A trove of 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages linked to Matt Hancock’s time as health secretary have provided a glimpse into the workings of the government at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Hancock gave the messages to journalist Isabel Oakeshott as they worked on his memoirs, then handed them to the Daily Telegraph, which published a series of stories based on the correspondence with fellow ministers and officials.
The MP is fighting the allegations made in the newspaper’s investigation, with his allies saying the WhatsApps provide only a selective and misleading picture of ministers’ decision-making at the time.
Here are some of the key revelations from the “lock files” investigation:
– Claims Mr Hancock failed to follow advice from Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty in April 2020 to test all residents going to English care homes. The then health minister told the aide that the move was just “muddying the waters” and introduced mandatory testing only for those coming from hospitals. Mr Hancock’s allies said the lack of testing capacity meant it was not possible to screen everyone entering a care home.
– An adviser to Mr Hancock helped send a test to senior Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg’s home for one of his children in September 2020 when there was a shortage.
– Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!” as he pushed for favorable front-page coverage.
– Mr Hancock reportedly met his target of 100,000 tests a day by counting kits that were sent before the deadline but may never be processed.
– Social Care Secretary Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was “definitely working” after he managed to secure a test “just” 50 miles from where she lived.
– Ms Whately also appeared to warn Mr Hancock in October 2020 that restrictions on care home visits were “inhumane” – but the rules remained in place for months.
– Also in October 2020, Ms Whately argued that there was no “sound rationale” for including children under 12 in the six rule, but they were not exempted until April 2021.
– Mr Hancock was embroiled in a bitter behind-the-scenes clash with then education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson over whether to close schools in January 2021. The then health secretary privately launched a “rear-guard action” to ensure schools did not open wide which included communication with the number 10 chief of staff. He got his way as schools closed days later amid a national lockdown.
– Sir Gavin appeared to accuse teachers of looking for an “excuse” not to work during the pandemic. When Mr Hancock wrote to him that teaching unions were “absolute rubbish”, the then education secretary replied: “I know they really hate the job”.