Texts show Hancock backed funding threat to Tory MP

time:2023-06-10 21:52:31source:Al Jazeera author:news

Matt Hancock supported threatening to block a disability centre in a Tory MP's constituency in a bid to get him to vote for the Covid tier system in England, leaked messages suggest.

WhatsApp messages show Mr Hancock agreed to put pressure on James Daly, Conservative MP for Bury North, if he failed to vote with the government.

Mr Hancock's spokesperson said: "What has been accused here never happened."

Mr Daly said he was "very disappointed" to learn about the exchange.

However, speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, he said the threat was not carried out.

Asked how he would have responded if such a conversation had taken place, the MP said: "I would have told him where to go, and reported matters to a higher authority.

"To think somebody would use potential funding that could help someone vulnerable in our community to get votes for the government is just not acceptable."

Asked about the incident, Downing Street said Rishi Sunak would "of course" not want his ministers to behave in that way. "There are rules and guidelines that apply," the spokesperson said.

Ex-Conservative Party chair Sir Jake Berry accused Mr Hancock of "weaponising the provision of care to young disabled people" and said it "crosses a line of what's acceptable in public life".

He said the former health secretary had been "drunk on power".

In messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hancock's political aide Allan Nixon suggested putting pressure on MPs elected in 2019 whose "re-election hinges" on central government funding.

Mr Nixon proposed warning Mr Daly that funding for a new centre for disabled children and adults in his constituency would be "off the table" if he voted against new plans for a stricter tiered lockdown on 1 December 2020.

Mr Hancock replied: "Yes 100%."

Mr Daly told the Telegraph he was unaware the Department for Health and Social Care had plans to give Bury North a disability hub, which would provide specialists with a dedicated centre for co-ordinating local activity.

Under the December 2020 tier scheme, every area of England was put into one of three tiers - medium (one), high (two) and very high (three) - with the vast majority of the population in the higher two tiers.

According to the paper, leaked messages show Mr Daly was more concerned with support for pubs in areas placed in the higher tiers because they were unable to serve food.

Under the system, bars in tier two were only allowed to stay open if they served "substantial meals", while those in tier three could only provide takeaways or deliveries.

MPs eventually backed the government's plans for the tier system by 291 votes to 78 despite a large rebellion by Tory MPs - including Mr Daly.

Fifty-five Conservatives voted against the plan - the largest rebellion of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson's time in No 10.

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said the message exchange was an "entirely partial account".

"The missing context here is vitally important because this vote was critical for saving lives," the spokesperson added.

"What's being accused here never happened, demonstrating the story is wrong, and showing why such a biased, partial approach to the evidence is a bad mistake, driven by those with a vested interest and an axe to grind.

"The right place to consider everything about the pandemic objectively is in the public inquiry."

The BBC has not been able to independently verify the messages.

The texts are the latest release from more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages leaked to the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

A collection of more than 100,000 messages sent between former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers and officials at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic have been obtained by the Telegraph. Here are some of our stories on the leaks:

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