Senior Tory MP accuses Matt Hancock of ‘weaponising disabled children’s care’

Matt Hancock (Matt Dunham/PA) (PA Archive)
Matt Hancock (Matt Dunham/PA) (PA Archive)

A senior Tory MP has accused Matt Hancock of "weaponising the provision of care for disabled children".

Jake Berry called for the former Health Secretary to be "dragged" before Parliament on Tuesday to answer questions after leaked messages suggested Mr Hancock discussed withholding funding for a learning disability centre to pressure an MP not to rebel against Covid restrictions.

Mr Hancock’s aide spoke about warning Bury North MP James Daly that a new centre for disabled children and adults would be “off the table” if he voted against the Government, according to the Telegraph’s Lockdown Files investigation.

Former Tory party chairman Mr Berry described the disclosure as an “absolute disgrace” and called for Mr Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning.

He accused Mr Hancock of being "drunk on power".

“ What he has effectively said is that he wants to weaponise provision of care to disabled children to try and force MPs to vote in a certain way,” he told Times Radio on Tuesday.

“I mean politics is full of sort of arm twisting and leverage and cajoling. But I actually think once you get to the point that you are weaponising the provision of care to disabled children I think you have crossed the line.

“As a local MP and a father with a son with additional needs I know how desperately provision of this sort of care is required in this sort of area. I just think it's absolutely despicable and appalling way for Matt Hancock and his advisors to behave.”

When asked if Mr Hancock, who lost the Tory Whip last year for entering ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity, should apologise, Mr Berry replied: “He will be apologising if I see him.”

The former Health Secretary’s team said “what’s being accused here never happened” as they disputed the “entirely partial account” based on a trove of leaked WhatsApp messages.

The discussion between Mr Hancock and political aide Allan Nixon came ahead of a vote on December 1 2020 on the introduction of new Covid restrictions in England.

Mr Nixon said they need to “dangle our top asks” over some of the newest MPs who entered Parliament in 2019 through Boris Johnson’s general election victory.

The aide suggested, for example, “James wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury – 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”.

“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,” he wrote.

Mr Hancock’s response was “yes 100%”.

Mr Daly, a Conservative MP, told the Telegraph he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers.

But he said the threat was never made to him.

Other MPs who have accused

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford has said Tory whips threatened to scrap a new school in his constituency if he did not vote a certain way in Parliament.

He spoke out about the alleged “blackmail” of his colleagues by Downing Street and called for a police investigation after defecting from the Conservative party to Labour last year.

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.”

But 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.”