‘Drunk on power’: Former Tory chairman slams ‘despicable’ Matt Hancock after bombshell WhatsApps suggest ex-Health Secretary ‘threatened to withhold funding for learning disability hub if MP rebelled against Covid curbs’
Matt Hancock threatened to withhold funding for a learning disability hub if an MP rebelled against Covid restrictions, leaked WhatsApps suggest.
The ex-Health Secretary and an aide discussed taking the project ‘off the table’ if fellow Tory James Daly, the MP for Bury North, did not back the local tier system for Covid curbs.
Mr Daly said he was ‘appalled’ and ‘disgusted’ by the messages but confirmed he had never been threatened with the scheme.
Mr Hancock’s team said ‘what’s being accused here never happened’ and disputed the ‘entirely partial account’, based on the trove of messages handed to The Daily Telegraph.
Sir Jake Berry, ex Tory chairman, said the messages suggest Mr Hancock was ‘drunk on power’ and are ‘absolute disgrace’, demanding he is hauled before the Commons for questioning.
The former health secretary (left) and an aide discussed taking the project ‘off the table’ if James Daly (right), the MP for Bury North, did not back the local tier system for Covid curbs. Mr Daly said he was ‘appalled’ and ‘disgusted’ by the messages but confirmed he had never been threatened with the scheme. Mr Hancock’s team said ‘what’s being accused here never happened’ and disputed the ‘entirely partial account’ based on the trove WhatsApps leaked to The Telegraph
Senior Conservative Jake Berry (pictured) said the messages suggest Mr Hancock was ‘drunk on power’ and are ‘absolute disgrace’. He called for the former Health Secretary to be hauled before the Commons for questioning
The messages, sent on November 22 2020, came ahead of a Government vote on December 1 on the local tier system in England. Allan Nixon, a special advisor in the Department of Health, told Mr Hancock that ‘we need to dangle our top asks’ over some of the newest MPs ‘thinking of rebelling’ who entered Parliament in 2019 through Boris Johnson’s general election victory
The messages, sent on November 22 2020, came ahead of a Government vote on December 1 on the local tier system in England.
Allan Nixon, a special advisor in the Department of Health, told Mr Hancock that ‘we need to dangle our top asks’ over some of the newest MPs ‘thinking of rebelling’ who entered Parliament in 2019 through Boris Johnson’s general election victory.
Mr Nixon pointed to Mr Daly, who ‘wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury’.
He suggested that the whips ‘call him up and say Health team want to work with him to deliver this but that’ll be off the table if he rebels’.
He added: ‘These guys’ re-election hinges on us in a lot of instances, and we know what they want. We should seriously consider using it IMO’.
Mr Hancock’s response was ‘yes 100%’.
Exchanges on the day of the vote show that the former Health Secretary said Mr Daly ‘is with us’.
But Mr Nixon said this was only the case if ‘extra hospitality support is forthcoming’.
However, Mr Daly was one of the 53 Tory MPs who voted against the tier system — marking the biggest rebellion under Boris Johnson.
The PM was forced to rely on Labour abstaining from the vote in order to get his measures through.
The three-tier system was introduced on December 2, immediately after the four-week circuit breaker lockdown ended.
It meant everyone in England could leave their homes for any reason and non-essential shops and gyms were open.
But people could only meet in parks and public gardens and the rule of six was in force.
At the time, Mr Johnson said lifting these rules would ‘endanger’ the NHS and ‘force us into a new year lockdown’ — which happened in January 2021, regardless.
Further WhatsApp exchanges show that Mr Nixon sent Mr Hancock a document containing the names of 95 Tory MPs and whether they were likely to rebel. The attachment details each MP’s concerns and what tier their constituency would be in under the system.
MailOnline has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages, leaked to The Daily Telegraph by Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who helped Mr Hancock write his book Pandemic Diaries.
In response to the WhatsApps, Mr Daly, who won his seat from Labour by just 105 votes in 2019, told the newspaper he was ‘appalled’ and ‘disgusted’ that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers.
But he said he was surprised by the revelation because the centre ‘never got dangled in the first place’ as ministers never proposed funding the hub, which Mr Daly says would benefit ‘the most vulnerable’. It has still not been created.
He said: ‘I had a number of conversations with Hancock at that time, but I can definitively say the hub was never mentioned.
The tranche of more than 100,000 WhatsApps were passed to The Daily Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott (right), who was given the material by Matt Hancock (left) when they were working together on his book Pandemic Diaries
Other messages, on November 13 2020, show that Mr Hancock wanted to treat French Covid patients at hospitals in England. Pictured: France’s President Emmanuel Macron
‘I think it is appalling. The fact that they would only give a much needed support for disabled people if I voted for this was absolutely disgusting.’
But he said ‘it sounds like the whips didn’t bother’ because he never received a threat.
Sir Jake, a former Tory party chairman, told The Telegraph: ‘This is an absolute disgrace.
‘Hancock should be dragged to the bar of the House of Commons first thing tomorrow morning to be questioned on this.’
In an interview with Times Radio this morning, he said the messages show that Mr Hancock was ‘prepared to do anything’ to get his way or ‘drunk on power’.
Mr Berry said: · ‘Sometimes in politics it’s not about what you say when people are listening to you. It’s about what you say when they’re not.
‘And I think this clearly shows either someone who was prepared to do anything to get their own way, or someone kind of drunk on the power of ordering people around and telling people what to do.
‘I think the danger is when the Government gets so used to telling people what to do like it did in Covid then they suddenly get very cross if people stop listening.’
He added: ‘In terms of people’s behaviour in public life, weaponising the provision of care to disabled children I just think is crossing a line.’
Mr Hancock’s spokesman said: ‘As we’ve repeatedly seen this last week, it is completely wrong to take this entirely partial account and write it up as fact.
‘What’s being accused here never happened, demonstrating the story is wrong, and showing why such a biased, partial approach to the evidence is a bad mistake, driven by those with a vested interest and an axe to grind.
‘The right place to consider everything about the pandemic objectively is in the public inquiry.’
Other messages, on November 13 2020, show that Mr Hancock wanted to treat French Covid patients at hospitals in England.
At this point, the UK was just one week into the circuit breaker lockdown, which Mr Johnson said was needed to ‘protect the NHS and save many lives’.
On November 4 he had warned that he had been ‘confronted with data that projects our NHS could even collapse’.
But just nine days later, in a group chat with advisers and the PM, Mr Hancock said he had told Ed Llewellyn, the UK ambassador to France, that the UK would offer up hospital beds.
Mr Hancock shared a memo that he planned to send to Olivier Veran, the French Health Minister, which stated that he had ‘seen the pressure’ on hospitals in France, which had taken to transferring some patient abroad.
The letter stated: ‘We have our epidemic largely in the north of England, and some spare capacity in London and the south.
‘We could provide some ICU beds to which you could transfer some patients.
‘Would that be helpful to relive pressure on your most affected regions?
‘Our countries have always stood by each other in times of need. Let me know if that would be helpful.’