Reports that Matt Hancock withheld information from Boris Johnson about the success of vaccines against the Delta variant are incorrect, according to justice secretary Robert Buckland.
Johnson and three senior ministers – Hancock, Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove – met last Sunday before making a decision the next day to delay the next step of the roadmap out of lockdown for four weeks until 19 July.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the health secretary had data from Public Health England (PHE) about the efficacy of Covid jabs against the variant, but that it was not included in any of the briefing papers at Sunday’s meeting.
Multiple sources familiar with the meeting said Hancock did not raise the data at the Sunday meeting, implying that the health secretary tried to bounce Johnson into a delay to the shedding of Covid restrictions.
Buckland flatly denied the report on Sky News this morning.
“I’m afraid that report is wrong,” he said.
“The data was provided to the Prime Minister and other members of that cabinet committee in the most up to date way before the decision was made on Monday.
“Those taking part in the meeting had all the relevant data before the decision was made.”
The data from PHE released this week revealed that two jabs of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer Covid vaccine were more effective at reducing hospitalisation from the Delta variant, first discovered in India, than against other strains.
It has been speculated that this could lead to restrictions being lifted on 5 July, the point where Johnson said he will review any decision on Covid restrictions, instead of on 19 July.
The reports come after Dominic Cummings revealed text messages this week from Johnson where the PM called Hancock “f***ing hopeless” and discussed the possibility of taking away some responsibilities from the health secretary.
Lockdown-sceptic Tory MP Steve Baker said: “Either Matt Hancock thought this data was insignificant or he thought it should be withheld from the Prime Minister and other key ministers.
“Either way, the mind boggles at what conversation must now be necessary with the Prime Minister, and I feel confident it will be a matter of interest to my colleagues on the relevant select committees. If Matt Hancock was deliberately withholding relevant information, what was he trying to gain? Was the Prime Minister bounced?”