Inside Hancock’s plan to ‘frighten the pants off everyone’ about Covid

Matt Hancock said he wanted to “frighten the pants off everyone” to convince them to obey coronavirus restrictions, newly leaked text messages suggest. Other messages from his aides also point to a plan to use “fear and guilt” in order to maintain lockdown.

The comments are the latest insight into the running of No10 during the coronavirus pandemic given by nearly 100,000 WhatsApp messages given by journalist Isabel Oakeshott to the Telegraph. Ms Oakeshott supplied the outlet with the texts after being handed them by Mr Hancock to ghostwrite his biography, with the journalist breaking a non-disclosure agreement to do so.

In the latest messages, the former Health Secretary discussed how they could use the Kent variation of the virus to scare the public into obeying the rules.

A key concern at the time was that London Mayor Sadiq Khan could follow Andy Burnham – the mayor of Greater Manchester – into clashing with the Government over the imposition of stricter regulations.

Mr Hancock’s adviser said: “Rather than doing too much forward signalling, we can roll pitch with the new strain.”

Mr Hancock replied: “We frighten the pants of everyone with the new strain,” adding that he was frustrated to see Brexit was dominating the news agenda at the time.

The adviser said: “Yep that’s what will get proper behaviour change.”

England entered a third lockdown on January 6, 2021.

Mr Hancock had also expressed concern that using the new variant to drum up concern around Covid could lead to schools closing – which comes after earlier messages showed the then-Health Secretary joking with an aide that teachers “hate work”.

He then discussed ensuring compliance from the public with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. Strategies included stricter mask-wearing rules, although Mr Hancock remarked 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.

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“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).”

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.

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