Jeremy Corbyn calls for Boris Johnson to fire Matt Hancock
- Credit: PA
Jeremy Corbyn has called on Boris Johnson to sack his health secretary and replace him with someone who would "obey the law" following the minster's run-in with the courts over the awarding of Covid contracts.
The former Labour leader on Monday said that "answers are required" from the prime minister over Matt Hancock's role in unlawfully awarding coronavirus contracts to companies without open tender and then not publishing their details.
Labour said No 10's handling of the pandemic has been "plagued by a lack of transparency, cronyism and waste" but opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday stopped short of calling for Hancock's resignation over the matter.
Speaking the next day in a parliamentary exchange with Johnson, Corbyn said the prime minister should "end this scandalous privatisation of our NHS which is happening before our very eyes".
He continued: "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?"
Johnson sidestepped the question, instead conflating the publication of the contracts with the speed of acquiring medical equipment for the NHS.
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"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 Commons.
Greens MP Caroline Lucas also weighed in on the debate, telling Johnson to respond to the issues "with the seriousness it deserves".
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"No one has ever suggested that ministers didn't need to act fast to secure PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) 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."
Johnson responded: "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 exchange comes after the High Court found Hancock had "breached his legal obligation" by not publishing details of the contracts within 30 days of them being signed.
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."
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