Minister risks inflaming Hancock v Cummings row as he sits on the fence


A minister risked inflaming the Matt Hancock row today by insisting he had ‘no idea’ whether Boris Johnson thinks the health secretary is ‘hopeless’. 

Jesse Norman appeared unwilling to take sides after the extraordinary spat was triggered by Dominic Cummings revealing private WhatsApp messages from the PM. 

They included brutal assessments by Mr Johnson at the height of the pandemic in March and April last year – repeatedly branding Mr Hancock ‘hopeless’ over PPE and testing and suggesting Michael Gove would have to take over. 

Downing Street has declined to deny that the messages are genuine, with the PM’s spokesman merely insisting he has full confidence in Mr Hancock. 

Mr Hancock tried to shrug off the storm yesterday by saying he ‘doesn’t think’ he is ‘f****** hopeless’.

Asked in a round of interviews this morning if Mr Johnson regarded Mr Hancock as hopeless, Mr Norman said: ‘I have no idea what the Prime Minister thinks about these matters.

‘I can tell you what we’ve been presented with is one side of a snapshot of a conversation, I have no idea if it’s true or false, in the middle of the worst economic, social and public health crisis we’ve had for 100 years.

‘So would it be surprising if the odd snapshot portrayed in a certain light gave a certain view to people?’

Pressed on told Sky News Mr Norman said: ‘It’s a perfectly reasonable question. I have no idea, he hasn’t consulted me on the matter.’

Mr Norman eventually ventured that he had the ‘impression’ Mr Johnson thought his Cabinet minister was doing a ‘good job’.

‘He gives me the impression of thinking that the Health Secretary is doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances and rightly so,’ he said.

Matt Hancock

The extraordinary spat was triggered by Dominic Cummings (left) revealing private WhatsApp messages from the PM about Matt Hancock (right)

Jesse Norman appeared unwilling to take sides today saying he had 'no idea' whether the PM thought Mr Hancock was 'useless'

Jesse Norman appeared unwilling to take sides today saying he had ‘no idea’ whether the PM thought Mr Hancock was ‘useless’

In an exchange with Boris Johnson from March 27 last year Dominic Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing

In an exchange with Boris Johnson from March 27 last year Dominic Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing

Mr Cummings gave a brutal assessment of the performance of the government during an exchange of messages in April 2020

Mr Cummings gave a brutal assessment of the performance of the government during an exchange of messages in April 2020

On April 27, Mr Johnson apparently messaged Mr Cummings to say that PPE was a 'disaster'

On April 27, Mr Johnson apparently messaged Mr Cummings to say that PPE was a ‘disaster’

In one exchange from March 27 last year, Mr Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing. Mr Johnson replied: ‘Totally f****** hopeless.’ He then tried to call his senior aide three times without managing to get through.

The key claims made by Dominic Cummings about Matt Hancock and the Government’s Covid response in his latest salvo

Dominic Cummings comes back from a run after tweeting about Matt Hancock today

Dominic Cummings comes back from a run after tweeting about Matt Hancock today

Boris Johnson’s former top aide has made a series of fresh claims about Matt Hancock and the Government’s pandemic response in a lengthy blogpost.  

PM labelled Hancock ‘totally f****** hopeless’ over testing

Mr Cummings said that in a morning meeting on March 24 last year he had quizzed Mr Hancock on the ramping up of testing capacity and was told by the Health Secretary that capacity would hit 10,000 a day by March 30.

Mr Cummings said he then texted Mr Johnson at 23.39 on March 26, minutes before the PM tested positive for coronavirus, after he was made aware of information showing the ‘testing plans were a shambles’ and ‘Hancock had misled us all again’.

Mr Cummings sent a WhatsApp message to the PM: ‘US has gone from 2200 tests a fortnight ago to 27,000 a week ago to 100k yesterday. This is what we said we shd do. Instead we are still stuck on about 5-7k and MH saying today he’s ‘sceptical’ about getting to 10k by Monday which he said wd ‘definitely’ happen on Tuesday. This means tens of 1000s of NHS staff aren’t at work over next critical 3 weeks – apart from my earlier point re resting being integral to escape plan…’

Mr Johnson apparently replied: ‘Totally f****** hopeless.’

Ministers ‘threatened to stop coming to meetings with Hancock’

Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of ‘misleading’ ministers and officials over efforts to ramp up testing capacity.

He said the Health Secretary had ‘wrongly sought to blame others for delays’.

Mr Cummings said this was a ‘recurrent pattern’ with Mr Hancock and in April it ‘got so bad some ministers threatened to stop attending meetings until Hancock was fired’.

PM said Hancock was ‘hopeless’ on ventilator procurement

The PM’s former aide said in today’s blogpost that ‘everything to do with Hancock and procurement was a disaster’.

He said there had been a ‘nightmare’ on ventilator procurement because of the Health Secretary.

He said that officials said at a meeting on March 27 that the Department of Health had turned down ventilator offers – despite the UK suffering a shortage – because the prices had gone up.

Mr Cummings messaged Mr Johnson: ‘They’ve totally f***** up ventilators. I just heard officials admit we have been turning down ventilator offers because ‘the price has been marked up’.’

Mr Johnson apparently replied: ‘It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.’

PPE was ‘being shipped in at the peak of crisis instead of flown due to cost concerns’

Mr Cummings said that in a meeting on March 26, Mr Hancock had told the PM not to worry about PPE supplies because it was ‘all sorted’ – but this ‘turned out to be a total fiction’.

The ex-aide said he had separate meetings with officials in which they said vital PPE deliveries would not arrive until after the April peak because they were being shipped rather than flown.

Mr Cummings was apparently told items were not being flown in because that would be ‘against the procurement rules’ because shipping was cheaper.

Mr Cummings then said he instructed officials to immediately ‘call the airlines’ and shift to emergency air deliveries.

PM ‘suggested stripping Hancock of responsibility for PPE’ 

Mr Johnson apparently floated taking responsibility for PPE away from Mr Hancock and giving it to Michael Gove

Mr Cummings today rejected Mr Hancock’s claim to MPs that there was never a shortage of PPE last year.

He said he had suggested ‘divvying up’ parts of the Health Secretary’s job – something Mr Johnson appeared to be in favour of.

Mr Cummings published a WhatsApp exchange with the PM apparently from April 27.

Mr Johnson: ‘Agree about Vallance and Whitty. On PPE it’s a disaster. I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.’

Mr Cummings: ‘With the CABOFF such a total s***show im afraid this wd have a severe risk of making it worse not better.’

Mr Johnson: ‘OK. Wtf do we do? Another meeting w Matt and Stevens and Deighton and co?’

Mr Cummings: ‘You know my view and we must get to grips with this issue: without profound changes in CanOff these problems will not be solved. Not just PPE. Track and trace. Vaccines. Treatments. Testing.’ 

PM ‘has a clear plan to leave No10 a couple of years after next election’ 

Mr Cummings claimed that Mr Johnson does not intend to serve a full term in Downing Street if he wins the next general election. 

He said that ‘unlike other PMs, this one has a clear plan to leave at the latest a couple of years after the next election, he wants to make money and have fun not ‘go on and on’.’

Another from the same day saw Mr Cummings complain that the Department of Health had been turning down ventilators because ‘the price has been marked up’. Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.’  

On April 27, Mr Johnson apparently messaged Mr Cummings to say that PPE was a ‘disaster’, suggesting that Michael Gove should take charge instead.

‘I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.’ 

Mr Cummings dropped the incendiary revelations in a lengthy post on the Substack blogging platform just minutes before PMQs.

It included vicious passages condemning Mr Johnson for ‘telling rambling stories and jokes’ instead of chairing crucial meetings properly, and a claim that the PM is intending to quit in order to ‘make money’ rather than serving a full term if he wins the next election.  

Inexplicably, Sir Keir Starmer did not pick up on the allegations in his grilling – and although SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford did mention the news Mr Johnson ignored that and answered a different part of the question. 

As the Health Secretary drove to the Commons in an official car yesterday for a debate on delaying ‘Freedom Day’, a journalists shouted: ‘Are you useless, Mr Hancock?’

‘I don’t think so,’ he replied. 

After his leader failed to raise the issue in the Commons at lunchtime, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth joked during the debate that the Cabinet minister would ‘be forever branded hopeless Hancock’. 

However, in a boost for Mr Hancock, health committee chair Jeremy Hunt said Mr Cummings’ latest revelations did not back up his allegations that Mr Hancock ‘lied’.

Mr Hunt tweeted: ‘There was more melodrama than normal but it is not possible to stack up the most sensational revelations without evidence.

‘Today’s new @Dominic2306 tweets show the PM’s total frustration (‘f***ing useless’ etc.) but do not prove anyone ‘lied.” 

Alongside the image of the apparent WhatsApp exchange with Mr Johnson, Mr Cummings tweeted: ‘Evidence on the covid disaster: as the PM said himself, Hancock’s performance on testing, procurement, PPE, care homes etc was ‘totally f***ing hopeless’, & his account to MPs was fiction.’

His message, which was dated March 27 last year and contained several typos, read: ‘US has gone from 2200 tests a fortnight ago to 27,000 a week ago to 100k yesterday. This is what we said we shd do. Instead we are still stuck on about 5-7K and MH saying today he’s ‘sceptical’ about getting to 10k by Monday which he said wd ‘definitely’ happen on Tuesday. This means tens of 1000s of NHS staff arent at work over next critical 3 weeks — apart from my earlier point re testign being integral to escape plan…’

The PM, whose name appeared as Johnson Boris in the screenshot, appeared to reply ‘Totally f***ing hopeless’.

In his long blog post, Mr Cummings said that ‘although the PM whinged to me and others, he would say to him, despite dozens of requests from two Cabinet Secretaries, me and other ministers and officials: stop this routine or you’re fired, your behaviour is undermining the whole effort’.

Mr Cummings posted a WhatsApp from March 24 last year – the day after the first lockdown – showing he had questioned Mr Hancock over his claims that the Treasury was delaying progress setting up an antibody testing scheme. 

The former Vote Leave chief went on: ‘Under pressure at the morning meeting, Hancock had done what he did so often: blame others, often HMT. 

‘As usual, it turned out that the delay was not with HMT but Hancock had misled the morning meeting and wrongly sought to blame others for delays. 

‘This was a recurrent pattern and in April got so bad some ministers threatened to stop attending meetings until Hancock was fired (see below).’ 

In a brutal asssessment of the PM’s skills, Mr Cummings wrote: ‘On 20 April, Hancock faced intense pressure. Under Raab, the meetings were less pleasant for everybody but much more productive because unlike the PM a) Raab can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes, b) he let good officials actually question people so we started to get to the truth, unlike the PM who as soon as things get ”a bit embarrassing” does the whole ”let’s take it offline’ shtick before shouting ‘forward to victory”, doing a thumbs-up and pegging it out of the room before anybody can disagree.’ 

Mr Cummings also claimed that Mr Johnson does not intend to serve a full term in Downing Street if he wins the next general election. 

He said that ‘unlike other PMs, this one has a clear plan to leave at the latest a couple of years after the next election, he wants to make money and have fun not ‘go on and on’.’

But the premier’s press secretary said: ‘The PM has actually been asked this before and has said himself it’s utter nonsense, so that still stands.

‘As you know, the PM was elected in 2019 and continues to focus on delivering the manifesto we were elected on and leading the county out of the pandemic.’

Labour said the messages showed the need for an immediate start to the public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: ‘This is more evidence that the Conservatives were too slow to lock down, too slow to deliver PPE and too slow to protect our care homes.

‘With this evidence that even the PM thinks Hancock is useless, why in the worst pandemic in our history has he left him in charge?

‘Hancock and Johnson need to respond to these latest revelations and immediately start the public inquiry into their handling of the pandemic.’ 

But the Labour benches were bewildered that Sir Keir did not seize on the revelations at PMQs. 

‘I thought he was going to. And then he just didn’t. It would have been an easy win,’ one senior MP told MailOnline.

‘No-one could really understand why.’

‘There is a lot of unrest about him on our benches. He’s got trouble and things aren’t getting better when he misses easy chances.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk