Hancock ‘discussed withholding learning disability hub if MP opposed lockdown’
By Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor
Matt Hancock discussed withholding funding for a learning disability centre to pressure an MP not to rebel against coronavirus restrictions, leaked messages suggest.
The former health secretary and an aide spoke about warning Bury North MP James Daly that a new centre for disabled children and adults would be “off the table” if he voted against the Government, according to the Telegraph’s investigation.
Senior Conservative Jake Berry described the disclosure as an “absolute disgrace” and called for Mr Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning.
But Mr Hancock’s team said “what’s being accused here never happened” as they disputed the “entirely partial account” based on a trove of leaked WhatsApp messages.
The Telegraph said the discussion between Mr Hancock and political aide Allan Nixon came ahead of a vote on December 1 2020 on the introduction of new Covid restrictions in England.
Mr Nixon said they need to “dangle our top asks” over some of the newest MPs who entered Parliament in 2019 through Boris Johnson’s general election victory.
Mr Nixon suggested, for example, “James wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury – whips call him up and say Health team want to work with him to deliver this but that’ll be off the table if he rebels”.
“These guys’ re-election hinges on us in a lot of instances, and we know what they want. We should seriously consider using it IMO,” he wrote.
Mr Hancock’s response was “yes 100%”.
Mr Daly, a Conservative MP, told the paper he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers.
But he said the threat was never made to him.
Mr Hancock’s spokesman said: “As we’ve repeatedly seen this last week, it is completely wrong to take this entirely partial account and write it up as fact.
“What’s being accused here never happened, demonstrating the story is wrong, and showing why such a biased, partial approach to the evidence is a bad mistake, driven by those with a vested interest and an axe to grind.
“The right place to consider everything about the pandemic objectively is in the public inquiry.”
But Mr Berry, a former Tory party chairman, said: “This is an absolute disgrace.
“Hancock should be dragged to the bar of the House of Commons first thing tomorrow morning to be questioned on this.”