Dominic Cummings arrives at the Covid inquiry

Covid inquiry: Matt Hancock labels Dominic Cummings a ‘malign actor’ and cause of ‘toxic culture’ in No 10

Matt Hancock has rejected accusations that he lied during the pandemic as health secretary. 

Under question at the Covid inquiry, it was put to the former health secretary that a series of senior government officials have made reference in their evidence to “lying, [and] to you getting overexcited and just staying stuff”.

In response, Hancock said: “I was not. You will note that there is no evidence from anybody who worked within the department or the health system that supported those false allegations.”

He adds that “nobody expressed any of these things to my face”.

Questioned about a comment from former chief adviser to the prime minister Dominic Cummings that he was “unfit for the job” of health secretary, he referenced: “The impact of the toxic culture that was essentially caused by the chief advisor”.

He added: “Clearly you can now see that … others were brought into [the toxic culture]”. … That was unhelpful”.

He continued: “On the other hand, in the heat of a crisis, people say things, especially on WhatsApp, which is essentially conversational, that may not be their full considered opinion. Because the cabinet secretary also described me as ‘can do’ to the prime minister.

“Also I got along with him very well through the whole thing, outwards, and it’s only because of this inquiry that I’ve seen the language that he was using behind the scenes.

“What is the lesson for the future? I think unfortunately the lesson for the future is that systems need to be in place, so that if there is a malign actor in No 10 — ”.

But before Hancock could finish his sentence, counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC interjected: “Do you mean Mr Cummings?”.

To which the former health secretary responded: “Well in this case that was the example”.

He explained that “there was a culture of fear inculcated by the behaviour of this particular individual”, referencing Cummings’ reported role in the sacking of Sajid Javid as chancellor. 

Criticism of Matt Hancock has been a recurrent theme at the Covid inquiry. 

It was recently revealed that former head of the civil service Lord Mark Sedwill said in WhatsApp messages that he wanted Hancock removed as health secretary to “save lives and protect the NHS”.

In his testimony, Lord Sedwill said this was “gallows humour” and that he did not use the work “sack” when speaking to the prime minister about his health secretary.

Sir Patrick Vallance, who was chief scientific adviser from 2018 to 2023, claimed Hancock would say things “he didn’t have a basis for”, which he attributed to “over-enthusiasm”.

He told the Covid inquiry: “I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them days later.”

Helen MacNamara, who was deputy cabinet secretary during the pandemic, said Hancock showed “nuclear levels” of confidence at the start of the Covid pandemic and “regularly” told colleagues in Downing Street things “they later discovered weren’t true”

Former prime minister Boris Johnson will give evidence to the Covid inquiry on Wednesday and Thursday next week. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.