Labour has branded Boris Johnson a “disgrace” for appearing to suggest a question about a young man who died of leukaemia was a “Westminster bubble” story.
During Wednesday’s PMQs clash, Keir Starmer asked the prime minister why he had been happy for Matt Hancock to remain as health secretary after he was found to have broken Covid rules.
The Labour leader said millions of people had made “huge and very difficult” sacrifices to follow the rules during the pandemic, only to find out Hancock had been breaking them.
He raised the case of Ollie Bibby, 27, who died of leukaemia on May 5, the day before Hancock was pictured ignoring social distancing by kissing a colleague.
Bibby’s mother, Penny, told the BBC he had “begged” to see his family in hospital before he died but they were “barely allowed in” due to the rules.
“I’m livid. We did everything we were told to do and the man that made the rules didn’t. How can that be right?” she said.
Starmer spoke on the phone to Penny Bibby for fifteen minutes ahead of PMQs and asked permission to raise her son’s story in the Commons.
Johnson told Starmer: “We all share the grief and the pain of Ollie and his family and millions of people up and dow the country.
“That is why we had a change of health secretary the day after the story appeared.
“Instead of focusing on stuff gong on in the Westminster bubble, we are focusing on rolling out that vaccine at a rate that will make sure people like Ollie and his family do not have to suffer in the future.”
Starmer said it was the “wrong” response from the prime minister. “This is not the Westminster bubble,” he said.
The Labour leader told Johnson to “withdraw” the comment, which the PM did not do.
Following PMQs, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said on Twitter: “Keir Starmer raises the case of a child who was unable to have his family by his side when he died of leukaemia because of Covid rules.
“Boris Johnson dismisses it as a ‘Westminster bubble’ concern. Boris Johnson is a disgrace. He has no shame.”
Labour MP Bill Esterson added: “Such a sad story about Olly and his family. The prime minister talks about the Westminster bubble. What happened to Olly, is not the Westminster bubble and it isn’t for many people whose loved ones died.”
The Sun revealed Hancock’s rule breach on Friday morning. He said he was “very sorry” but did not quit.
Downing Street said the prime minister accepted Hancock’s apology and considered the matter “closed”.
Hancock then resigned just after 6pm on Saturday and was replaced the same evening by former chancellor Sajid Javid.