Matt Hancock has dismissed claims he broke the drinking curfew after he was allegedly spotted consuming wine at a Common’s bar after 10pm.
A senior Tory MP told the Mail on Sunday that Hancock had remained in the Smoking Room bar until at least 10.25pm last Monday despite the Commons speaker insisting all of parliament’s venues must abide by the new 10pm drinking ban.
The newspaper said Hancock arrived at the bar just before 9.40pm, ordered a glass of white wine and joked: “The drinks are on me – but Public Health England are in charge of the payment methodology so I will not be paying anything.”
The alleged reference to Public Health England occurred after Hancock told the Commons that the health body had misplaced nearly 16,000 coronavirus test results.
The health secretary’s spokesperson insisted Hancock did not break any rules.
He said: “The proposed timeline of events is false and no rules have been broken.
“The secretary of state was in the Smoking Room prior to the vote that evening. The secretary of state left the Smoking Room to vote. The vote took place at 9.42pm.
“The secretary of state then departed the parliamentary estate to go home.”
But one person present claimed Hancock had returned to the bar following the vote and ordered a large glass of wine.
“Everyone is panicking and trying to cover for Matt, but I know what I saw and I can tell the time,” said the MP, who added another minister had ordered a bottle of wine at 9.59pm and stayed drinking it with colleagues.
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson called on Hancock to apologise, tweeting: “Disgusted. The man has no shame.
“If these tasteless remarks are accurate, he must apologise,” she added.
“Thanks to his incompetence, we have a failing test-and-trace system which has left thousands mourning loved ones and millions worrying about their livelihoods as they face yet further lockdown measures.
“Instead of taking responsibility, he’s making jokes at their expense and blaming everyone for his incompetence. The British public will not forget.”
However, a government source told the PA news agency that Hancock had made the joke as reported.
Pressed on reports that Hancock had been excluded from some high-level meeting concerning the coronavirus outbreak, a government spokesperson said they were “totally false”.
This comes as the UK reported 15,166 coronavirus cases and 81 deaths on Saturday – 1,302 more cases than reported on Friday.