Matt Hancock threatened to withhold funding for a children’s learning disability hub if an MP rebelled against Covid restrictions, leaked WhatsApps suggest.
The former health secretary and an aide discussed taking the project ‘off the table’ if 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 WhatsApps leaked to The Telegraph.
But Senior Conservative Jake Berry described the disclosure as an ‘absolute disgrace’ and called for Mr Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning.
Matt Hancock (pictured) discussed withholding funding for a learning disability centre to pressure an MP not to rebel against coronavirus restrictions, leaked messages suggest
Senior Conservative Jake Berry (pictured) described the disclosure as an ‘absolute disgrace’ and called for Mr Hancock 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.
‘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.
Mr Berry, a former Tory party chairman, said: ‘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.’
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.’
KEY CLAIMS OF THE LOCKDOWN FILES INVESTIGATION
A fresh cache of 100,000 text and WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-journalist who ghost-wrote Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries claimed:
- Matt Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer’s call to test all residents going into English care homes for Covid
- A minister in Mr Hancock’s department said restrictions on visitors to care homes were ‘inhumane’, but residents remained isolated many months on
- Mr Hancock’s adviser arranged for a personal test to be couriered for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s child at a time of national shortage
- Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage
- Mr Hancock allegedly met his 100,000-tests-a-day target by counting kits that were despatched before the deadline but might never be processed
- Social care minister Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was ‘definitely working’ after she managed to secure a test ‘just’ 50 miles from where she lived.
- Mr Osborne warned Mr Hancock that ‘no one thinks testing is going well’ in late 2020
- The then prime minister, Boris Johnson, revealed he was going ‘quietly crackers’ about the UK’s shortage of test kits
- Face masks were introduced in school hallways and communal areas after the PM was told it would avoid an ‘argument’ with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
- Matt Hancock took ‘rearguard’ action to close schools after former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson persuaded the PM to keep them open in January 2021
- Sir Gavin said teachers were looking for an ‘excuse’ not to work during the pandemic
- Ministers said there was ‘no robust rationale’ for imposing the ‘rule of six’ on children, but did it anyway
- Pupils with false positive results on a lateral flow test had to isolate at home for ten days, even when they tested negative on a PCR, to avoid ‘unpicking’ the policy
- The PM feared that he ‘blinked too soon’ in plunging the UK into a second Covid lockdown after being warned that gloomy modelling which bounced him into the move was ‘very wrong’
- Mr Johnson was eager to ease curbs on retail, hospitality and gatherings in June 2020 but was told he was ‘too far ahead of public opinion’
- Mr Hancock and top civil servant Simon Case joked about travellers ‘locked up’ in quarantine hotels during Covid lockdown
- The minister said the Government should ‘get heavy with the police’ to help crack down on Covid lockdown rulebreakers
- Mr Hancock’s team asked if they could ‘lock up’ Nigel Farage after he posted a video of himself in a pub when they suspected he was in breach of rules
- • The former Health Secretary hoped the pandemic would ‘propel’ his career ‘into the next league’ and said he thought he ‘looked great’ in a picture in a MailOnline article
- Mr Hancock referred to Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as ‘eat out to help the virus get about’ and lobbied officials not to extend the scheme
- • Mr Hancock clashed with the Treasury, calling Steve Barclay, now the Health Secretary, a ‘w***er’ and accused Mr Sunak of ‘showing ankle to the hard right’ by warning of a second national lockdown
- In the hours after his affair with married aide Gina Coladangelo became public, he said the worst they could be accused of was kissing ‘before they legalised hugs’
- Ministers sought to remove NHS England boss Lord Stevens just says after Covid was first detected, saying it would be a ‘massive improvement’
- Mr Hancock plotted to have ‘worse than useless’ and ‘complete loudmouth’ Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is now the WHO’s top scientist, sacked from SAGE
- Mr Hancock planned when to ‘deploy’ the news of a new Covid variant to ‘frighten the pants off’ the public so they complied with lockdown rules
- The former Health Secretary branded the Government’s vaccine tsar Dame Kate Bingham ‘totally unreliable’ and ‘wacky’ after she said only the vulnerable needed to be vaccinated against Covid
- Mr Hancock wanted to be the face of the vaccine rollout, planning to do media rounds and ‘own’ the news of the Covid jabs
- Mr Hancock attempted to hide that he’d take Ms Coladangelo to a dinner with the US health secretary
- Sir Chris advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during the pandemic
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