‘This is censorship’: Matt Hancock point blank refuses to answer repeated questions about Tory sleaze

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2 min read

Watch: Moment Matt Hancock shuts down Laura Kuenssberg amid claims Boris Johnson may have broken law

Matt Hancock has been accused of "censorship" after refusing to answer questions about the Boris Johnson flat refurbishment scandal.

At Wednesday's coronavirus press conference, the health secretary three times refused to answer questions about the matter, saying he would only talk about COVID-19 at the briefing.

Labour MP Bill Esterson said: "This is starting to look like censorship of the press by a government minister."

He later added: "Hancock deciding which questions can and can’t be asked by journalists. If that’s not censorship, what is it?"

It comes after the Electoral Commission announced it would be investigating how the refurbishment of the prime minister's Downing Street flat was initially funded, with the watchdog saying there are "reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred".

Hancock first shut down the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, who asked if a serving government minister should resign if they were found to have broken the rules on party funding, or the law.

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference inside the new Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on April 28, 2021. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Accused of censorship: Matt Hancock at Wednesday's press conference. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

He responded: “I know the PM answered lots of questions about this in the House of Commons earlier, and given this is a coronavirus press conference you won’t be surprised that I’m not going to add to the answers the PM has already given to very extensive questioning. Thanks.”

Later, he ignored a question by The Times' Chris Smyth, who asked if the government is still considering the disbanding of the Electoral Commission amid its investigation. This was first proposed by Conservative Party chair Amanda Milling in August last year.

That was Smyth's third question, having previously asked two about coronavirus. Hancock said: "I think we’ll give the third one a miss."

Then, the Daily Mirror's Ben Glaze said Hancock had previously "championed the rights of the free press", yet wasn't engaging with the questions about "Tory sleaze".

Hancock told him: "The point of the press conference is the incredibly important progress that we are making about coronavirus [sic] which is without doubt the most important thing facing the country.

"It is important there are questions, and there were endless questions in the House of Commons earlier on some of the issues you raised… but you’ve also got to concentrate on the big things that really matter."

Read more:

What is the ministerial code and could it land Boris Johnson in trouble?

Boris Johnson repeatedly dodges questions over flat refurb that could have broken law – ‘This is irrelevant’

In the past, however, a supposed exclusive focus on coronavirus hasn't stopped Johnson himself from commenting on non-COVID matters.

Earlier this month, Labour called for an investigation after the PM launched a "political attack” on London mayor Sadiq Khan during one of the televised briefings.

Watch: Starmer brands Johnson ‘Major Sleaze’ during PMQs row