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Robert Buckland Defends Boris Johnson Over Refusal To Sack Senior Ministers

The justice secretary defended the PM's handling of Matt Hancock's departure (Alamy)

3 min read

The justice secretary has defended the Prime Minister over his refusal to sack Matt Hancock last week amid the fallout from the health secretary’s resignation over the weekend.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he was asked why Boris Johnson did not remove Hancock from his post last week following revelations that he had broken social distancing rules during an alleged affair with a senior aide.

Matt Hancock is no longer the health secretary. He resigned on Saturday,” Robert Buckland said.

Buckland appeared reluctant to address concerns around Johnson's handling of the Hancock scandal, implying the case should be closed following the health secretary's voluntary resignation. 

“If Matt Hancock was health secretary this morning, [it is] a legitimate question. He’s not. He resigned well over 24 hours ago. I really think that that speaks volumes,” he added. 

The backlash surrounding the PM’s handling of the health secretary’s departure has reignited scrutiny around his response to other controversies involving senior members in government.

Last year, Boris Johnson resisted calls to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel over allegations of bullying, and stood by his former senior adviser Dominic Cummings when he was found to have broken lockdown restrictions.

Buckland, however, dismissed suggestions that senior officials were avoiding accountability, insisting that there was “a clear understanding in government that the rules are for all of us”.

“The public are not interested in this issue because it has no bearing on the public interests,” he continued.

“While the likes of you and I obsess over these issues, it’s what’s going on out there that matters and that’s why the Prime Minister has his finger on the pulse of the nation. He’s respected, liked, and is a Prime Minister who is getting on with the job of delivering the people’s priorities.”Hancock submitted his resignation to Johnson on Saturday evening after earlier admitting he was “very sorry” for breaking his own department’s rules around social distancing.

In response, Johnson in a letter said: "You should leave office very proud of what you have achieved — not just in tackling the pandemic, but even before Covid-19 struck us.

Hancock's replacement Sajid Javid, the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Johnson when he first became Prime Minister in 2019.

However, he dramatically quit in February 2020 after Johnson asked him to fire his advisors in the Treasury and replace them with personnel chosen by Downing Street. 

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats had called for Hancock's resignation after pictures emerged of him kissing friend and aide Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office.

Speaking on Sunday, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the PM’s failure to remove him left behind a “damning legacy” for the government.

“Boris Johnson should have had the guts, the spine, the awareness, the judgment, to sack him on Friday,” he said. 

“It’s not just the situation that he found himself in where he’s breaking the rules where he writes the rules themselves.

“Over 12 months now he has failed to protect the care homes, he didn’t put a protective ring around care homes and that had tragic consequences. 

“He sent NHS staff to the frontline to face a ferocious, deadly virus and they didn’t have the correct PPE. The test and tracing system, billions have been spent on it and it hasn’t worked.

“We still don’t pay people decent sick pay. The Delta variant reached our shores because our borders were not secure. So, I don’t think that is a record to be proud of.”

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