Matt Hancock told Britain’s most senior civil servant he would need to “get heavy with the police” to enforce lockdown rules during the Covid pandemic, leaked messages have revealed.
A Daily Telegraph investigation revealed WhatsApp correspondence showing how Hancock and Simon Case feared authorities were not doing enough to stop people breaking the rules in August 2020. At the time Case was in his last month as Permanent Secretary to Downing Street.
The messages also show how the then health secretary and his aides “ordered” another lockdown to begin in the following January, days later.
The seriousness of policing the temporary measures was a hotly debated topic during the pandemic, with fines being handed out to people participating in peaceful vigils or walking around with cups of coffee.
In a message sent on 28 August 2020, Case told Hancock: “Blimey! Who is actually providing enforcement?
The former health secretary replied: “I think we’re going to have to get down heavy with the police.”
Ministers publicly stated that the police acted independently of the government in enforcing the rules during the pandemic.
The Telegraph reported that in other messages, Case was apparently joking about the quarantine rules, which meant travelers would have to isolate on their return to the UK.
Case told Hancock on 5 February 2021: “I just want to see the faces of some of the guys coming out of first class and into the premiers’ shoe boxes.”
More than a week later, Case sent a message to Hancock: “Who knows how many people we locked up in hotels yesterday?”
Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “This puts the lid on the contempt that Boris Johnson and his Conservative cronies have for the British public during the pandemic.
“He made fun of and made fun of the rules we were all required to follow.
“The Covid investigation should be able to get to the bottom of this sorry saga in our nation’s history as soon as possible. The public deserves the truth and the bereaved families should get justice.”
Matt Hancock said he was “extremely disappointed” by what he described as a “massive betrayal and breach of trust” by Isabel Oakeshott, who gave WhatsApp messages from her time as health secretary to the Daily Telegraph.
The WhatsApp exchange was given to Oakeshott by Hancock when they were collaborating on a book about the pandemic.
Messages leaked so far from former Prime Minister Boris Johnson; Chief Medical Officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty; Simon Case, who is now Cabinet Secretary; Lee Cain, Johnson’s former communications director, and Emma Dean, an adviser to Hancock.
The former health secretary apologized Thursday for the impact the release of the messages had on people he worked with during the pandemic.
In a statement, Hancock said: “I am extremely disappointed and saddened by the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Oakeshott. I am also sorry for the impact on the many people – political colleagues, civil servants and friends – who have Worked hard with me to survive the pandemic and save lives.
He said there was “no public interest case for this major breach” as all material used for his pandemic diary book had been subpoenaed for a Covid-19 public inquiry.
On Thursday, Oakeshott defended his decision to release the message.
She claimed it was in the public interest to publish the messages with the Telegraph this week because they shed light on the inner workings of the government as it responded to the pandemic.
Addressing his decision not to reveal the messages until he finished working for Hancock, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I have a responsibility to finish that book with him now in the public interest.”
has been contacted for comment on the matter.