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UK health minister brushes off PM's 'hopeless' remark

AFP logo AFP 16/6/2021 AFP
Boris Johnson, Matthew Hancock sitting at a table: Dominic Cummings continues to reveal divisions between Boris Johnson (L) and health minister Matt Hancock © JESSICA TAYLOR Dominic Cummings continues to reveal divisions between Boris Johnson (L) and health minister Matt Hancock

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday rejected criticism of his handling of the Covid pandemic after private WhatsApp exchanges emerged in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to describe him as "hopeless".

The PM's controversial former chief aide Dominic Cummings -- who stepped down from the role in December -- posted the exchanges on social media.

Cummings, who has spent recent months savaging both his former boss and Hancock, tweeted screenshots of the exchanges apparently between him and Johnson in March and April last year as Britain battled the first wave of the pandemic.

After Cummings commented that Hancock was unsure he would reach a target of 10,000 virus tests per week on schedule, the prime minister apparently responded: "Totally (obscenity) hopeless." 

In another message, Johnson blamed Hancock for the UK's difficulty in getting hold of ventilators. "It's Hancock. He has been hopeless," the message said.

Johnson's spokesman said Wednesday the prime minister had full confidence in the under-fire health secretary but declined to comment on the messages.

"The prime minister has worked very closely with (Hancock) and will continue to do so," the spokesman said.

Asked whether he believed he had been hopeless, Hancock replied from the backseat of his ministerial car: "I don't think so."

Cummings, a key strategist behind the Conservative Party's 2019 election victory and the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, said he posted the messages to back up his explosive allegations against Hancock in testimony before parliamentary select committee hearings last month.

- Johnson 'unfit' -

He singled out Hancock for criticism, alleging he had repeatedly lied to colleagues, including over pledges to test all elderly patients released from hospital back into care homes.

Cummings said the health minister "should have been fired for at least 15, 20 things".

Hancock last week denied he had ever said anything to Johnson he knew to be untrue.

Cummings also condemned Johnson's leadership during the pandemic, saying he was "unfit for the job".

The WhatsApp exchanges published by Cummings appear to show he played a key role in his dealings with Johnson, who at one point asks him: "Wtf do we do?"

Johnson did not respond to a question on the posts at Prime Minister's Questions in parliament on Wednesday.

Britain has been one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, recording nearly 128,000 deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

A successful vaccination drive in Britain has since helped bring deaths down sharply.

But the emergence of the Delta variant, first identified in India, has led to an increase in cases and anxiety over a potential third wave that prompted Johnson this week to delay a planned full lifting of virus restrictions.

MPs on Wednesday approved the move, voting 461 to 60 to delay the full reopening in England from June 21 to July 19.



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