Exclusive: Matt Hancock told to quit as MP after WhatsApp messages over care home Covid tests leak

1 March 2023, 16:43 | Updated: 2 March 2023, 01:55

Matt Hancock has been told to stand down
Matt Hancock has been told to stand down. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

Matt Hancock has faced fresh calls to stand down as an MP from within his local Conservative Association after WhatsApps over his testing strategy leaked.

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Mr Hancock, who now sits as an independent, has been under intense scrutiny after the Daily Telegraph revealed WhatsApp messages it said show the former Health Secretary ignoring the advice of the Chief Medical Officer with regards to testing – something which the ex-health secretary strenuously denies.

But further pressure has been piled onto Mr Hancock to stand down as an MP with immediate effect.

Cllr Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor within Matt Hancock’s West Suffolk constituency, said "the local party has moved on from him, and he has moved on from his constituents", dashing any hopes the former I'm A Celebrity star may have had regarding getting the Conservative whip back.

Cllr Houlder, who represents the area of Barrow, labelled the former cabinet minister a distraction. "Matt Hancock, our local MP, is in the papers again… the Conservatives could do without it," he said.

Mr Hancock has already revealed that he will not be re-standing as an MP, but these calls from a former local-ally will pile further pressure on him to stand down before the next election.

Read more: Matt Hancock denies claim he ignored Chris Whitty's advice on care home testing after damaging messages leaked

Matt Hancock has again faced calls to quit
Matt Hancock has again faced calls to quit. Picture: Alamy

Mr Hancock, who was reportedly set to launch some form of media career, has insisted the messages are not what The Telegraph has made them out to be.

The paper said it went through more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages, some of which show he rejected advice to rest al residents going into care homes early in the Covid pandemic.

He denied the "distorted account" with a spokesman alleging the messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she worked on his Pandemic Diaries memoir have been "spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda".

Read more: Intensive care doctor reveals horrors of working during Covid, after leaked Matt Hancock texts

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock added the messages had been "doctored".

The investigation claims chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for "all going into care homes".

It was reported that the messages suggest Mr Hancock rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just "muddies the waters", and he introduced mandatory testing for those coming from hospitals.

The WhatsApp messages revolve around whether advice from Prof Chris Whitty was ignored
The WhatsApp messages revolve around whether advice from Prof Chris Whitty was ignored. Picture: Alamy

Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could "get in the way" of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, the investigation said.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said the former health secretary is "considering all options" over the leak.

A source close to him said: "She's broken a legal NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Her behaviour is outrageous."

A spokesman said: "Having not been approached in advance by the Telegraph, we have reviewed the messages overnight.

"The Telegraph intentionally excluded reference to a meeting with the testing team from the WhatsApp. This is critical, because Matt was supportive of Chris Whitty's advice, held a meeting on its deliverability, told it wasn't deliverable, and insisted on testing all those who came from hospitals.

"The Telegraph have been informed that their headline is wrong, and Matt is considering all options available to him.

"This major error by Isabel Oakeshott and the Telegraph shows why the proper place for analysis like this is the Inquiry, not a partial, agenda-driven leak of confidential documents."