Hancock ‘politically finished’ says Councillor Andy Neal
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Matt Hancock has furiously attacked a “bonkers proposal” ministers put to him that could have seen 20,000 non-violent prisoners released during the Covid lockdown as part of his new explosive diaries. ‘Pandemic Diaries’ is the former Health Secretary’s eagerly awaited book and details the drama, feuds, failures and triumphs of the Government’s intense battle to fight the coronavirus crisis that had tens of millions of people on red alert.
Mr Hancock was Health Secretary in Boris Johnson’s Government during the pandemic and was central in a series of crucial decisions, including lockdowns, travel restrictions and the procurement and rollout of the world’s first Covid vaccine.
In his book, serialised exclusively in the Daily Mail from tomorrow, the West Suffolk MP says he was “in the hot seat” during the fastest moving and most intense crisis “in human history”.
He writes: “I am proud of what we achieved, especially on the vaccine. But there is much to learn for the next public health crisis of this kind, which I am sure will happen in my lifetime.”
The diaries from the former Health Secretary detail extraordinary talks at the heart of the Government during the Covid pandemic.
In one extraordinary claim, Mr Hancock says with the first lockdown looming in March 2020, he was pressures to sign off the release of thousands of prisoners to prevent them catching the virus in jail.
In his entry for March 17, he writes: “A bonkers proposal from the Ministry of Justice to let prisoners out, as they’d be easier to manage if they’re not in prison. Yes, really: they actually thought this might be a goer.
“I was emphasising [my opposition] so hard that all of a sudden my chair could take the strain no longer and ripped, tipping me unceremoniously on to the floor.”
Despite this strong opposition from the then-Health Secretary, he claimed officials continued to pile pressure on the plan to be signed off for a further fortnight.
Writing on April 3, Mr Hancock says: “Officials are still insisting that Justice Secretary Rob Buckland wants to release thousands of non-violent prisoners to take the pressure off the system.
“I keep writing ‘NO’ in large letters on submissions asking me to sign this off. It’s obvious the public won’t wear it, yet the idea keeps going back and forth on paper.
“After about the third iteration, I called Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he’d been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them.
“Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the matter. Clearly someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear.
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“We cannot lock up literally everyone in the country except prisoners, who we instead release, I spluttered.”
But a Whitehall source has disputed the claim from Mr Hancock he led the opposition to the release of thousands of non-violent prisoners during the Covid lockdown.
The insider said both Boris Johnson and Robert Buckland were against the push by Public Health England to free 20,000 prisoners.
They added: “The idea that Hancock was the main line of resistance to this is just not true. Buckland was against it from the start, as was the PM.
“And it was the PM who made the comment about not releasing prisoners while we’re locking up everyone else. It was madness.”
In the end, only 140 “low risk” prisoners were released early to prevent overcrowding at jails around the country.
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