Boris Johnson faced claims of trying to “sweep under the carpet” the Matt Hancock scandal as the former health secretary’s office affair dominated Prime Minister’s Questions.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told MPs the incident which led to the downfall of Mr Hancock was part of a “pattern” in which Mr Johnson backed his colleagues despite questions over their conduct.
Former health secretary Mr Hancock resigned the day after photographs of him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo were published by The Sun newspaper.
Mr Johnson, through his spokesman, initially declared the matter “closed” before then seemingly trying to take credit for replacing Mr Hancock with Sajid Javid.
Speaking at PMQs, Sir Keir asked why Mr Johnson did not sack Mr Hancock.
The Prime Minister replied: “I read the story in common with you and everyone else on Friday and we had a new Health Secretary in place by Saturday, which I think that, given that we have a pandemic, I think to move from one health secretary to the next with that speed was fast.
“But it wasn’t as fast as the vaccine rollout, which is now going so fast that in this country we’ve done half the under-30s – half the under-30s have now had their first jab.
“And that is speed.”
Sir Keir countered: “What a ridiculous answer.
“The Prime Minister must be the only person in the country who looked at that photo Friday morning and thought the health secretary shouldn’t be sacked immediately.”
Sir Keir pressed further on whether Mr Johnson sacked Mr Hancock or asked him to resign at any point.
Mr Johnson replied: “He will notice that the health secretary has changed in the past five days.
“He complains about the speed with which that happens – this Government moves at positively lightning speed in comparison to the gentleman opposite who spent three days trying and failing to sack his deputy leader, who he then promoted.
“He fires and rehires.”
Sir Keir went on: “The Prime Minister was happy to keep a health secretary in place during the pandemic who he not only thought was absolutely hopeless, but he also knew had broken the rules and was in a relationship with somebody he was employing at taxpayers’ expense, it doesn’t sound like case closed to me.”
He added: “I know the Prime Minister is keen to sweep this under the carpet, but let me tell the Prime Minister why this matters, millions of people made huge and very difficult sacrifices to follow the rules that his health secretary had introduced.”
Sir Keir shared the case of Ollie Bibby, whose parents said they were prevented from seeing their son his in his final weeks before his death of leukaemia.
The Labour leader, concluding, told the Commons: “It’s no questions asked by the Prime Minister on Friday and no questions answered today.
“There’s a pattern here.
“When Dominic Cummings broke the rules by driving to Barnard Castle, the Prime Minister backed him.
“When the Housing Secretary unlawfully approved a billion pound property deal for a Tory donor, the Prime Minister backed him.
“When the Home Secretary broke the ministerial code, the Prime Minister backed her.
“And when the health secretary broke Covid rules, the Prime Minister tried and wanted to back him too.
“Every time it’s the same old story.
“Isn’t it the case that while the British people are doing everything asked of them, it’s one rule for them and another rule for everybody else?”
Mr Johnson reiterated Mr Hancock was replaced the day after the story emerged, adding: “We’re getting on with our agenda of vaccinating the population of this country through the energy and the application of the new Secretary of State for Health and the Department of Health.”
After he criticised delays in resolving the future of Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, Mr Johnson said: “We create jobs, he creates non-jobs.
“He dithers, we deliver.”