Matt Hancock branded a ministerial colleague a “w*****” and mocked Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as “eat out to help the virus get about”, leaked messages show.
The revelations are the latest from the “Lockdown Files“being published by The Daily Telegraph.
The paper obtained swathes of Mr Hancock’s WhatsApp messages from journalist Elizabeth Oakeshottwho was given them while working on the former health secretary’s book.
The latest release of information from The Telegraph focuses on Mr Hancock’s relationship with then chancellor – now prime minister – Rishi Sunak.
One exchange of messages published today took place in June 2020, as the country began to open up from the first lockdown.
Mr Hancock was angry about a story claiming that Mr Sunak had issued warnings over some departments’ spending being out of control.
Speaking with one of his advisers, Mr Hancock said he “spoke to Rishi”, who was “horrified” at the story.
Mr Hancock and his adviser discussed where the story could have come from – who had told the journalist what Mr Sunak was said to think.
The adviser said he assumed it was “just officials making mischief”.
Mr Hancock said “Or Steve Barclay. W—ers. Trying to be all clever about spending control.”
At the time, Mr Barclay, who is now health secretary, was chief secretary of the Treasury, under Mr Sunak.
‘Eat out to help the virus get about’
In December 2020, Matt Hancock complained to his adviser about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Launched in summer 2020 by Rishi Sunak, the scheme subsidized food at restaurants in order to help support the hospitality industry.
After the scheme had ended, Mr Hancock’s adviser asked if he could call Mr Hancock back after dinner – to which the health secretary quipped “Isn’t that illegal?”
Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts
The adviser said: “Not any more, all thanks to Rishi…”
Mr Hancock replied: “He hasn’t launched another eat out to help the virus get about has he?”
The adviser said: “Got to give the virus a fighting chance, given how well you’re doing with vaccines and testing right now…”
‘Public not interested in Hancock’s reputation,’ says journalist who leaked messages
New photos of Boris Johnson during lockdown gatherings released
Everything you need to know about investigation into ex-PM
Messages from when the scheme was active show Mr Hancock saying Eat Out to Help Out was “causing problems in our [i]ntervention areas”, but the cabinet minister “kept it out of the news but it’s serious”.
He said the Treasury under Mr Sunak had been told, but Mr Hancock had been “protecting them in the comms”.
It was later estimated that the scheme had caused a “significant“rise in infections.