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28th Jan 2021

Tory MP refuses apology for urging anti-vaxxers to ‘persist’ against Covid restrictions


He has been accused of spreading dangerous misinformation

Senior Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne has refused to apologise for encouraging a group of anti-vaccination campaigners to “persist” in their fight against Covid restrictions.

Swayne, the MP for New Forest West and once an aide to David Cameron, told the group that NHS figures were being manipulated to exaggerate the scale of coronavirus’ impact on the country – despite there being no evidence to prove this point.

“It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated,” he said during an interview with Save our Rights UK last November. “We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment.

“That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs 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.”

The interview was obtained by Sky News, who point out that at the time of his comments, Office for National Statistics data showed deaths were in fact 14% above the five-year average.

He continued: “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.”

Swayne also gave an interview to Del Bigtree, a notorious anti-vaxxer, in which he claimed he believed some of the restrictions put in place by government – namely the wearing of masks – were a form of social control.

“There are aspects of this which I’m certain come down to social control, like the wearing of masks, the medical case you’ve just rubbished it earlier this evening.”

Approached by Sky for comment, he denied knowing who Del Bigtree was and emphasised his belief that wearing masks was a form of social control.

“I’m entitled to answer legitimate questions that people put to me,” he added. “It does not in any way mean that I accept points of view that they hold.”

Labour have accused Swayne of spreading ‘dangerous misinformation’ and has called for Boris Johnson to relinquish his status as a Conservative MP.

Though cabinet minister Michael Gove stopped short of backing calls for his suspension, he also criticised the comments, describing them as a “serious mistake” and telling Sky that he hoped he would retract the comments and apologise.

Tweeting after Sky’s initial report was published, Swayne sent a tweet insisting it was wrong and that he was, in fact, an ‘enthusiastic vaccinator’.