The former British Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is once again facing controversy following the leak of private WhatsApp messages.
In a development that has brought fresh scrutiny to the former Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, a leaked trove of over 100,000 WhatsApp messages have been published by The Daily Telegraph. The messages allegedly show that Hancock rejected testing advice on care homes and expressed concern that it could interfere with his targets. The investigation also alleges that George Osborne and Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg were the subject of some of the messages.
One of the key exchanges between Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, reportedly took place in April 2020. The Telegraph investigation claims that Whitty advised Hancock that there should be testing for “all going into care homes”. Hancock initially described it as “obviously a good positive step”, but ultimately rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters”. The messages suggest that Hancock said, “Tell me if I’m wrong but I would rather leave it out and just commit to test and isolate ALL going into care from hospital. I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.”
In response to the leaked messages, a spokesperson for Hancock denied the “distorted account” and accused journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who leaked the messages after working on Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries memoir, of spinning them to fit an anti-lockdown agenda. The spokesperson also said that the Telegraph “intentionally excluded reference to a meeting with the testing team from the WhatsApp”.
The investigation also alleges that Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the 100,000 daily test target he wanted to hit. On 2 April, the then-cabinet minister pledged to significantly increase testing by the end of the month as the UK lagged behind Europe in capacity. Those eligible for the tests initially included the general public and NHS staff, and when advised to widen access to include people in COVID-hit care homes later that month, Hancock said this would be “OK” so long as it did not “get in the way of actually fulfilling the capacity in testing”.
As he struggled to meet his target, leaked messages show that Hancock texted former Tory chancellor George Osborne to ask for help. He said the thousands of spare testing slots were “obvs good news about spread of virus” but “hard for my target”. Osborne reportedly responded by saying, “Yes – of course – all you need to do tomorrow is give some exclusive words to the Standard and I’ll tell the team to splash it.” Hancock had later added: “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”
The messages also suggest that Hancock told ministers to “get heavy with police” to enforce lockdown in August 2020. When asked who is enforcing lockdown restrictions, the then-Health Secretary reportedly said, “I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police”.
Other messages reportedly show Hancock calling unions “arses” and teachers “workshy”. In May 2020, as teachers prepared for classrooms to reopen, then-Education Secretary Sir Gavin Williamson had messaged Hancock asking for help in securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for schools. He said this was so staff could not use a lack of it as “a reason not to open”. Hancock reportedly responded by calling the unions “leftie agitators and militants” and adding, “All of them will but some will just want to say they can’t so they have an excuse to avoid having to teach, what joys!!!”.
The leaked messages have caused a political storm, with many calling for Hancock to face further scrutiny. Labour has said that the messages raise serious questions about the former Health Secretary’s conduct during the pandemic. The Conservative Party has defended Hancock, with a spokesperson saying that he “worked incredibly hard” during the pandemic. But, many are calling the whatsapp leaked was an intentional leak to promote the upcoming book. Most prominent journalists believe that the whole drama of the leaked texts seems incredibly strange. Matt Hancock has certainly involved in many controversial news stories that look more staged than factual and his recent surprise appearance on I’m a Celeb adds more suspicion to his motives.