John Bercow launched a scathing attack on the government today following a testing debacle which, in normal times, would have likely lead to the resignation of the health secretary.
The former speaker joined deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner in calling for Matt Hancock’s head after it was found that data from Britain’s “world-beating” track and trace system was being stored in a Excel document.
“This is a government that doesn’t believe in accountability”, he said, adding: “If the prime minister is not going to accept or demand the resignation of the secretary of state for education after the exam fiasco, if he’s not going to ask for the resignation of the health secretary despite the fiasco over which he has provided then manifestly he is not going to resign himself”.
It comes following a string of debacles which have poured scorn on a cabinet which is widely viewed to be the worst in history.
As this breakdown shows, they certainly have a fair claim to that unwanted record.
Labour’s deputy leader suggested Matt Hancock should resign this week in the wake of a testing blunder that resulted in more than 15,000 positive coronavirus being omitted from official data.
In her strongest criticism yet of the health secretary, Rayner said he had presided over a string of failures during the pandemic and also described Boris Johnson’s cabinet as a “complete shambles”.
Her remarks came after Mr Hancock told the Commons that almost half of the people who may have been exposed to the 15,941 individuals with the virus – not originally included in government figures – had not yet been contacted and instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson resisted calls to resign over his handling of A-level and GCSE grades in August, instead apologising to thousands of students for the distress caused.
The Government announced a U-turn after it said students would be able to receive grades based on their teachers’ estimates following anger over the downgrading of thousands of A-level grades.
Shadow universities minister Emma Hardy said Mr Williamson’s delay in allowing pupils to be given grades estimated by teachers has caused a “massive headache” for universities, but little did she know that the worst was still to come.
Some of those who successfully got a place found themselves locked down in their halls of residence just a month later due to Covid outbreaks.
The education secretary, however, was nowhere to be seen, leading to concerns he had abandoned students who desperately needed his help during this worrying time.
In February, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s future seemed in doubt after the most senior civil servant in her department resigned in a row over her alleged bullying of staff.
In a move described as “unprecedented” by a former head of the home civil service, former permanent secretary at the Home Office Sir Philip Rutnam accused Ms Patel of orchestrating a “vicious” campaign against him and of “shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”.
As Mr Johnson was forced to launch an investigation into the resignation, then shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called for Ms Patel to step down while the Cabinet Office inquiry was conducted.
“You cannot have a minister who is in breach of the ministerial code and she should step down now,” Ms Abbott said.
The report on Ms Patel’s behaviour towards staff has not yet been published.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick more recently batted off resignation calls after he ensured a controversial housing development was agreed before a new levy was introduced which would have cost millions for its backer.
Documents released after pressure from Labour showed multimillionaire Conservative Party donor Richard Desmond urged Mr Jenrick to approve his Westferry Printworks development in east London before a new community infrastructure levy was introduced which, it is believed, would have saved Mr Desmond £50 million.
Mr Jenrick also faced accusations of “cash for favours” after it emerged that Mr Desmond had given the Conservatives £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved and that the Housing Secretary had sat next to him and viewed a video at a fundraising event.
The minister originally approved the development plan in January, overruling Tower Hamlets Council and a planning inspector.
Tim Farrom, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Communities, Housing and Local Government, called on Mr Jenrick to quit over the controversy, telling the PA news agency: “Given the minister has accepted that his decision to sign off the project was unlawful, he should also accept that he is unfit to continue to serve in that role and resign immediately.”
Despite Mr Jenrick telling MPs he was “not blind to the fact that things could and should have been done differently”, Mr Johnson has continued to back him, and the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, said the Prime Minister “considered the matter closed”.