GMB: Isabel Oakeshott defends leaking of Hancock messages
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Matt Hancock mocked Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, according to leaked messages. The flagship initiative by the then chancellor was designed to support restaurants battered by the Covid pandemic.
But the latest tranche of Mr Hancock’s leaked WhatsApp messages show he dubbed it the “eat out to help the virus get about” in an exchange with an aide in December 2020.
The correspondence also shows the then health secretary raised concerns about the impact of the Treasury scheme on the spread of coronavirus.
In a message to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in the summer of 2020, Mr Hancock said: “Just want to let you know directly that we have had lots of feedback that Eat our 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 lets not allow the economic success of the scheme to lead to its extension.”
The state-backed initiative offered customers a 50 percent discount, up to £10, on meals and soft drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as businesses sought to recover from Covid.
The exchanges were among more than 100,000 messages passed to the Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott.
She was originally given the material by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir.
Mr Hancock has condemned the leak as a “massive betrayal” designed to support an “anti-lockdown agenda”.
He also said there was “absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach” because all the material used for his Pandemic Diaries book was given to the Covid public inquiry.
But Ms Oakeshott has insisted that the disclosure of the pandemic-era messages is in the public interest.
She said in a statement yesterday: “Hard though it may be for him to believe, this isn’t about Matt Hancock, or indeed any other individual politician. Nor is it about me. The greatest betrayal is of the entire country.
“We were all let down by the response to the pandemic and repeated unnecessary lockdowns.
“Children in particular paid a terrible price. Anyone who questioned an approach we now know was fatally flawed was utterly vilified, including highly respected and eminent public health experts, doctors and scientists.
“So far from being protected, the NHS may never recover, as millions of patients condemned to year-long waiting lists are discovering.”
“Meanwhile the economy is in smithereens. It is now essential that the public inquiry, set up almost two years ago, quickly establishes deadlines for its work and answers the urgent question about whether lockdown, with all its impacts, was proportionate. These issues must be addressed well before the next general election,” she said in her statement.
“Against this backdrop, the Telegraph expose is clearly in the overwhelming public interest. The outpouring of support I and the paper have had from ordinary people who suffered – and are still suffering – the consequences of the mistakes we are exposing shows how desperately the nation wants answers.
“I make no apology whatsoever for acting in the national interest– the worst betrayal of all would be to cover up these truths.”
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