Brandon Lewis defended Downing Street today for not revealing that the UK’s top official, Sir Mark Sedwill, had coronavirus at the same time as Boris Johnson in a growing secrecy battle.
The Prime Minister tested positive for the disease on March 27, and it is believed that Sir Mark had discovered in early April that he also had the virus.
But number 10 only confirmed yesterday that Sir Mark had the virus – about six weeks later.
It means that Mr. Johnson, Sir Mark, health secretary Matt Hancock and the prime minister’s prime minister, Dominic Cummings, all fought the corona virus at the same time, raising questions about who led the country.
Downing Street is getting more and more questions about why Sir Mark’s disease was not previously revealed.
However, Mr Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, insisted in early April that “things were normal” within Whitehall, despite the heart of the government being startled by the disease.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted in early April that ‘things were normal’ within the government, despite key players catching the corona virus
Sir Mark Sedwill, pictured with Boris Johnson in number 10 on July 24 last year, had been co-operating with Prime Minister Corona Virus
The revelation means that (from the left) health secretary Matt Hancock, Sir Mark and Mr. Johnson all fought the corona virus at the same time
Mr Lewis also claimed that it did not matter that cabinet ministers had not been told about Sir Mark because he “played a full role and worked from home all the time.”
Told that he should have been made aware of the situation as cabinet minister, Mr. Lewis said, “My focus would be on someone’s ability to do his job. Mark Sedwill is the Cabinet Secretary and he continued to do his job.
“I have worked with Mark at the Home Office and in his role as Cabinet Secretary and I have to say that my experience working with Mark has always been excellent.
“He is someone who has always been in my experience, almost always aware of his game, regardless of the situation.”
During an interview with the BBC this morning, Mr Lewis was told that it was ‘strange’ that such important information was withheld from cabinet ministers.
But he replied, “No, I disagree in that my focus as someone who is in the cabinet is the cabinet secretary, do we have access to and can we talk to the cabinet secretary and his team?
And that was always the case. I have never had an experience that I could not deal with or access to the Cabinet Secretary if needed.
“I must say that my experience was that things were normal and things went on and that’s what I would expect from the Cabinet Secretary.”
A Tory Member of Parliament told MailOnline that Sir Mark’s disease “should have been publicly disclosed” at the time, adding, “The government considers this coronavirus outbreak to be a war and the first war victim is the truth.”
While not particularly well known, Sir Mark’s role as Cabinet Secretary makes him the second most powerful government official and carries out the Prime Minister’s will on a daily basis.
Number 10 was grilled on a daily basis about the health status of major government players before and after Johnson tested positive amid concerns over whether the government would continue to function effectively.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said yesterday that he had only recently become aware of the fact that Sir Mark had had coronavirus after being told this by a journalist.
Telling that number 10 had always previously claimed Sir Mark was okay, the spokesman said, “Your memory is entirely correct.
“You asked me about the cabinet secretary and I said all the time that he worked normally, whatever he was.
“He continued to carry out his duties fully, so I was only very aware recently when a journalist told me.
Issue 10 said yesterday that Sir Mark, who was pictured alongside Mr. Johnson and Rishi Sunak on April 28, “had continued to perform his duties fully” while working at home during his illness
“The Cabinet Secretary performed his duties fully and I saw him chair the meetings daily through Zoom.”
Asked immediately if Sir Mark had coronavirus at the same time as the Prime Minister, the spokesman said, “He worked like home all the time.
“You will remember that most people worked from home, so there is nothing unusual about that.”
The spokesman said he was not sure when Sir Mark had developed coronavirus symptoms.
The fact that a handful of people at the top of the government contracted the coronavirus has previously led to intensive investigations into how to manage the outbreak.
Premier Johnson and Mr. Hancock were criticized for being closely portrayed in the Commons – well within the recommended 6ft limit.
Senior officials, including Sir Mark and Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty, were also photographed close to the prime minister on Downing Street for conference meetings with a digital cabinet.
Ministers have always dismissed the allegations that positive tests at the heart of the government showed that they had taken the wrong approach and emphasized that it simply showed the random nature of the disease.
The prime minister’s assistant, Dominic Cummings, also developed symptoms of coronavirus, with his wife saying he was so sick that she thought he should have gone to the hospital.
Boris Johnson pictured six meters from health secretary Matt Hancock before a press conference on No. 10 Downing Street on March 12. Both tested positive for the virus, while Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, pictured at the top of the stairs, had symptoms.
On March 27, it was revealed that Mr. Johnson had tested positive for coronavirus and Mr. Hancock announced later that same day that he too had tested positive.
Mr. Johnson was subsequently hospitalized on April 5 and taken to an intensive care unit on April 7 before being released on April 12.
He spent several weeks recovering from Checkers before returning to work on April 27.
Mr. Johnson said of his illness that there were “48 hours that it could have gone either way.”
Mr. Hancock spent a week in self-isolation after his positive test. He said it “felt like I had glass in my throat” and that he had lost half a stone in just seven days.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cummings’s wife revealed last month that her husband was so sick of the corona virus that she felt he should have gone to the hospital.
Journalist Mary Wakefield revealed that 48-year-old Cummings was confined to the disease for 10 days after coming home to nurse her through a milder case.