Matt Hancock told aides he wanted to “frighten the pants off everyone” to ensure compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.
That is the latest revelation from more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages leaked to the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who was given them by the former health secretary while they were collaborating on his memoir.
The messages show Mr Hancock and others discussed how to use the Kent variant of the virus to scare the public so they would obey the rules.
In December 2020, Mr Hancock and his team were concerned that London Mayor Sadiq Khan could follow Andy Burnham – the mayor of Greater Manchester who had clashed with the government over the imposition of tougher restrictions in his region.
Mr Hancock’s adviser said: “Rather than doing too much forward signalling, we can roll pitch with the new strain.”
“We frighten the pants of everyone with the new strain,” the then health secretary responded, before lamenting that complications with Brexit were “taking the top line” in the news agenda.
The adviser said: “Yep that’s what will get proper behaviour change.”
“When do we deploy the new variant?” Mr Hancock said.
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The new variant was publicly identified on 14 December and five days later Boris Johnson announced that families would no longer be able to meet for Christmas.
On 6 January 2021, England entered a third lockdown.
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‘The fear/guilt factor vital’
Four days later, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Mr Hancock were again talking about how to ensure compliance.
They considered stricter mask-wearing rules, but Mr Hancock said that he “honestly wouldn’t move on any small things unless we move on a lot”.
Mr Case agreed: “I think that is exactly right. Small stuff looks ridiculous.
“Ramping up messaging – the fear/guilt factor vital.”
He added: “I suspect London Nightingale (hospital) coming into use will feel like a big public moment.
“Especially as I guess it will be full with a couple of days (based on current data).”
Leaked messages show Hancock’s reaction to footage of him and aide in passionate embrace
Matt Hancock’s ex-aide called Cummings a ‘psychopath’, leaked messages show
On Saturday, another set of messages revealed that Mr Hancock’s former aide had called Dominic Cummings a “f****** piece of s***”.
‘He’s a psychotherapist…psychopath’
Jamie Njoku-Goodwin made the remark in March 2021 after Mr Cummings, who had been Mr Johnson’s most senior adviser, used a parliamentary committee hearing to describe the Department of Health and Social Care as having been reduced to a “smoking ruin” by the pandemic.
Mr Hancock asked: “How would you deal with this Cummings crap?”
His former adviser responded privately: “I was about to message. What a f***ing piece of s***.
“You went out and backed him over Barnard Castle, and he responds by briefing against you relentlessly, in private and now in public. He’s a psychotherapist.”
He swiftly corrected himself: “Psychopath.”
Six months into the pandemic, Mr Hancock also said that “removing SS (NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens) will be a massive improvement”, according to the leaked messages.
In a statement this week, Mr Hancock said that all the materials for his book had been made available to the official COVID-19 inquiry.