JACOB Rees-Mogg has insisted the disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock is a “genius”, albeit one who made a “grave mistake”.

The Commons leader stuck by his previous praise of Mr Hancock when challenged by his opposition shadow, Thangam Debbonaire.

Mr Rees-Mogg also said it was “splitting hairs” to debate whether Mr Hanock was sacked or resigned, as he had lost his job regardless.

Boris Johnson initially stood by Mr Hancock last Friday when the Sun printed a picture of the married father-of-three kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo in his Whitehall office.

Mr Hancock admitted the May 6 clinch was a breach of the social distancing rules in force at the time, but the Prime Minister insisted the matter was “closed”.

However, as public and backbench anger mounted, Mr Hanock quit the next day, prompting questions about why Mr Johnson failed to sack him in the first place.

READ MORE: PMQs - Boris Johnson berated over Hancock saga as bereaved family hit out

The issue dominated PMQs yesterday, when Mr Johnson seemed to take credit for Mr Hancock’s exit despite backing him, and dismissing the row as a “Westminster bubble” issue.

In the Commons this morning, Ms Debbonaire asked Mr Rees-Mogg if he stood by his previous description of Mr Hancock as a “successful genius” or wanted to amend it. 

The Commons Leader replied: “I think the honourable lady’s fox was shot some time ago because he is the former health secretary - the word former is quite an important one.

“He has been replaced, as we’ve heard references to Association Football, by the super sub, the Jack Grealish of politics in the form of (Sajid Javid), the new Secretary of State who has come on to great effect and great panache already.

“She challenges me on what I said about the great genius of the former secretary of state, and I do stick by that because he worked incredibly hard for 15 months.”

READ MORE: Tom Gordon - The SNP's latest 'power grab' claim is lazy garbage

He added: “Unfortunately he made a grave mistake for which, because the rules are enforced fairly, he resigned and he resigned the day after the story was printed in the newspapers.

“And here we get the splitting of hairs between the resignation and the sacking – the man has gone, he has lost his job, as has the non-executive director in the Department of Health with whom he seemed to be closely associated. And that is quite the right way for it to have happened - he is no longer in office.”