Matt Hancock under fire as WhatsApps reveal COVID vote pressure on Tory MPs
Latest messages show then-U.K. health chief considered yanking support for key projects ahead of Tory rebellion on coronavirus rules.
LONDON — Matt Hancock has been accused of “weaponizing the provision of care to disabled children” after leaked WhatsApp messages suggest he dangled support for a local support center to win over an MP in a key Commons vote.
The texts — published by the Daily Telegraph — show that the then-U.K. health secretary agreed it was worth putting pressure on the MP James Daly.
As part of efforts to win over Conservative rebels in a December 2020 vote on COVID regulations, Hancock’s aide — special adviser Allan Nixon — suggested to Hancock that the government “dangle our top asks” over MPs elected in 2019 who were considered a rebellion risk.
“E.g James [Daly] wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury — whips call him up and say health team want to work with him to deliver this but that’ll be off the table if he rebels,” the aide texts Hancock.
“These guys’ re-election hinges on us in a lot of instances, and we know what they want. We should seriously consider using it IMO [in my opinion],” Nixon added.
“Yes 100%,” Hancock replied.
A spokesperson for Hancock confirmed the idea was considered, but said “it never happened.” They accused the Telegraph of publishing an “entirely partial account.” Hancock has previously attacked the paper for pursuing an “anti-lockdown agenda.”
Daly told the Telegraph no threat to block the scheme was ever made.
The messages — and other revelations that include jokes at the expense of teaching unions and a suggestion Hancock expressed disdain for Rishi Sunak’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme — have sparked a backlash from Tory MPs.
“I think once you get to the point that you are weaponising the provision of care to disabled children, I think you have crossed the line,” Conservative MP Jake Berry told Times Radio Tuesday.
“He will be apologizing if I see him,” Berry added.
A spokesperson for prime minister Rishi Sunak said Monday morning that government funding decisions are taken in line with strict guidelines and according to value for money concerns.