Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne may still face action after refusing to apologise for telling vaccine sceptics to “persist” with their campaign against coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Michael Gove has hinted.
The Cabinet member said to “watch this space” on Saturday when asked if the former minister was being let off without disciplinary action by the Conservative party.
Sir Desmond has so far declined to retract his remarks despite Mr Gove branding him “completely out of order”, and Home Secretary Priti Patel saying he was “thoroughly wrong”.
Sky is wrong. Aside from my question to the PM this afternoon, an examination of my blogs will reveal that I am a most enthusiastic vaccinator— Desmond Swayne (@DesmondSwayne) January 27, 2021
The Conservative Party has so far declined to suspend the lockdown-sceptic MP but has asked him to attend meetings with scientific advisers.
Sir Desmond told the Save Our Rights UK group, which argues wrongly that vaccines are “being rushed through safety testing” and has posted discussions online with conspiracy theorist David Icke, that some Covid-19 figures have been “manipulated” and called on campaigners to “persist” in their campaign.
The New Forest West MP also gave an interview to anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree, in which he claimed the UK had become a “police state”.
But Sir Desmond describes himself as “evangelical” in his support for the vaccine programmes and says he was unaware of any of their “baggage” on vaccines.
Mr Gove, asked why the former minister was let off without disciplinary action, told reporters: “Watch this space.
“I can’t pre-empt any decision-making but I think it’s important that the processes that the Conservative Party has are in place in order to make sure, as I’m sure he will, that Sir Desmond apologises and recognises he made a mistake.”
“I’m sure that he will be very clear that it was a serious mistake and an apology will be forthcoming," says Michael Gove – when asked if Sir Desmond Swayne should have the whip withdrawn for claiming NHS stats were manipulated.— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 28, 2021
Follow live: https://t.co/d7xTdCvFE3 pic.twitter.com/EIpvRYSH6n
But Sir Desmond remained defiant on Saturday.
He told the PA news agency: “When I’ve got a specific request to apologise for something then I can consider it, but for the moment my understanding is the accusation is that I gave comfort and encouraged anti-vaxxers, my answer to that is that I did not.”
Sir Desmond did, however, say he was “more than happy to, in fact I’m keen to” speak to the scientific advisers.
Dozens of arrests have taken place during marches against lockdown restrictions organised by Save Our Rights UK.
The group also holds controversial views on vaccines, falsely claiming they are “being rushed through safety testing” despite rigorous trials, and pushing doubts about the jabs.
I have written to @Conservatives Party Chair @amandamilling regarding a Conservative MP telling anti-vaccination campaigners to "persist" with their campaign against COVID restrictions and suggesting that NHS data is being "manipulated".— Angela Rayner 😷 (@AngelaRayner) January 27, 2021
Urgent action must be taken. pic.twitter.com/qH1Uye5m8d
In November, Sir Desmond reportedly told the group the figures were “bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year”.
“It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated… We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment,” he said.
“That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs (intensive care units) actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.”