'I told PM to fire him 15 to 20 times': Hancock repeatedly lied about COVID, Cummings claims

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Watch: Cummings 'told PM to fire Matt Hancock 15-20 times'

Matt Hancock repeatedly lied during the coronavirus pandemic and should have been sacked as health secretary, Dominic Cummings has claimed.

The former adviser to the prime minister said Hancock should have been fired for "at least 15 to 20 things", and that prime minister Boris Johnson came close to sacking him.

Cummings was giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday about the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a blistering personal attack on the health secretary, Cummings accused Hancock of lying to his cabinet colleagues.

Cummings said: “Like in much of the government system, there were many brilliant people at relatively junior and middle levels who were terribly let down by senior leadership.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Wednesday May 19, 2021.
Health secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked, says Dominic Cummings. (PA)

“I think the secretary of state for health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the cabinet room and publicly.

“There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the secretary of state for health is certainly one of those people.

“I said repeatedly to the prime minister that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people." 

Later in his evidence, he said Johnson had considered firing Hancock.

Cummings said: “He came close to removing him in April but fundamentally wouldn’t do it.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman refused to deny that Johnson had considered sacking Hancock.

The spokesman said: “I don’t plan to get into every allegation or claim made today.

“At all times the prime minister and the health and care secretary have been working closely to protect public health during the pandemic, that’s been the case throughout and continues to be so.”

Johnson has categorically denied being told that by the cabinet secretary after being quizzed about it during PMQs. 

Asked to back up his claims that Hancock lied, Cummings said: “There are numerous examples. In the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required.

“He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”

Cummings said Hancock tried to blame personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages on Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, and chancellor Rishi Sunak.

He also said Hancock was “completely wrong” when he said, on 15 March 2020, that herd immunity was not part of the government’s COVID-19 plan.

A spokesman for the health secretary released a statement after Cummings accused him of lying on numerous occasions, which read: “At all times throughout this pandemic the secretary of state for health and social care and everyone in DHSC has worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances to protect the NHS and save lives.

“We absolutely reject Mr Cummings’ claims about the health secretary.

“The health secretary will continue to work closely with the prime minister to deliver the vaccine rollout, tackle the risks posed by variants and support the NHS and social care sector to recover from this pandemic.”

On Wednesday, Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference to provide an update on the government’s ongoing response to the pandemic.

What about herd immunity? 

During his evidence to MPs, Cummings spoke at length about the government's ill-fated planning around an assumption the virus would inevitability sweep through the population until herd immunity had been achieved.

He said this was critical in delaying the imposition of lockdown measures and remains "baffled" as to why the government has consistently denied herd immunity was a central part of its planning.

“That was the plan. I’m completely baffled as to why Number 10 has tried to deny that because that was the official plan,” said Cummings.

On 15 March 2020, Hancock wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “We have a plan, based on the expertise of world-leading scientists. 

“Herd immunity is not a part of it. That is a scientific concept, not a goal or a strategy.”

Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to a joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees on the subject of Coronavirus: lessons learnt. Picture date: Wednesday May 26, 2021.
Dominic Cummings was giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday. (PA)

Cummings continued in his evidence: “It’s not that people were thinking this is a good thing and we actively want it, it’s that it’s a complete inevitability and the only real question it’s one of timing.

“It’s either one of herd immunity by September or it’s herd immunity by January after a second peak. That was the assumption up until Friday, 13 March.”

In one of his recent tweets, Cummings wrote: “Herd immunity wasn't 'a secret strategy', it was THE OFFICIAL PUBLIC EXPLAINED ON TV/RADIO STRATEGY!"

On Sunday, home secretary Priti Patel insisted herd immunity had “absolutely not” been the original COVID plan.

But in March 2020, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said communities becoming immune to coronavirus was “going to be an important part of controlling this longer term”.

It isn’t the first time Cummings has used a Commons committee hearing to attack Hancock.

In March, when he appeared before the science and technology committee, he said the UK’s vaccine rollout plan was taken away from Hancock’s “smoking ruin” the Department of Health.

Cummings said the department “had a total disaster” in how it procures PPE.

Watch: Cummings says Hancock 'completely wrong' about herd immunity plan