Matt Hancock feared being labelled ‘racist’ over raising concerns that Covid was spreading faster among certain communities, new leaked messages reveal.
WhatsApp exchanges from August 2020 show Nadine Dorries, a key figure at the Department of Health at the time, warn her boss Mr Hancock not to lockdown ‘our voters’ because of the ‘behaviour of non compliant communities’.
She later suggested there could be ‘race riots’ if he chose to lockdown the ‘white working-class’ area of Colne in Lancashire while the virus was quickly spreading in the neighbouring town of Nelson.
The messages, the latest to be published by The Daily Telegraph, also reveal another Conservative MP told then prime minister, Boris Johnson, that local lockdown restrictions were fuelling ‘race relation issues’ in his constituency.
Texts unearthed today reveal Mr Hancock, then health secretary told Ms Dorries on August 20, 2020: ‘I don’t want to be called a racist but we’ve got to name it’.
New leaked WhatsApp messages published today by The Daily Telegraph reveal Matt Hancock, then health secretary told Ms Dorries on August 20, 2020: ‘I don’t want to be called a racist but we’ve got to name it’
WhatsApp exchanges from August 2020 show Nadine Dorries, a key figure at the Department of Health at the time, warn her boss Matt Hancock not to lockdown ‘our voters’ because of the ‘behaviour of non compliant communities’
Ms Dorries, who at the time served as minister for patient safety, suicide prevention and mental health, responded: ‘We can’t put whole towns and villages with extremely low R rates in lockdown (our voters) and deprive those people of work and family bcse of the behaviour of non compliant communities.’
MailOnline has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages, leaked to The Daily Telegraph by Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who helped ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock write his book Pandemic Diaries.
The R rate — which epidemiologists use measure a disease’s ability to spread – is, in essence, the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.
At the time the R rate across England was believed to be between 0.9 and 1.0 according to data from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
On August 19, test and trace data showed a 27 per cent jump in the number of positive Covid cases, despite the number of people tested reducing slightly.
Local lockdowns and measures were in place across a number of towns to target areas with a higher R rate, after the national lockdown ended on July 4.
On Aug 20, ministers were considering fresh interventions in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn in Lancashire as the epidemiological data showed that cases were getting out of control in certain areas.
Later that day, in a message to Ms Dorries, Mr Hancock said he had spoken to Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, West Yorkshire regarding local lockdowns.
‘I told him that given he’s got a veto, it’s actually very good for him,’ Mr Hancock told Ms Dorries.
‘I’m speaking to Andrew Stephenson tonight regarding Pendle’, she responded.
She added: ‘Remember the Burnley race riots? I was working as Oliver Letwin’s Spad [special advisor] at the time. Andrew very concerned at his LA [local authority] CEOs stance that any restrictions should be one size fits all, across the constituency.
‘The town ward of Colne, 18 pubs, white working class would be like a tinder box if it’s pubs closed bcse of non compliance and infection rates in Nelson, 2 pubs, Pakistani community next door.’
On August 21, the Government then unveiled new Covid guidance to come into force on August 22, tightening restrictions on households meeting and attendances at weddings and funerals, in some parts of east Lancashire.
Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, had also reached out to then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, earlier in August to prevent lockdown restrictions from including Pendle, leaked WhatsApp messages show
Those in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn were told not to socialise with anyone outside their household and not to use public transport unless it was essential.
Colne was not included in these new measures.
Announcing the restrictions, Mr Hancock said at the time: ‘Working with local leaders we agreed further action in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn. It is vital that everyone in these areas follow the advice of their councils, and abide by their local rules carefully.’
The action was ‘as targeted as possible, with the maximum possible local consensus’, he added.
It came as Mr Davies had reached out to then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, earlier in August to prevent lockdown restrictions from including Pendle, leaked WhatsApp messages show.
In a message shared with Mr Hancock by Mr Johnson, the MP for Shipley wrote: ‘I am desperate to speak to you about the decision of the govt to include my constituency in the local lockdown on Bradford – even though there are barely any cases in my constituency.
‘This is causing a massive issue and is fuelling huge race relations issues. This needs to be resolved ASAP.
‘I would be very grateful if you could find the time to discuss with me. This is toxic locally.’
Pendle had been placed under restrictions alongside swathes of the north of England including Bradford and Greater Manchester on July 30, the evening before Eid.
But further texts leaked to The Daily Telegraph also show Dido Harding, who led the Government’s test and trace programme, warn Mr Hancock of a rise in infections among the ‘same communities’ who would be celebrating Eid, ten days earlier.
She wrote: ‘I am really worried about Eid. The geographic spread is all in the same communities.’
KEY CLAIMS OF THE LOCKDOWN FILES INVESTIGATION
A fresh cache of 100,000 text and WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-journalist who ghost-wrote Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries claimed:
- Matt Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer’s call to test all residents going into English care homes for Covid
- A minister in Mr Hancock’s department said restrictions on visitors to care homes were ‘inhumane’, but residents remained isolated many months on
- Mr Hancock’s adviser arranged for a personal test to be couriered for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s child at a time of national shortage
- Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage
- Mr Hancock allegedly met his 100,000-tests-a-day target by counting kits that were despatched before the deadline but might never be processed
- Social care minister Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was ‘definitely working’ after she managed to secure a test ‘just’ 50 miles from where she lived.
- Mr Osborne warned Mr Hancock that ‘no one thinks testing is going well’ in late 2020
- The then prime minister, Boris Johnson, revealed he was going ‘quietly crackers’ about the UK’s shortage of test kits
- Face masks were introduced in school hallways and communal areas after the PM was told it would avoid an ‘argument’ with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
- Matt Hancock took ‘rearguard’ action to close schools after former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson persuaded the PM to keep them open in January 2021
- Sir Gavin said teachers were looking for an ‘excuse’ not to work during the pandemic
- Ministers said there was ‘no robust rationale’ for imposing the ‘rule of six’ on children, but did it anyway
- Pupils with false positive results on a lateral flow test had to isolate at home for ten days, even when they tested negative on a PCR, to avoid ‘unpicking’ the policy
- The PM feared that he ‘blinked too soon’ in plunging the UK into a second Covid lockdown after being warned that gloomy modelling which bounced him into the move was ‘very wrong’
- Mr Johnson was eager to ease curbs on retail, hospitality and gatherings in June 2020 but was told he was ‘too far ahead of public opinion’
- Mr Hancock and top civil servant Simon Case joked about travellers ‘locked up’ in quarantine hotels during Covid lockdown
- The minister said the Government should ‘get heavy with the police’ to help crack down on Covid lockdown rulebreakers
- Mr Hancock’s team asked if they could ‘lock up’ Nigel Farage after he posted a video of himself in a pub when they suspected he was in breach of rules
- The former Health Secretary hoped the pandemic would ‘propel’ his career ‘into the next league’ and said he thought he ‘looked great’ in a picture in a MailOnline article
- Mr Hancock referred to Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as ‘eat out to help the virus get about’ and lobbied officials not to extend the scheme
- Mr Hancock clashed with the Treasury, calling Steve Barclay, now the Health Secretary, a ‘w***er’ and accused Mr Sunak of ‘showing ankle to the hard right’ by warning of a second national lockdown
- In the hours after his affair with married aide Gina Coladangelo became public, he said the worst they could be accused of was kissing ‘before they legalised hugs’
- Ministers sought to remove NHS England boss Lord Stevens just says after Covid was first detected, saying it would be a ‘massive improvement’
- Mr Hancock plotted to have ‘worse than useless’ and ‘complete loudmouth’ Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is now the WHO’s top scientist, sacked from SAGE
- Mr Hancock planned when to ‘deploy’ the news of a new Covid variant to ‘frighten the pants off’ the public so they complied with lockdown rules
- The former Health Secretary branded the Government’s vaccine tsar Dame Kate Bingham ‘totally unreliable’ and ‘wacky’ after she said only the vulnerable needed to be vaccinated against Covid
- Mr Hancock wanted to be the face of the vaccine rollout, planning to do media rounds and ‘own’ the news of the Covid jabs
- Mr Hancock attempted to hide that he’d take Ms Coladangelo to a dinner with the US health secretary
- Sir Chris advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during the pandemic
- Sir Chris told ministers Covid jabs couldn’t be fast-tracked during the early days of the pandemic because the virus wasn’t deadly enough