Matt Hancock has accused Dominic Cummings of being the “chatty rat” who leaked news of the second lockdown before it was announced.
An inquiry into the leak was ordered immediately by a furious Boris Johnson, then the prime minister, after the disclosure bounced him into holding a televised press conference - but the source has never been found.
Mr Hancock appears to pin the blame squarely on Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, in the latest extract from his book, The Pandemic Diaries.
The former health secretary recalled receiving a text message on Oct 30 from Robert Peston, the ITV political editor, while at a curry house with his family in his constituency.
“I almost choked on my chapati,” wrote Mr Hancock, claiming the text read: “I understand that this PM you, PM, chancellor and [Michael Gove] met. Am told 99 per cent likely there will be a full national lockdown from next Wed or Thurs.”
Mr Hancock added: “So the cat is out of the bag - already! Furious, I forwarded the message to my [special advisers] and No 10 comms.
“How the f— had it leaked already? Only a handful of people knew! By the time I got home, I had an enraged Boris on the phone saying his media people had told him hacks were pointing the finger at me.
“‘Whoever is telling you that is lying to you,’ I replied furiously. How had this happened? My money is firmly on Dominic Cummings via his acolytes. The agenda? To bounce the PM into announcing the lockdown sooner than later and stop him U-turning.”
Britain’s second lockdown - first revealed by Mr Peston on his Twitter account, and intended as a “circuit-breaker” - was announced the following day, on Oct 31.
Mr Hancock urged Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, to hold a full inquiry and claimed that Mr Cummings would have regarded his sacking as “a bonus”.
He claimed he was “elated, and more than anything, relieved” when Mr Cummings – who was contacted for comment – left his Downing Street role two weeks later.
There has been no shortage of bad blood between the two men. In May 2021, Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock should have been fired between 15 to 20 times regarding allegations he said included “lying to everybody [on] multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet Room and publicly”.
When Mr Hancock resigned the following month, Mr Cummings accused him of leaking to the press himself in a tweet about pundits who had fallen “conspicuously silent”.
It came as Mr Hancock claimed he felt pressured by “extraordinarily aggressive” attempts by Baroness Mone to try to help a firm win a Covid lateral flow test contract.
The Tory peer has been accused of lobbying ministers towards the start of the pandemic on behalf of PPE Medpro, which supplied face masks and medical gowns.
She is currently under investigation by the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards after allegedly failing to declare an interest in the firm, which won a contract worth £200 million mid-pandemic.
Mr Hancock wrote of his correspondence with the Baroness: “By the end of the message, she seemed to have worked herself into a complete frenzy and was throwing around wild accusations.
“I read [her] message again, stunned. Was she threatening me? It certainly looked that way.”
On Sunday, it also emerged that Baroness Mone had been urged by Lord Bethell to show “propriety” in her dealings with Government staff.
He is understood to have written to her in July 2021: “Collaboration between industry and government continues to be a priority and we are grateful to all manufacturers and suppliers who have come forward to offer their assistance in producing lateral flow devices.
“I would however respectfully remind you of the need for propriety in all dealings with officials.”
Baroness Mone has categorically denied benefiting financially and has said she was “not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity”. Her office was contacted for comment.
Mr Hancock also believed during the pandemic that Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to eliminate coronavirus entirely from Scotland were “about as realistic as a bagpipe-playing unicorn”.
Extracts from his book have laid bare his scorn towards the SNP leader when she unveiled her “unscientific” and “impossible” zero-Covid mission in May 2020.
Mr Hancock wrote the policy would be as successful as “Chairman Mao’s attempt to eliminate sparrows by getting the Chinese population to bang pots and pans”.
In the same diary entry, published on Sunday by the Mail on Sunday, he said the First Minister wished to build a “Trump-style wall between her fiefdom and the rest of Great Britain”.