BORIS JOHNSON was "bounced" into a U-turn over face masks in schools in England because Nicola Sturgeon announced her policy to introduce face coverings for pupils north of the Border, according to Matt Hancock.
The former UK health secretary claimed that the government in London introduced a requirement for secondary school pupils to wear face masks in England at the height of the pandemic in 2020 because the First Minister unveiled the measure in Scotland.
He said that ministers were “blindsided” by her announcement in August 2020 and changed tack in order to avoid “a big spat with the Scots”.
The UK Government’s original guidance on face coverings excluded schools but then instructed secondary pupils to wear them in corridors after Ms Sturgeon’s intervention. In Scotland, the use of face masks in schools went further and required pupils to wear them in class.
At the time the Conservative education secretary Gavin Williamson said that the government had reversed its guidance following updated advice from the World Health Organisation and made no reference to the decision of te First Minister.
Mr Hancock made his claim in his book Pandemic Diaries: The inside story of Britain’s battle against Covid.
In an excerpt published in The Mail on Sunday, an entry for August 25 read: “Nicola Sturgeon blindsided us by suddenly announcing that when schools in Scotland reopen, all secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in classrooms.
“In one of her most egregious attempts at one-upmanship to date, she didn’t consult us. The problem is that our original guidance on face coverings specifically excluded schools.
“Cue much tortured debate between myself, education secretary Gavin Williamson and No 10 about how to respond. Much as Sturgeon would relish it, nobody here wants a big spat with the Scots. So, U-turn it is.”
Elsewhere, Mr Hancock claimed that Ms Sturgeon limited government co-operation in Cobra meetings. He also called her zero-Covid plan “impossible”, “antiscientific” and “about as realistic as a bagpipe-playing unicorn”.
He wrote in an entry for July 25, 2020: “In Cobra meetings, Nicola Sturgeon’s political games have become incredibly debilitating and significantly limit scope for open discussion. She sits like a statue, lips pursed like the top of a drawstring bag, only jolting into life when there’s an opportunity to say something to further the separatist cause.
“The minute someone presses ‘end meeting’, you can almost hear her running for a lectern so she can rush out an announcement before we make ours. We now chew over big decisions elsewhere and relegate formal meetings to rubber-stamping exercises.”
On May 4, he wrote: “Tonight, Nicola Sturgeon announced a ‘summer push to elimination [of Covid]’, a policy which has about as much hope of working as Chairman Mao’s attempt to eliminate sparrows by getting the Chinese population to bang pots and pans.
“Much as I’m sure Nicola would love to build a Trump-style wall between her fiefdom and the rest of Great Britain, we’re all in this together.”
Mr Hancock’s book will be released on December 6, less than two weeks after he placed third on the ITV programme I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here.
The Conservative whip was removed from the MP when he appeared on the show.
As health secretary he presided over the response in England to the Covid pandemic.
He resigned from his role in June 2021 after breaking the Covid guidelines he helped draw up after photographs of him kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo during an extramarital affair.
The MP stepped down as health secretary a day after the images emerged of him embracing Ms Coladangelo in what appeared to be CCTV footage from inside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
After his breach of his own rules was captured on camera came to light, Hancock announced in a video shared on Twitter that he would step down, saying: “Those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them and that’s why I’ve got to resign.”
Responding to his claims about how the First Minister's decision on masks in schools affected the UK Government's thinking, a SNP spokesman said: “Matt Hancock had little credibility even before he lost the last shreds of it in the jungle. These claims are more about selling books than revealing anything meaningful.”
In October 2020 support for Scottish independence rose to 58 per cent as the First Minister was regarded by voters as handling the pandemic better than Johnson and his government.