Matt Hancock was unable to say directly whether Dominic Cummings “did the right thing” today, during a grilling on the airwaves.
The BBC’s Nick Robinson put the screws on the Health Secretary as he was promoting the new NHS Test and Trace service this morning.
It comes as the Tory revolt against Mr Cummings has swelled to at least 44 Conservative MPs calling for him to resign or be sacked, and a further 17 who are critical of him.
Mr Robinson said many people in the country were “extremely angry” over Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.
He asked what the Secretary of State would say to those people who ask why they should abide by lockdown rules when Mr Cummings allegedly did not.
Mr Hancock told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Because it is in everybody’s interests, it’s in that individual’s interests, it’s in the whole community’s interests that people follow the instructions from the NHS.”
Asked if Mr Cummings did the “right thing”, Mr Hancock replied: “As I’ve said before, I’ve answered that question.”
Mr Robinson interrupted: “Well, did he do the right thing? Did he do his duty?”
The Secretary of State replied: “I’ve answered this question before, a couple of days ago. And the Prime Minister has answered all these questions endlessly.”
The BBC presenter interrupted again: “No, no, he’s never answered the moral case, whether he did the right thing?”
Mr Hancock responded: “Well, I’ve said I think that he was acting within the guidelines. I also understand why reasonable people might disagree with that. But what matters…”
Mr Robinson interrupted him again saying: “No, no, forgive me. What matters is not dodging the question that I’m asking you.
“I’m asking you – using your words Secretary of State these are your words – you say ‘duty’, you say ‘right thing’, you say ‘do your bit’ and what people are saying to you is Mr Cummings did none of those.
“Whenever ministers are asked they try and dodge the question. So did he do the right thing?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Far from dodging the question Nick, I’ve directly answered it because my judgment is that – as has been told in great detail in public – my view is that he followed the guidelines. I understand why some people don’t agree with that but that is my view.”
It comes after the Health Secretary appealed to the public to do their “civic duty” and stay at home when instructed to under the new NHS Test and Trace service.
At the end of the interview Mr Robinson asked him if he was angry that the public health message had ended up “so confused”. Mr Hancock replied: “No I’m absolutely determined that the new message that we are putting out today is clearly understood and lands with the public.”
Asked about the growing Tory revolt and members of the public who feel their “intelligence had been insulted”, he replied: “I’m just totally focused on getting the message across as clearly as possible about what we need to do to keep people safe.”
He added: “In this war on the virus, ultimately we are all on the same side and we’ve all got a part that we can play.”
Mr Cummings has insisted he acted reasonably and legally when he travelled to Durham and explained the trip to Barnard Castle was to test his eyesight before he made the long journey back to London.