to supply test tubes for NHS COVID testing.

Labour has accused the Tories of dishing out vast contracts to party donors, some of whom were not qualified to deliver the equipment they promised.

Phillips said: "I watched lorries take personal protective equipment out of my constituency [to Italy] while my care homes were ringing me and asking me if they could go to the local school to borrow goggles.

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Hancock responded: "The fact that it was hard to get PPE is absolutely right, because the whole world was trying to get it.

"And on those that got the contracts there were donors to the Labour party who got those contracts too."

Phillips rebuffed his claims, and said it had been impossible to get through to special helplines set up by the government for PPE. 

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The former health secretary appeared deeply uncomfortable while being grilled by the shadow domestic violence minister. (Peston/ITV)

"We were trying to get that stuff — the owner of the company, in my constituency, was trying to get it into the government," she said. 

"I had endless phone calls, we were having those phone calls with the Cabinet Office.

"It's funny, because they were already a provider. However, some people's friends who weren't providers, somehow managed to get through the line."

Hancock resigned as health secretary after leaked CCTV showed the MP kissing aide and former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office.

The tense exchange on Peston comes after Hancock clashed with Labour's shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds in parliament on Tuesday.

Dodds accused the government of handing contracts to their friends at the beginning of the pandemic.

Hancock responded that it was a case of “a lot of people working hard to save lives”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the COVID-19 vaccine programme at the Jenner institute in Oxford. Picture date: Wednesday June 2, 2021.
Matt Hancock resigned last year after it emerged he broke COVID-19 restrictions. (PA Images)

Dodds told Hancock to "set the record straight" and over the contract handed to Bourne.

“The Good Law Project has published evidence indicating that a company, Alpha Laboratories, won a contract worth over £40m from the Department of Health and Social Care in December 2020, and that this company appears to have sub-contracted all of the manufacturing of goods to another company, Hinpack Limited, which appears to be run by (Mr Hancock’s) constituent," Dodds told the Commons. 

However, Hancock told the House she should set the record straight claiming that was not what happened. 

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“I have heard this point about this pub landlord and I just want to tell her and the House, and put it formally on the record, and after this I hope the Labour Party will also stop this slur, that the man in question never got nor applied for a contract from the government or the NHS at all," he said. 

“It is a fabrication pushed by the Labour Party. 

"It’s a load of rubbish.”

Watch: Matt Hancock announces awarding of domestic PPE contracts in 2020

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