COVID-19: Michael Gove refuses to rule out disciplinary action against against Tory MP who questioned NHS stats

Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne has again been told to apologise for claiming COVID-19 figures released by the NHS were manipulated, with a senior minister refusing to rule out disciplinary action.

Speaking to Sky News, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove said to “watch this space” when asked if the prominent Brexiteer would face disciplinary action for refusing to say sorry for his comments.

Sky News revealed last week that Sir Desmond had encouraged anti-vaccination campaigners to keep going with their fight against government restrictions last November.

Sir Desmond refused to apologise for the comments, saying they were “perfectly legitimate at the time” and that the situation had changed in the wake of the new coronavirus variant.

Speaking to Sky News today, Mr Gove refused to give any details but emphasised the importance of an apology.

He said: “I can’t pre-empt any decision making, but I think it’s important that the processes the Conservative Party has are in place, in order to make sure – as I’m sure he will – that Sir Desmond apologises, and recognises that he made a mistake.”

Earlier today, Sir Desmond said: “When I’ve got a specific request to apologise for something then I can consider it, but for the moment my understanding is the accusation is that I gave comfort and encouraged anti-vaxxers, my answer to that is that I did not.”

During an interview in November with Save our Rights UK, obtained by Sky News, Sir Desmond said: “It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated… We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment.

“That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs (intensive care units) actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.”

He also told the group, who have previously advanced false claims about COVID vaccines, in the interview: “As the last (House of Commons) Speaker used to say, (John) Bercow, he’d say ‘Persist! Persist!’ That’s my advice – persist.

“And I’ll persist too.”

The Conservative Party has not suspended Sir Desmond, but has asked him to attend meetings with scientific advisers.

On Thursday, Mr Gove said he had hoped Sir Desmond would retract his comments and proffer a full apology.

After Sky News revealed Sir Desmond’s comments, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the MP had “undermined” the government’s messaging and public confidence in the vaccine programme.

She labelled Sir Desmond’s comments as “really dangerous” and called for the whip to be removed immediately.

“Just saying he is wrong is nowhere near enough,” Ms Rayner said.

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