Matt Hancock sent text complaining about Sunak during COVID - what you missed today

The former health secretary faced more uncomfortable questions about his handling of the pandemic

Screen grab from the UK Covid-19 Inquiry Live Stream of former health secretary Matt Hancock giving evidence at Dorland House in London, during its second investigation (Module 2) exploring core UK decision-making and political governance. Issue date: Friday December 1, 2023.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock gives evidence at Dorland House in London, during its second investigation. (Alamy)

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Former health secretary Matt Hancock said during the pandemic he was concerned that Rishi Sunak was pressuring Boris Johnson "to not do enough" regarding COVID lockdown measures.

Giving evidence to the COVID-19 Inquiry, Hancock said on Friday he was “very worried” about “rearguard action” from other members of the government when pushing for more stringent measures to stop the spread of coronavirus in autumn 2020.

It comes after a WhatsApp exchange between the former health secretary and Simon Case was shown to the inquiry, revealing then chancellor Rishi Sunak questioned the need to close all shops rather than taking action in secondary schools.

Hancock replied he could “live with” those measures but was “very worried about a rearguard action that just screwed us all over too often”.

In a text referencing a meeting that Hancock claimed he was blocked from attending, Hancock wrote to Case: “Rishi is in the room – contrary to the stupid rules – so the PM will be under enormous pressure to not do enough once again."

Additionally, Hancock claimed anti-lockdown MPs had formed a group that was putting pressure on the prime minister.

Hancock told the COVID-19 Inquiry: “Those arguing against lockdown in Parliament were formulating a group – they were co-ordinated, they were campaigning, and this became more of a problem later on.

“And so we needed to keep parliamentary consent and public support. And that was one of the reasons that I thought in practice a circuit breaker proposal wasn’t the best way forward.”

With Friday's session now over, here are the highlights from Matt Hancock's tough day of questioning:

  • Hancock told inquiry that he was “in despair” after the government announced a tier system it “knew would not work”. He believed it would not be effective because local politicians were “under significant pressure” not to accept measures.

  • Hancock was questioned over his affair with Gina Coladangelo, and whether breaching lockdown rules had undermined the public's confidence in them. He said: "The lesson for the future is very clear, and it is important that those who make the rules abide by them, and I resigned in order to take accountability for my failure to do."

  • School closures could have been avoided in January 2021 if the government had acted more swiftly in autumn 2020, Hancock said. "If we’d have taken action sooner, in September of 2020, then we might, for instance, have avoided the need to close schools, which in the end we had to as cases were so high by January," he explained.

  • Boris Johnson was “not willing” to go further in terms of national restrictions to ease the spread of Covid-19 in the autumn of 2020, Hancock claimed.

  • Hancock was warned in April 2020 that there was a lack of testing in care homes, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry was told. However, he said: "We didn’t have enough tests and the clinical prioritisation of who got tests in what order was absolutely something that I wouldn’t have interfered with.”

You can read more about Matt Hancock's testimony in our blog below.