Oliver Dowden was accused of trying to “bamboozle” the public as he refused to say whether he had read all of the government’s plans for dealing with a pandemic before the Covid outbreak.
The deputy prime minister clashed with Laura Kuenssberg as he appeared on the BBC this morning.
It came after a week of damning revelations at the Covid inquiry over Downing Street’s handling of the early months of the pandemic.
Dowden was a Cabinet Office minister at the time and responsible for how the government dealt with emergencies.
Referring to a clip of the inquiry’s most shocking revelations, Kuenessburg said: “It’s hard to watch any of that and conclude anything other than the government’s handling of Covid was a disaster.”
She added: “You were minister of state for the Cabinet Office at the beginning and part of your job was making sure that the government was ready to deal with big emergencies.
“Had you read all of the plans that were prepared to deal with a pandemic?”
“I said all of this during my evidence session at the Covid Inquiry” responded Dowden.
“I’m sure our viewers want to hear it now too” pressed the BBC host.
Dowden replied: “I gave evidence for over three hours at the inquiry.”
As Kuenssberg told him she was asking a “straightforward question”, a clearly-agitated Dowden said: “Laura if you wish to know the answer to this question, I have to be able to set out the facts of it.
“The department for health had a responsibility for pandemic preparedness. The role of me in the Cabinet Office was to make sure we had a full analysis of all of the risks.”
Kuenssberg hit back: “You’re giving us a very long, technical answer and I’d like you to give a straightforward answer to our viewers.”
“All of the areas under my responsibility I was across them,” said Dowden.
The presenter responded: “And had you read all of the plans? That’s a straightforward question.
“It sounds like you’re trying to bamboozle our viewers this morning with a very technical explanation of the fact that you didn’t read every single part of the pandemic preparedness plans.”
But Dowden said: “I’m not trying to bamboozle your viewers and I can say categorically that I read the relevant Covid plan.”