- Written by Joshua Nevitt and Kristi Cooney
- BBC News
Leaked transcripts showed former health secretary Matt Hancock mocking people in quarantine during lockdown and suggesting they were “burdened with policing”.
The letters published by The Telegraph appear to show Mr Hancock joking with a senior aide about ‘locking’ travelers in ‘shoe box’ hotel rooms.
He also suggests that police chiefs should be told to enforce the rules more forcefully.
Other texts show Boris Johnson describing the £10,000 fine imposed on two people who broke quarantine rules as “outstanding”.
It is the latest in a series of revelations that have come from the leak.
The letters, which the BBC has not independently verified or seen in full context, were among some 100,000 sent between ministers and officials during the pandemic, delivered to The Telegraph by journalist Isabelle Oakeshott.
It was given to Mrs. Oakeshott, a longtime critic of the lockdowns, while helping Mr. Hancock write his book, Memoirs of an Epidemic.
He called the leak a “widespread betrayal” used to produce a “partial account biased to fit the anti-lockdown agenda”.
But the letters give an insight into the inner workings of the government as it struggled to contain the spread of Covid-19.
In an exchange dated 16 February 2021, Simon Case, who holds the highest position in the civil service as Cabinet Secretary, asked Mr Hancock if he knew “how many people we locked in hotels yesterday”.
Mr. Hancock replied: “Nobody. But 149 chose to enter the country and are now in quarantine hotels of their own free will!”
Mr. Case replied, “Farhan.”
Mr. Hancock also wrote: “We’re giving big families all the wings and putting pop stars in the box office rooms.”
People affected by the policy at the time described the way it was carried out as “chaos” and being kept in a hotel was like living in a “prison”.
In an earlier exchange, on 28 August 2020, Mr Case, Permanent Secretary to Downing Street, asked Hancock “who is actually doing enforcement”, apparently during a discussion about lockdown.
Mr. Hancock replied, “I think we’re going to have to go overboard with the police.”
In another letter in January 2021, Hancock appears to describe what was talked about at a meeting of dignitaries, including the prime minister.
After summarizing a discussion about enforcing the lockdown, he said, “Al-Thajer has been given marching orders.”
During the pandemic, police have often been criticized for enforcing lockdown rules in a way many considered overzealous, with fines imposed on dog walkers and protesters.
but opinion polls at the time Most people suggested their support for how the police enforce the new rules.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the exchanges exposed the ministers’ “arrogance and shameful lack of respect” towards the police.
“At the same time that they were blatantly breaking the law themselves with their closed parties, they were demanding stronger police enforcement over everyone else.”
In March 2021, Hancock also texted then Prime Minister Boris Johnson a link to a news article about two people who were fined £10,000 each for failing to self-quarantine after returning from Dubai.
Mr. Johnson replied, “Wonderful.”
Other leaked messages reported by The Telegraph appear to show the following:
- Hancock’s team asked if they could “lock up” former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage after he tweeted a video of himself in a pub in Kent.
- Social Care Secretary Helen Whateley joked about celebrating Piers Morgan’s departure from Good Morning Britain
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This lifts the lid on Boris Johnson and his fellow Conservatives’ disdain for the British public during the pandemic.
“They jeered and joked about breaking the rules we were all asked to follow.
“The Covid investigation must get to the bottom of this unfortunate story in our country’s history as quickly as possible. The public deserve the truth and the bereaved families deserve justice.”
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