Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock have defended themselves following the extraordinary criticisms levelled at them by Dominic Cummings.
Health Secretary Mr Hancock said the “unsubstantiated” attacks on him by Dominic Cummings are “not true”, as he fought to save his career.
The Prime Minister’s former aide accused Mr Hancock of repeatedly lying, being disastrously incompetent and claimed he should have been fired on multiple occasions during the course of the pandemic.
Forced to go to the House of Commons to respond to the claims, Mr Hancock said: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.
“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”
Mr Johnson, who faced claims from his former adviser that he was unfit for office, denied Mr Cummings’ assertion that Government failings had resulted in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Asked whether those deaths were due to his “action or inaction”, Mr Johnson said: “No, I don’t think so.
“Of course this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we have taken lightly.”
He insisted that “at every stage we have been governed by a determination to protect life”.
Asked whether he said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown, Boris Johnson said: “I have already made my position very clear on that point.
“I’m getting on with the job of delivering the road map that I think is the sensible way forward.”
Mr Johnson has previously denied making the comment, which Dominic Cummings told MPs he heard from the Prime Minister in his Downing Street study.
Asked if Mr Cummings told the truth, Mr Johnson dodged the question.
Pressed on whether he was arguing with the things Mr Cummings said, the Prime Minister said: “I make no comment on that.”
But he said that “some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality”.
Apart from his damning assessment of Mr Johnson, Mr Cummings saved his fiercest criticism for Mr Hancock over failings around care homes policy, personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and his public pledge on a testing target which caused disruption in Whitehall.
During his seven-hour evidence session on Wednesday, Mr Cummings told MPs that the Prime Minister had been told “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes” from hospital by Mr Hancock – something which did not happen.
It was “complete nonsense” to claim the Government had put a shield around care homes, Mr Cummings claimed.
He said Mr Hancock should have been sacked on 15 to 20 occasions and Whitehall’s top mandarin at the time, Sir Mark Sedwill, had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty”.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Hancock said: “Every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I’ve got up each morning and asked ‘What must I do to protect life?’
“That is the job of the Health Secretary in a pandemic.
“We’ve taken an approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and of what we don’t know.”
Mr Cummings accused the Health Secretary of making a “stupid” public pledge to increase testing to 100,000 by the end of April 2020, claiming he then interfered with the building of the Test and Trace system to maximise his chances of hitting his target.
“It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm,” Mr Cummings claimed.
But in the Commons, Mr Hancock defended his approach and said: “Setting and meeting ambitious targets is how you get stuff done in Government.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the allegations made by Mr Cummings are either true – in which case Mr Hancock “potentially stands in breach of the ministerial code” and the principles of standards in public life – or they are false “and the Prime Minister brought a fantasist and a liar into the heart of Downing Street”.
Health Select Committee chairman Jeremy Hunt, one of those who questioned Mr Cummings, said they had asked for evidence to be provided to back up the former adviser’s claims and until that is produced “those allegations should be treated as unproven”.
Responding to Mr Cummings’ assessment of the Prime Minister as unfit for the job, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “I don’t think the Prime Minister has made good decisions in this pandemic.
“I was very concerned about the repeated mistakes from the first wave into the second wave, and in particular the slowness to lock down in the autumn, and I think the Prime Minister got that completely wrong.
“There are consequences and this is what all these allegations are about and that’s why the inquiry needs to be fast-forwarded, and we can’t have this drip, drip, drip of allegations, and we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Asked if Boris Johnson regretted hiring Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is a matter of fact that the Prime Minister took on Dominic Cummings into that role, into a senior role in No 10.”
Downing Street denied Boris Johnson was “obsessed with the media”, as claimed by Mr Cummings.
Asked whether the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds had tried to fill jobs with her friends, another accusation made by Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “All appointments made in No 10 are done in the normal way, that’s always been the case.”