A senior Conservative MP has been accused of spreading “dangerous misinformation” after reportedly suggesting official statistics on the pandemic had been “manipulated”.
Labour is calling for action to be taken over a series of remarks alleged to have been made by Sir Desmond Swayne during an interview with anti-lockdown group Save Our Rights UK in November.
In a video clip obtained by Sky News, Sir Desmond is reported to have commented on the threat of Covid-19 by saying: “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.”
According to Sky News, he later told the group: “As the last [House of Commons] Speaker used to say… he’d say ‘Persist! Persist!’ That’s my advice – persist.”
The Tory MP also gave an interview to the prominent US anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree, who has repeatedly spread conspiracy theories about Covid-19 on his webshow and produced a documentary film with the discredited anti-vaccination activist Andrew Wakefield.
Mr Bigtree’s account on YouTube was shut down last year due to violating rules on pandemic misinformation.
In an interview this month, Sir Desmond told Mr Bigtree that he was “certain” some aspects of the government’s pandemic policy were designed for “social control”, such as the wearing of masks in public spaces.
Save Our Rights UK presents itself as a group concerned with opposing the government’s lockdown restrictions and social distancing rules.
However, it has also made comments questioning Covid-19 vaccines and suggests on its website that the jabs have been “rushed through safety testing”.
In a brief statement issued on Wednesday evening, Sir Desmond said the Sky News report was “wrong” and denied that he held anti-vaccination views.
“Sky is wrong. Aside from my question to the PM this afternoon, an examination of my blogs will reveal that I am a most enthusiastic vaccinator,” he wrote on Twitter.
When challenged about the interviews, the Tory MP also told Sky News that he was entitled to make his point of view on any platform.
“I’m entitled to answer legitimate questions that people put to me,” he said.
“It does not in any way mean that I accept points of view that they hold.”
In a letter to the Conservative Party, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner described the MP’s reported comments as “extremely concerning” and warned they could undermine the UK’s fight against the pandemic.
Ms Rayner accused Sir Desmond of spreading “dangerous misinformation” about Covid-19.
“During this interview, the MP for New Forest West endorsed conspiracy theories about the veracity of the disease,” Ms Rayner said in her letter to Conservative chair Amanda Milling.
“He also suggested the official figures have been manipulated – a deeply dangerous claim for which there is absolutely no evidence.”
She added: “Following Desmond Swayne’s shocking refusal to apologise for his behaviour, I urge you to make clear what action you will take. It is the duty of all of us to support the national effort to vaccinate Britain.”
The Independent has approached Sir Desmond for further comment on his claims.