Boris Johnson is a “massive supporter” of Health Secretary Matt Hancock despite criticising him as “hopeless” in messages revealed by Dominic Cummings, a Government minister said.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said the Prime Minister is “firmly behind” Mr Hancock following the extraordinary revelation of private WhatsApps from his former chief aide.
No 10 has not disputed the authenticity of the messages from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic but insisted Mr Johnson has full confidence in his Health Secretary.
“Totally f****** hopeless”
Mr Cummings published one screenshot in which the Prime Minister described Mr Hancock as “totally f****** hopeless” in an exchange about testing.
In another message about struggles to procure ventilators, Mr Johnson responded: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
Mr Norman began his broadcast round on Thursday by saying he had “no idea” what Mr Johnson thinks about the subject but strengthened his message throughout the morning.
“I think this is some of the biggest nonsense I’ve heard,” he later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The Prime Minister obviously, as anybody would detect, is a massive supporter of the Health Secretary, he’s coming firmly behind him. There can be no question of loss of confidence.”
The minister offered the context to the messages of being “in the middle of the biggest economic and public health catastrophe for a century”.
“What you’re alluding to is a tiny snapshot of one side of the story without any context or without hearing from the other side,” he said.
Downing Street has declined to refute most of the allegations made on Wednesday in a blog post by Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street in November during a power struggle.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman did reply “yes” when asked by journalists in a Westminster briefing if Mr Johnson maintains full confidence in the Health Secretary.
The spokesman did not deny the WhatsApp exchanges are genuine and instead said: “Our focus is not examining those specific images but delivering on the public’s priorities.
“I don’t plan to get into the detail of what’s been published.”