Labour has called on the Prime Minister to intervene and take urgent action against Conservative MP Desmond Swayne after he defended his previous endorsement of anti-vaccination campaigners and spreading of Covid misinformation.
Commenting after Swayne this morning defended the initial comments he made last November, in which he suggested coronavirus figures were being “manipulated”, Angela Rayner stressed the need to condemn the “dangerous remarks”.
Swayne said in an interview with Save our Rights UK last year: “It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated… We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment.
“That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs [intensive care units] actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.”
He urged the group, which has previously made false claims about Covid vaccines currently being rolled out in the UK and protested against lockdowns, to “persist” in their campaigns. He has refused to apologies or withdraw his comments.
Deputy Labour leader Rayner argued today: “The British people have made huge sacrifices to save lives and defeat this terrible virus, and tragically over 100,000 people have already lost their lives.
“A Conservative MP endorsing dangerous anti-vaccination campaigners, spreading disinformation and promoting conspiracy theories undermines the national effort to defeat this virus, puts lives at risk and is an insult to the families and loved ones of everyone who has tragically lost their lives to this terrible virus and our NHS staff who are working round the clock to save lives.
“It is clear that Desmond Swayne has no intention of apologising or withdrawing his dangerous remarks. After the Conservatives have refused to act, the Prime Minister must intervene urgently, condemn these comments and take action.
“A failure to do so risks undermining our national effort to defeat this virus, combat dangerous anti-vaccine disinformation and vaccinate Britain.”
Swayne told Sky News this morning that he “absolutely” would get the Covid vaccine and described those who deny the existence of the virus as “nutty” but defended his right to “freedom of expression” to make such comments.
Challenged on why he was taking part in an interview with anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists on Talk Radio this morning, Swayne said: “It’s an important part of a politician’s job. I mean I’m an elected politician.
“It’s not only my right to voice my opinions but I’d suggest that it’s also my duty to do so. We are getting very close to thought crime here aren’t we?
“That the deputy leader of the Labour Party is complaining about what another MP says and thinks as if this was some sort of criminal activity. And I think that’s to be deprecated. I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”
At the time of the interview, in November last year, England and Wales saw 6,817 more deaths than the average for the previous five years and 18% of all deaths were coronavirus related, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Rayner wrote to Conservative chair Amanda Milling last night demanding that she take action after reports of his comments spreading “dangerous misinformation” about the coronavirus crisis emerged, but the Tory Party has failed to do so.