WATCH: Five times government ministers dropped the ball this week

Elliot Chappell

1. Matt Hancock laughing about failures in the Covid-19 response.

On Thursday morning, Hancock laughed aloud when being questioned about the failure of the government to roll out the coronavirus app alongside the implementation of its test and trace system.

The Health Secretary was asked whether he was rushing the introduction of the manual element of the tracing program by launching it before the app. The government had previously said that the app was “essential” to the system.

Hancock laughed throughout his response during the Sky News interview, saying: “It’s priceless Kay, I’m usually accused of delaying these things and bringing them in too slowly.”

He was criticised by several commentators and other politicians – including Labour’s shadow mental health minister and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan, who highlighted that 37,000 people had died and told him: “This is not a joke.”

2. Boris Johnson on top form at the liaison committee.

In his first appearance before the liaison committee as Prime Minister, Johnson revealed himself to be stunningly unaware of the plight of thousands when he appeared not to know what ‘no recourse to public funds’ meant.

This is a condition attached to some limited leave to remain visas. Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act sets out that a person will have “no recourse to public funds” – such as Universal Credit, for example – if “subject to immigration control”.

People affected include asylum seekers, primary care givers to British children who aren’t themselves British or an European Economic Area national, those on a spousal or student visa or who have limited leave under family or private life rules.

They are eligible for some support from councils. However, central government doesn’t currently provide any support to local authorities for this. In 2016/17 London boroughs spent £57.3m supporting 2,881 households.

3. Robert Jenrick admitting – and denying – bias towards a Tory donor.

The High Court this week overturned approval granted by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for a Tory donor’s £1bn development in east London on the grounds of apparent bias.

He admitted publishing his decision in time to allow the developer to avoid a new charge – known as a community infrastructure levy – which would have seen them pay between £30m and £50m more to help pay for community amenities.

When asked about the timing, Jenrick said that a “fair-minded and informed observer” might conclude that there was a “real possibility” that he was biased in favour of the developer in granting the permission.

But the government minister has been busy rejecting this idea. He told Sky News: “There is no bias, but because issues were raised, for absolute fairness, we would quash the decision and enable it to be retaken.”

4. Hancock announcing a review on the fly.

In possibly the quickest row-back on an announcement by a government minister, Hancock this week suggested that he would review fines given to families travelling during the lockdown for childcare purposes.

In trademark Hancock style during the press conference on Tuesday, he seemed to stumble into launching the review while answering a question from a member of the public.

Clearly responding to the pressure felt as a result of the government’s defence of senior advisor Dominic Cummings and his 260-mile lockdown trip, he said that “we’ll look at it” and “I think we can make that commitment”.

This was picked up by several news outlets, but within hours the government had briefed that there would be no review despite the statement made by the Health Secretary that afternoon.

5. Johnson theorises on a new Covid-19 symptom live on telly.

In a Trumpesque moment, the Prime Minister appeared to announce a new symptom of Covid-19 on the hoof in his press conference on Monday, backing Cummings’ claim that his eyesight had been affected by the virus.

Johnson took time out of the briefing to back the excuse given by his advisor as to why he drove his family to Barnard castle during lockdown – Cummings said he took the 60-mile round trip to the beauty spot to test his eyesight.

Commenting on his own experience, the Tory Party leader said: “I’m finding I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years… I’m inclined to think that’s very, very plausible – that eyesight can be a problem associated with coronavirus.”

One study of the virus in China reported a range of eye problems, including swelling and sticky eyes, but a spokesperson for Moorfield Eye Hospital said that there is very little evidence to suggest that Covid-19 can affect your eyesight.

Professor Chris Hammond of King’s College London said: “There aren’t any reports that I can find in the literature of anyone having visual loss due to the virus.” It is not a symptom included by either the UK or the World Health Organisation.

So while it could be possible, it’s probably best for the Prime Minister to avoid mulling it over in front of the nation. Good to know that the government is doing all it can to ‘follow the science’.

Everything Labour.
Every weekday morning.

By clicking ‘subscribe’ you confirm you have read and agree to our privacy policy

More from LabourList