Cabinet hawks Sunak and Johnson sideline Matt Hancock over lockdown

Where’s Matt? Did Health Secretary Hancock deliberately go missing for launch of three-tier system or was he sidelined because he agrees with SAGE?

  • Boris Johnson was flanked by hawkish Chancellor Rishi Sunak on TV last night
  • Mr Hancock, seen as a Cabinet ‘dove’, spent Monday working behind the scenes
  • He was last week was accused of trying to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into lockdown 

Matt Hancock appears to have lost a Cabinet battle over control of the coronavirus restrictions after he was sidelined by the Prime Minister last night.

Boris Johnson was flanked by hawkish Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he unveiled new lockdown measures last night that placed millions of people into a stricter regime to control the pandemic.

But it was later revealed that the three-tier system overrode advice from Sage scientists who wanted a short, sharp total ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown three weeks ago over fears about the economic damage.

Mr Hancock, seen as a Cabinet ‘dove’ who supports efforts to protect health before the economy, was accused last week of trying to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into a harsh  lockdown with a series of warnings about the problems to come this winter.

He spent Monday working behind the scenes attempting to placate MPs in areas placed into the High and Very High tiers who were worried about the effect on the population and businesses.

In one call he got into a near row with Shipley MP Philip Davies, an opponent of the lockdown, telling him: ‘I know your views, you know mine, this is not a second reading debate, sorry,’ according to the Politics Home website.

One Labour backbencher representing a coronavirus hotpot said Mr Hancock’s absence from the lockdown announcement had been noted. 

‘He’s probably still recovering from his wine in the bar the other night,’ they sniped. 

Mr Hancock, seen as a Cabinet ‘dove’ who supports efforts to protect health before the economy, was accused last week of trying to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into a harsh lockdown with a series of warnings about the problems to come this winter.

Boris Johnson was flanked by hawkish Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he unveiled new lockdown measures last night and they again posed for the cameras today (pictured) after placing millions of people into a stricter regime to control the pandemic

Mr Hancock was accused at the weekend of breaking his own Covid curfew by drinking in a Commons bar beyond 10pm – where he made a crass joke about the Government’s test and trace failings. 

Mr Hancock arrived at the bar just before a 9.40pm vote, ordered a glass of white wine and announced: ‘The drinks are on me – but Public Health England are in charge of the payment methodology so I will not be paying anything.’ 

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said today the Government appeared to have rejected scientific advice in opting against Sage’s recommendation of a ‘circuit break’ lockdown.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I’m alarmed that these recommendations to Government appear to have been rejected.

‘Ministers, the Prime Minister often come on the television and radio programmes to say they are always following the science… to justify the decisions they have made.

‘They seem to have rejected this scientific advice.’

Asked if Labour would have supported a short national lockdown, Mr Ashworth said: ‘I think if I was the Secretary of State then we would always follow the scientific advice.

‘What we need to understand from ministers and I will press (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock in the House of Commons later as to why the scientific advice was rejected – we need to understand the minister’s explanation.’

A senior minister today admitted lockdown will ‘probably’ have to get tougher after it was revealed Boris Johnson overruled SAGE demands for a national ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown three weeks ago.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded the government is poised to ‘go further’ after the PM unveiled his new ‘Three Tier’ system of local restrictions – but only put Merseyside in the harshest category that will see pubs and bars shut.

Mr Jenrick pointed to high rates of infection in areas such as Greater Manchester and Nottingham, appealing for local leaders to agree terms to move up from Tier Two.

But he dismissed claims that the government was not being ‘robust’ enough, after bombshell documents slipped out late last night showed its own scientific advisers wanted much more dramatic action.

The extraordinary spat emerged as Mr Johnson gathered his Cabinet for talks on the crisis, with infections threatening to spiral out of control again.

Mr Johnson defiantly insisted at a No10 press conference last night that he had no intention of imposing a UK-wide squeeze that would ‘shatter’ the economy.

But minutes of a SAGE meeting from September 21 show that is exactly what the key group was suggesting.

It presented a shortlist of options including banning all indoor contact between households, closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers.

At the top of the list was the recommendation for a two or three week lockdown with draconian measures similar to those imposed earlier in the pandemic.

‘If this were as strict and well-adhered to as the restrictions in late May, this could put the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more,’ the dossier said.

The rift had been on show at the Downing Street briefing, when chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that the toughest Tier Three curbs in the new regime would not be ‘sufficient’ to control the virus.

He urged local authorities to use the ‘flexibility’ in the arrangements to impose even harsher measures.

Labour accused the Government of flouting its own mantra of ‘following the science’, while SAGE members broke cover to complain the new restrictions had come too late.

But in a round of interviews this morning, Mr Jenrick said ministers had to strike a ‘balance’. ‘We probably will need to go further,’ he said. ‘But we want to design these steps jointly between ourselves and local government.’

Source: Read Full Article