Andrew Marr has ripped into health secretary Matt Hancock over the government’s coronavirus response as millions were forced into a new Tier 4 for Covid-19 restrictions.
Playing back a clip of Boris Johnson mocking Keir Starmer for wanting to “cancel Christmas” days before the prime minister announced plans to do that, Marr accused Hancock of “playing politics” over Covid-19.
The presenter told the Tory minister: “The week before last Friday, you were puzzled, you knew something was going on, but you decided to end the lockdown anyway.
“The question then was why you ignored so many sources of medical and scientific alarm about what you were doing ending the lockdown?”
He continued: “People were warning about the rate but you weren’t doing much about it.
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“And then on Wednesday this happened,” he said before playing a clip of Johnson at PMQs, mocking the Labour leader for expressing concerns about the holiday season.
“Don’t you feel a bit embarrassed about it, it looks like playing politics at a time when the prime minister knew the pandemic was spreading faster?”
But Hancock responded by claiming he hadn’t cancelled Christmas, and that the evidence only “became clear at 3 o’clock on Friday” after that PMQs session, and that the prime minister had made “one of the fastest decisions” to act.
“Why as a government have you been gloating and mocking the opposition for asking for stricter measures at a time when you were about to do it yourself?” asked Marr.
The health secretary insisted he had “gloating”, before again claiming that the government were taking difficult decisions.
Marr continued: “What is really annoying people this morning is not what happened yesterday, which people do understand, but what the government was saying before.
“After that exchange with Keir Starmer, the prime minister and you were still calling upon people to self-isolate for five days before having their jolly Christmas at home.
“Lots and lots of people closed the white van, parked it up or left their offices, and went home and self-isolated so they could go forward with the Christmas plans, which your government had told them specifically they could have.
“They were promised a certain kind of Christmas, they listened to you and they did it. That was a huge, huge mistake, was it not? You’ve taken away the hopes of an awful lot of people for their Christmas.”
Hancock insisted it would be a “mistake to ignore new scientific evidence” as he claimed the government were “trying to learn as much as we possibly can and balance the incredibly difficult decisions” ministers need to take.
But Marr replied: “How much have you really learned, though? Because all the way through this there’s been a pattern of over-promising, of bolstering the level optimism.
“We said, ‘we’re going to get rid of this in 12 weeks, it’s going to be over by Christmas. It’s going to be a normal Christmas, we’re going to get there.’
“It’s as if this government is too scared, too cowardly to give people the really hard news when they need to hear it. And then, at the last minute, you get all kinds of U-turns, a screech of breaks and it’s too late, and it feels chaotic as it did yesterday.”