The shadow Commons leader, Valerie Vaz, demanded the cabinet minister apologise to Rosena Allin-Khan, in the wake of considerable criticism for his remarks during a debate on the government’s failings on Covid-19.
Ms Allin-Khan, who has been working as an A&E doctor during the crisis, told MPs the minister’s testing strategy was “non-existent”, adding: “Community testing was scrapped, mass testing was slow to roll-out and testing figures are now being manipulated.”
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She added on Tuesday that many frontline NHS staff believed the government’s lack of testing had “cost lives and is responsible for many families being unnecessarily torn apart by grief”.
Mr Hancock, who was in the Commons to answer an urgent question from the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, replied; “I welcome the honourable lady to her post as part of the shadow health team. I think she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow health secretary’s book in terms of tone”.
Later, Ms Allin-Khan posted on Twitter she would not “watch her tone” when challenging the government at the despatch box.
Responding to the comments on Wednesday, Ms Vaz said: “How many times have people from the BAME community and women hear that remark?”
“And to compare her to a white male – almost telling her to behave in the same way as a white male – is totally unacceptable. I’d be grateful if the leader could ask him to apologise. She is on the frontline of the Covid crisis and deserves an apology.”
But in response Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, said the health secretary was doing a “magnificent job” and that “we are very lucky to have someone who has shown such personal commitment” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Therefore, I’m not going to ask him to apologise,” he added. “I’m going to say in the cut and thrust of debate people are entitled to say things and that is perfectly legitimate.”
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During business questions, Ms Vaz also requested that Sir Keir Starmer be briefed on Boris Johnson’s plans to ease the lockdown in an anticipated address to the nation on Sunday evening.
“Could I ask that the leader of the opposition has sight, under Privy Council rules, the strategy the government is going to set out on Sunday,” she said.
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “It’s not for me to promise briefings outside the House – it’s not my responsibility, but I think the good will and the positive contribution that has been made is very important.”
He also defended the prime minister’s decision to announce any changes to the current coronavirus restrictions directly to the public on Sunday – rather than the House of Commons.
The senior Tory added the government will provide the opportunity on Monday for MPs to scrutinise No 10’s approach.