Question Time: Tory Brexiteer MP caught contradicting government claims it was trialling other track-and-trace apps

Junior Tory minister James Cleverly (L) and BBC Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce during a debate

Junior Tory minister James Cleverly (L) and BBC Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce during a debate over the government's handling of contact tracing software; Twitter - Credit: Archant

A Tory Brexiteer MP was caught out suggesting the government was trialling various track-and-trace apps only to downplay the claims moments later on BBC's Question time.

James Cleverly was taking questions from the audience when he claimed No. 10 was 'keeping its options open' on different versions of contact tracing software to then say it was not testing any other apps other than the one it created in April, contradicting an earlier statement by health minister Matt Hancock.

Downing Street announced it was pulling its track-and-trace app known as NHSX on Thursday after encountering technical roadblocks. It now seeking the help of Google and Apple to build a new programme.

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Responding to whether the last-minute ditch was another U-turn, Cleverly said: 'We use the word 'U-turn', I was in business before I came into politics.

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'If you are going to test a couple of options to see which one progresses best and see which one works and then invest your time and effort in the better performing one of those options.

'That's not a U-turn. That's why there were tests on the Isle of Wight.'

Noticing a gap between the minister's comments and those mentioned in that day's daily press briefing by Matt Hancock surrounding the app, presenter Fiona Bruce interjected: 'If Matt Hancock says you were trialling both options and you were trialling the NHS app then presumably you were trialling the other one as well? That's what backing both options is, isn't it?'

The visibly frustrated junior foreign office minister replied: 'The test of our in-house app was done on the Isle of Wight, we were keeping our options open for the use of either.

'The other system is being used more widely so doing a discreet UK-only trial for that one, from my understanding, was not necessary.

'The reason we were trialling, is to make sure we chose the best option.'

Matt Hancock has admitted the other apps were better at 'measure distance' better than the department's in-house version and that Downing Street officials were now working to build a new design.

NHSX was trialled on the Isle of Wight in April but was plagued with technical issues including that it failed to work unless users actively kept it open in foreground.

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