Matt Hancock has denied claims he broke England’s coronavirus curfew by drinking in the House of Commons bar past 10pm.
The Health Secretary’s spokesperson confirmed he had been in the Smoking Room before a 9.40pm vote on Monday, but said he then returned home after the session. But a source reportedly told the Mail on Sunday Hancock returned to the bar shortly before it was due to close at 10pm.
They claimed he had ordered a large glass of white wine and then stayed on past the curfew to drink it with other ministers. Other Tory MPs reportedly admitted sitting in the Smoking Room with drinks on their table at 10.25pm.
One MP told the Mail that Hancock ‘wasn’t the only one still ordering bottles of wine right up to the deadline’.
They went on: ‘However, it was extraordinary that at 10.25pm our Health Secretary – the man who maybe more than Boris himself has lectured the nation about respecting the Covid rules – was knocking back a glass of vino when out in the real world, drinkers and diners had been kicked out of pubs and restaurants across England.
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‘Everyone is panicking and trying to cover for Matt, but I know what I saw and I can tell the time.’
In a statement, a spokesperson for Hancock said: ‘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.’
In the same evening, Hancock was also accused of making a joke about a technical glitch which caused the government’s test and trace system to miss nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases earlier this month. The issue was caused by an error with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
Others in the Smoking Room before the 9.40pm vote claim the Health Secretary ordered a glass of wine and said: ‘The drinks are on me – but Public Health England are in charge of the payment methodology so I will not be paying anything.’
The joke received ‘quite a laugh’ from others in the bar, a source said. Hancock’s spokesperson declined to comment on the alleged remark.
Earlier that evening Hancock had been questioned about the test and trace glitch, which resulted in thousands of people not being notified that they had been in contact with positive Covid-19 cases.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ Health spokesman, said, if accurate, the alleged test and trace joke was ‘tasteless’ and called on Hancock to apologise.
She went on: ‘Matt Hancock has no shame. 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.’
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