More than 100,000 explosive WhatsApp messages sent during the height of COVID have been leaked, shedding new light on Boris Johnson's handling of the pandemic.
Initially released on Wednesday, a second tranche of messages released on Thursday showed Johnson was convinced to keep schools open, worried second lockdown data was wrong and was guided by public opinion at times.
Oakeshott tweeted that the messages were "the biggest leak of data involving the government since the 2009 MPs' expenses scandal, shedding new light on issues including care home deaths, lockdowns, testing, school closures and face masks. We all deserve to know."
Yahoo News sums up the most explosive messages released on Thursday:
Johnson was told second lockdown data was wrong
The data used to justify plunging the country into a second lockdown was called into question by then-prime minister Johnson, who feared people would think the government had "blinked too soon" on locking down.
Texting his chief adviser Dominic Cummings, chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Hancock, Johnson said he had spoken with two lockdown-sceptics, Dr Raghib Ali and Dr Carl Heneghan, and been told "the death modelling you have been shown is already very wrong" as it was three weeks out of date.
The message came in November 2020, just a day after Johnson had announced a second lockdown, and a month before COVID cases increased and Christmas was "cancelled".
Britain's second lockdown was based on 'very wrong' Covid data, Boris Johnson feared (The Telegraph, 5-min read)
Public information differed from private messages
In July, the government announced that schools would reopen in September, but wouldn't open before the school holidays, with Hancock stating that there were “very difficult policy judgments based on the best available science, always guided by that science”.
However, in WhatsApp messages sent between himself and Johnson, Hancock suggested they shouldn't open schools because “everyone’s accepted there won’t be more on schools until Sept”.
The view that decisions were being made to "follow the science" was also questioned by Conservative MP Miriam Cates after the huge Hancock data dump. She told Talk Radio: "We suspected at the time a lot of these decisions were being made for political reason and not necessarily on the evidence."
WhatsApp leak shows Matt Hancock 'overlooked' school pupils, ex-children's commissioner says (The Telegraph, 4-min read)
'Public opinion' kept lockdowns in place
Johnson was keen to end COVID lockdowns sooner than they did, but was told by his advisers 'Slackie and Lee' the public wasn't ready for the change, the newly released texts show.
In messages, Johnson suggested bringing the end to lockdown sooner, but was told this was “too far ahead of public opinion”. He told Hancock what his advisers had said, to which the then-health secretary said: "I think Slackie and Lee have a point”.
"I think it’s too soon for outdoor hospitality – and they’re not expecting it until next month."
Johnson had suggested opening up more non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality and some things for families on 15 June, when the government slowly began opening things up, but was convinced to hit the brakes. Around the same time, hundreds of fines were handed out for lockdown breaches.
How Boris Johnson’s desire to lift lockdown was thwarted by public opinion (The Telegraph, 5-min read)
Teachers accused of being lazy
Messages sent between then-education secretary Gavin Williamson and Hancock reveal Williamson thought teachers unions “really do just hate work” and managed to persuade Johnson to keep schools open in January 2021.
An exchange between the pair, sent on 1 October, show Hancock texting: “Cracking announcement today. What a bunch of absolute arses the teaching unions are”
“I know they really really do just hate work," Williamson replied. Hancock replied with laughing emojis and a bullseye.
But the pair also clashed over school closures, with Hancock arguing to close schools in January 2021 and Williamson insisting they should remain open.
Texting an aide after the prime minister agreed that schools should stay open, Hancock wrote: "The next U-turn is born".
He added: "I want to find a way, Gavin having won the day, of actually preventing a policy car crash when the kids spread the disease in January. And for that we must now fight a rearguard action.”
Williamson has responded to the data dump by defending the comments he made about people not wanting to work, saying they were "about some unions and not teachers".
"I have the utmost respect for teachers who work tirelessly to support students," he said, also revealing that he considered quitting over the decision to close schools.
Matt Hancock staged ‘rearguard’ action to close schools (The Telegraph, 11-min read)