“Buck stops with PM”, Starmer says following Cummings evidence

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has described the claims made by Dominic Cummings during his evidence session on Wednesday as “very serious allegations in relation to the Health Secretary” but added that the “buck stops with” Boris Johnson.

Discussing evidence given to select committees by the former adviser to the Prime Minister in an interview with Sky News this afternoon, the Labour leader said they “paint a picture that actually leads to the Prime Minister”.

“[There are] very serious allegations from Dominic Cummings about the chaos and incompetence in the decision making in the government,” Starmer said today. “And there are consequences to that in relation to those that have died.

“What we need to do is put what Dominic Cummings said alongside the facts. We know we’ve got one of the highest death tolls in Europe and the families who’ve lost someone are entitled to answers, because bad decisions have consequences and in this case the consequences I’m afraid are unnecessary deaths.”

Asked whether Matt Hancock should resign, Starmer said: “There are very serious allegations in relation to the Health Secretary. So serious that if true, they are a breach of the ministerial code and that has obvious consequences.

“We need to get to the bottom of it. Dominic Cummings can’t be the last word on this. We need to get all the available evidence. We need to see the answers that the Health Secretary puts forward.

“The select committee needs to have all the evidence – but they’re very, very serious allegations. They paint a picture that actually leads to the Prime Minister and the buck stops with him.”

Cummings gave evidence to the science and health select committees on Wednesday for seven hours, telling MPs that he told Johnson that Hancock should have been sacked “almost every day” for alleged “criminal” behaviour.

The former political adviser told the committees that the Health Secretary lied on a number of occasions. He alleged Hancock blamed NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and Rishi Sunak for having “blocked approvals” for PPE in the crisis.

Cummings said he told Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill to investigate this particular claim and that Sedwill reported that it was “completely untrue”, meaning he had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings”.

The Health Secretary should have been fired for “at least 15 to 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions”, the committees heard. Cummings said he, Sedwill and other senior officials had urged Johnson to do so.

The former political adviser alleged that the Prime Minister had been advised not to sack the Health Secretary “because he’s the person you fire when the [public] inquiry comes along”.

He argued that there is “no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country expects” and told the committee members this afternoon that Hancock was “one of those people”.

Cummings also said Hancock lied when he claimed that “everyone who needed treatment got the treatment they required” over the summer last year.

“He knew that was a lie because he’d been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved. Many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”

Starmer challenged Johnson over the evidence, which was still being given to the committee at the time, during PMQs, including the claim that Johnson argued “Covid is only killing 80-year-olds” when delaying lockdown.

Asked whether the Cabinet Secretary and Cummings had told the Prime Minister to sack Hancock, Johnson said it was untrue and he had not seen any evidence of that. His spokesperson later said Johnson has “full confidence” in Hancock.

Cummings also said Johnson was “unfit” for office because he refused to order a lockdown. He alleged that Johnson did say he would rather let the “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown last year. Johnson has denied saying this.

Hancock faced an urgent question in parliament this morning. After challenging the Health Secretary on the claims made by Cummings, Jonathan Ashworth noted that Hancock “did not respond to the specific allegations”.

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