BORIS Johnson today insisted he has “complete confidence” in under-fire Matt Hancock – despite branding him “totally hopeless” in private texts.
The PM defended the Health Secretary’s record and said he’s done an “absolutely outstanding” job overseeing the vaccine rollout.
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Speaking during a visit to Kirklees College in Dewsbury, West Yorks, he said: “I have complete confidence in Matt and indeed the all of the Government who have been dealing with Covid throughout the pandemic.
“When you look at the vaccine rollout that has been delivered by the NHS, it is absolutely outstanding.
“And I would just remind you that today, under the leadership of Matt and the NHS, 80% of adults in this country have had a first job/
“We’re now asking 18-year-olds to come forward so we’re making huge, huge progress and that’s down to the work of the NHS with Matt at the top of it.”
The PM’s defence of Mr Hancock came after the boss of the NHS refused to express confidence in him.
Sir Simon Stevens smiled but stayed tight-lipped when asked whether he thinks the Health Secretary is “hopeless”.
He was made to squirm on camera after being ambushed with the question during an interview about the jabs rollout.
In text messages leaked by Dominic Cummings this week the PM described Mr Hancock as “totally f****** hopeless”.
Sir Simon grinned awkwardly when asked about the remarks and whether he agreed with them.
A press officer off camera could be heard saying “we’re not really going to answer that”.
The NHS chief then chimed in “I mean that’s a political question” and stepped slightly out of frame.
His media aide then added: “We didn’t agree to this question.”
The tetchy exchange, caught on camera outside a hospital, will heap further pressure on the embattled Health Secretary.
Mr Cummings claimed that the Health Secretary had tried to throw Sir Simon “under the bus” over shortages of PPE.
Retweeting the clip, he said: “And he knows the Cabinet Secretary told No10 Hancock’s claims are false, he’s not telling the truth in these meetings.”
But ministers defended Sir Simon and said it was “unfair” to expect a civil servant to get involved in a political debate.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said: “It’s an incredibly unfair question, if I’m honest with you.
“Simon Stevens is a civil servant. It’s not his job to offer good or bad appraisals of ministers.
“As he said it’s a political question. I think putting him on the spot like that is a bit unfair.”
Mr Malthouse said if the NHS chief had praised the Health Secretary in reply “then he would have been slammed as well for not being impartial”.
He added: “The British civil service are naturally impartial and don’t want to stray across the line into matters of political questions.
“Particularly where personalities are involved, so I didn’t blame him for trying to avoid that question.”
It comes after Mr Cummings released WhatsApp messages from the PM showing the pair’s exchanges about the Health Secretary.
The vengeful ex-No10 aide published an expletive-ridden 7,000-word blogpost stuffed with explosive screenshots of texts with the PM.
One message from March 2020 shows Mr Cummings complaining about Mr Hancock’s handling of Britain’s sluggish testing rollout.
The PM bluntly replies: “Totally f***ing hopeless”.
Mr Johnson later appeared to denounce efforts to procure PPE as a “disaster” and suggested Mr Hancock be stripped of responsibility.
Blaming the Health Secretary for botching the job, he added: “I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.”
Downing Street refused to comment on the reports, and would only say: “We’re not going to get into engaging with individual allegations”.
They refused to deny that the text messages were genuine, or that Mr Johnson was keen to replace Mr Hancock with Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove.
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But they said the PM still has “full confidence” in the Health Sec, has “worked very closely” with him and “will continue to do so”
They added: “The PM has set out we’ll hold an official inquiry next year. Our focus is on recovery from the pandemic.
“I don’t plan to get into the detail of what has been published.”