Matt Hancock slams ‘absolutely outrageous’ claims against him
Matt Hancock slammed by Robinson for ‘poor judgement’
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Matt Hancock last night attacked “absolutely outrageous” claims made about his handling of the pandemic after 100,000 of his private messages were leaked. The ex-health secretary told the Daily Express that the WhatsApp exchanges do not tell “half the story” and should not be treated as gospel.
Mr Hancock is considering legal action after he was accused of rejecting advice to give coronavirus tests to all residents going into English care homes.
Allies alleged the messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she was handed them by Mr Hancock while working on his Pandemic Diaries memoir have been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
Health minister Helen Whately said reports of the messages gave a “limited” and misleading view of the Government’s decision-making around care homes during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock said: “I am surprised the Telegraph should take the WhatsApp messages as gospel … surely they don’t tell the full story let alone half the story …
“It’s absolutely outrageous – and the Minister has just confirmed too that the advice was what we did.”
Mr Hancock’s spokesman said claims he rejected clinical advice on care home testing was “flat wrong” because he was told it was “not currently possible” to carry out the tests.
But the latest furore involving the ex-Cabinet minister led to fresh calls for him to quit as an MP.
Councillor Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor in Mr Hancock’s West Suffolk constituency, told LBC: “Matt Hancock should now resign as an MP, the local party has moved on from him, and he has moved on from his constituents.
“Matt Hancock our local MP is there in the papers again… the Conservatives could do without it.
“The fact that his spokesperson – I don’t know why he needs a spokesperson nowadays – says that it’s a load of nonsense, well that’s to be expected.”
Rishi Sunak defended the official coronavirus inquiry as the “right way” to scrutinise the handling of the pandemic following expose of the messages.
The Prime Minister urged people not to focus on “piecemeal bits of information”.
Downing Street insisted leaks are taken “seriously” and said it was for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to investigate data protection issues.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer called for Mr Sunak to ensure the inquiry had all the support it needed “to report by the end of this year”.
The Labour leader added: “Families across the country will look at this, and the sight of politicians writing books portraying them as heroes will be an insulting and ghoulish spectacle for them.”
Mr Sunak responded: “Rather than comment on piecemeal bits of information, I’m sure the honourable gentleman will agree with me the right way for these things to be looked at is the Covid inquiry.
“There is a proper process to these things, it is an independent inquiry, it has the resources it needs, it has the powers it needs, and what we should do in this House is to let them get on and do their job.”
More revelations are expected in the coming days including messages from Mr Sunak.
The Telegraph’s investigation suggested England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told Mr Hancock in April 2020 that there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
Mr Hancock described it as “obviously a good, positive step”.
But the newspaper reported that the exchanges, from April 14 2020, suggested Mr Hancock ultimately rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters”, and introduced mandatory testing only for those coming from hospitals rather than the community.
Allies of Mr Hancock said that was because a lack of testing capacity meant it was not possible to check everyone entering a care home.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong.
“Matt concluded that the testing of people leaving hospital for care homes should be prioritised because of the higher risks of transmission, as it wasn’t possible to mandate everyone going into care homes got tested.
“He went as far as was possible, as fast as possible, to expand testing and save lives.”
An inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic is being carried out by Baroness Hallett.
The inquiry chair insisted it “will not drag on for decades” and “there will be no whitewash” at the start of Wednesday’s proceedings.
Ms Oakeshott, who has described lockdowns as an “unmitigated disaster”, said she was releasing the messages because it would take “many years” before the end of the official Covid inquiry, which she claimed could be a “colossal whitewash”.
“That’s why I’ve decided to release this sensational cache of private communications – because we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers,” she said.
Lord Bethell, a health minister during the pandemic, said the Government had been “desperately” trying to scale up testing at that point of the crisis but that it was necessary to prioritise who was swabbed due to the available capacity.
“The reality was there was a very, very limited number of those tests,” he said.
People who were coming out of hospitals had the highest rates of transmission, therefore “it was sensible and right to prioritise those” first, he said.
Among other claims made in the Telegraph were that in September 2020, during a severe backlog in testing, an adviser to Mr Hancock helped get a test sent to senior Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg’s home.
The aide messaged Mr Hancock to say the lab had “lost” the original test for one of the then-Commons leader’s children, “so we’ve got a courier going to their family home tonight”.
He added: “Jacob’s spad (special adviser) is aware and has helped line it all up, but you might want to text Jacob.”
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