Suffolk MP Therese Coffey defends PM in row over Covid comments

Boris Johnson and Therese Coffey

Boris Johnson with Therese Coffey in Suffolk during his party leadership campaign in 2019. - Credit: Paul Geater

Suffolk Coastal MP and cabinet minister Dr Therese Coffey today said she would take Boris Johnson “on his word” after the Prime Minister denied saying he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order a third coronavirus lockdown.

It comes amid fresh allegations that Mr Johnson told aides he would rather let coronavirus “rip” than return to restrictions in September, as he battles a bitter briefing war that engulfed Number 10.

A growing number of sources were reported to have told how Mr Johnson said he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order a third shutdown, an accusation which the Prime Minister has branded as “total rubbish”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Dr Coffey said she was not aware of any politician who had said “anything like that” as she insisted the public were focused on the pandemic and the road map out of lockdown.

“The Prime Minister says he didn’t say them, and he said that yesterday, I think to Sky, so I take the Prime Minister on his word,” she told Sky News.

“I’m not aware that any politician has said anything like that, or indeed any other person that I’m aware of. There’s an element here about trying to keep on with the main task at hand.

“We’ve got through this challenging time, we’re still not out of it, that’s why we’re still encouraging people to take up their vaccines.”

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Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was upsetting to those who have lost loved ones, telling ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The remarks are sickening, they are disgusting, they are crass, they are wrong.”

Meanwhile, Dr Coffey defended the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat in Number 11 and said it was “no surprise” that he wanted to make changes, after reports of how he paid for it surfaced.

She told LBC: “The Prime Minister has probably spent more time in the Number 10 flat than prime ministers normally would.

“Also, the birth of his young son, having his family there, so I think it’s no surprise if people with a different sort of family atmosphere moving into a private residence in Number 10 want to make changes.”

Asked if she would spend £5,900 on an armchair, Dr Coffey added: “The point is that the Prime Minister has paid for those.

“I think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to spend their money how they wish, when they are considering their family in the residence where they spend a lot of time.”

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said the Prime Minister has asked him to review the matter, after former aide Dominic Cummings said Mr Johnson wanted donors to “secretly pay” for the work in a move which would have been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”.

Ministers are now concerned at what he may say when he gives evidence to MPs investigating the Government’s response to the pandemic next month.

Dr Coffey said the public will have made “their own judgment” on the former adviser following his press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden last year.

The Prime Minister stood by Mr Cummings when the senior aide found himself in the eye of a media storm after driving his family to County Durham during the first coronavirus lockdown.

Ms Coffey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that people will have come into contact with Dominic Cummings for the first time last year, when he did a press conference in the Rose Garden. They, I’m sure, will have made their own judgment on what they think of that.”

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