Ministers wanted to ‘get heavy’ with police over Covid rules
Ministers and senior officials discussed the need to “get heavy” with the police over the enforcement of Covid lockdown regulations, according to the latest tranche of Matt Hancock’s leaked messages published by The Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper highlighted an exchange between the then-health secretary and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case from August 2020, in which Mr Case raised the question: “Who actually is delivering enforcement?”
Mr Hancock replied “I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police”, prompting Mr Case to point out that they were due to have a roundtable meeting with ministers and the “cops”.
Following another meeting in January 2021 involving Boris Johnson, Mr Hancock messaged Mr Case to inform him that the “PM was in vg shape” and that “the plod got their marching orders”.
For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the exchanges revealed the “arrogance and shameful lack of respect” of ministers towards the police.
“At the same time as they were flagrantly breaking the law themselves with their lockdown parties, they were demanding stronger enforcement by the police on everyone else,” she said.
The exchanges were among more than 100,000 messages passed to the Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott.
She was originally given the material by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir of his time in government during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock has condemned the leak as a “massive betrayal” designed to support an “anti-lockdown agenda”, but Ms Oakeshott has insisted the release was “overwhelmingly” in the public interest.
In other exchanges, Mr Hancock and Mr Case joked about travellers arriving in the UK being “locked up” in quarantine hotels, with the Cabinet Secretary saying it was “hilarious”.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock shared a news story about a man and a woman who were fined £10,000 each for failing to quarantine with Mr Johnson – who replied: “Superb”.
The Telegraph said the messages also showed Mr Hancock wanted his team to contact the Home Office after a news report suggested ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage broke quarantine rules after returning from a trip the US.
His special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin replied: “Does he count as a pub hooligan? Can we lock him up?”
Mr Hancock then said his case should be dealt with “like any other”.
In March 2021, when Piers Morgan left ITV’s Good Morning Britain – where he had a reputation for giving ministers a hard time over Covid – Social Care Minister Helen Whatley joked they should “celebrate” at the department’s team meeting that evening.
Mr Hancock messaged back: “Perfect.”
Elsewhere, in November 2020, Mr Johnson expressed concern that he had “blinked too soon” in ordering a second lockdown based on modelling that was “very wrong”.
Months earlier in June, the then-prime minister discussed speeding up plans to lift restrictions following the first lockdown, but was warned by his media advisers they were “too far ahead of public opinion”.