Jeremy Corbyn tells Boris Johnson to sack Matt Hancock and replace him with ‘somebody who will obey the law’

Jon StoneMon, 22 February 2021, 7:35 pm

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Getty Images)
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson should sack Matt Hancock and replace him with “somebody who will obey the law”, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

Intervening in parliament on Monday, the former Labour leader said that “answers are required from the prime minister” over lawbreaking around the awarding of NHS contracts.

It comes after the High Court found Mr Hancock had acted unlawfully by awarding contracts to companies without tender and then not publishing their details.

Labour said the government’s pandemic response is “plagued by a lack of transparency, cronyism and waste” but opposition leader Keir Starmer on Sunday said he would not be calling for Mr Hancock’s resignation over the matter.

Speaking the next day in a parliamentary exchange with Boris Johnson, Mr Corbyn said the prime minister should “end this scandalous privatisation of our NHS which is happening before our very eyes”.

He added: “Will he also replace the health secretary with somebody who will stand by and obey the law, and publish in advance all contracts that are due to be let so the public can see how their money is being spent?”

Mr Johnson did not respond directly to the question, instead conflating the publication of the contracts with the speed of acquiring protective equipment for the NHS.

“We went as fast as we possibly could to get PPE and those who are now denouncing us for going too fast are those who were complaining that we weren’t going fast enough,” he told the House of Commons.

Mr Corbyn currently sits as an independent MP, but is a member of the Labour Party. Sir Keir stripped him of the Labour whip over his response to antisemitism in the party, but an NEC panel separately ruled that he should remain a member.

Mr Johnson, who was making a statement about plans to lift lockdown rules, was also pulled up by Brighton Green Party MP Caroline Lucas on the issue of NHS contracts.

She said the prime minister should respond to the issue “with the seriousness it deserves”.

Matt Hancock was found to have acted unlawfullyAP
Matt Hancock was found to have acted unlawfullyAP

“No one has ever suggested that ministers didn’t need to act fast to secure PPE and other Covid-related contracts, but transparency matters even in a crisis,” she said.

“If the government has nothing to hide will he now publish details of who benefited from a VIP lane, who lifts the velvet ropes for those companies, what price were they paid, and why were they chosen?Parliament and the country have a right to know.”

Mr Johnson again conflated speed with publishing the contracts, stating: “As for the contracts that she has just mentioned all of the details are on the record and of course it was right to work as fast as we possibly could to get the PPE that this country so desperately needed.”

The High Court said Mr Hancock had “breached his legal obligation” by not publishing details of the contracts within 30 days of them being signed.

The government has separately been accused of awarding some contracts to firms with links to prominent Conservatives, including former aide Dominic Cummings.

Responding to the judgement last week, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said the government had been “working tirelessly” to acquire PPE and other equipment needed to defend against Covid-19.

“This has often meant having to award contracts at speed to secure the vital supplies required to protect NHS workers and the public,” the spokesperson said.

“We fully recognise the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and continue to publish information about contracts awarded as soon as possible.”