“I’ve kept it out of the news but it’s serious."
According to the most recent set of leaked WhatsApp texts, Matt Hancock mocked Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme during the Covid pandemic.
The conversations reveal the then-health secretary’s efforts to enlist Simon Case, the then-cabinet secretary, in his opposition to Sunak and others about various pandemic-era policies.
Simon Case, who is expected to maintain his political neutrality, expressed dissatisfaction with a senior minister’s “pure Conservative ideology”.
The texts imply that Hancock had reservations about the Treasury programme, dubbed it the “eat out to help the virus get about” and intended to support businesses.
While businesses worked to recover from the pandemic, the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign, launched in August 2020, gave consumers a 50% discount, up to £10, on meals and soft drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
Hancock sent Case the following message:
“Just want to let you know directly that we have had lots of feedback that Eat Out to Help Out is causing problems in our intervention areas.
“I’ve kept it out of the news but it’s serious.
“So please please let’s not allow the economic success of the scheme to lead to its extension.”
A previous conversation took place in June 2020, when the administration was debating how to remove limitations.
The communications demonstrate Hancock’s desire for cafés and restaurants to maintain a record of customer information for NHS Test and Trace, pleading with the government to change the word “can” in the advice to “should”.
According to the texts, Sir Alok Sharma, the then-business secretary, favoured the second wording.
As Hancock put it: “The language on customer logs has just gone from ‘should’ to ‘can’.
“Grateful if you can fix – we can’t reverse this at the last minute!”
Case replied: “Alok blocking ‘should’. Will need to fix it after this meeting.”
Hancock said the “question I can’t understand is why Alok is against controlling the virus. Strange approach”.
In response, Simon Case said: “Pure Conservative ideology.”
Rishi Sunak was also addressed in the chat, and Case added that he is “going bonkers about ‘should’ right now too”.
Journalist Isabel Oakeshott received the communications from Hancock when they were working together on his memoir and released them along with more than 100,000 other messages.
Matt Hancock has branded the leak as a “massive betrayal” meant to further an “anti-lockdown agenda”.
The revelations are in the public interest, according to Oakeshott.
After pictures of Matt Hancock kissing his assistant Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office surfaced, he was forced to quit as health secretary in June 2021.