Ex-Minister Matt Hancock’s Leaked Texts Lift the Veil on U.K. Covid Policy

Mr. Hancock’s messages show an on-the-make politician who once hoped that the pandemic could vault his career to the next level. When a London paper published a plan to cut the approval time for a vaccine, he texted an aide, “I CALLED FOR THIS TWO MONTHS AGO. This is a Hancock triumph!”

Yet at other times, Mr. Hancock seemed a determined policymaker, battling ministers who he believed were prioritizing the economy over public health. When Alok Sharma, who served as business secretary, proposed loosening the test-and-trace requirements for diners at restaurants, Mr. Hancock texted the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, to say that he could not understand “why Alok is against controlling the virus. Strange approach.”

“Pure Conservative ideology,” Mr. Case replied in a comment that drew fire from critics who said that it was improperly partisan for a civil servant. Mr. Case, who was appointed by Mr. Johnson, is also in hot water for arguing that trusted local officials, not the prime minister — whom he deemed untrustworthy — should roll out new guidelines.

In his statement, Mr. Hancock expressed chagrin about the embarrassment the leaks were causing his former colleagues. He said that he worked with Ms. Oakeshott for more than a year on the book, which was published last December and which drew heavily from the WhatsApp messages, as well as from other sources.

He claimed that she had broken a confidentiality agreement in publishing the texts and had distorted them by not providing context. “Releasing them in this way gives a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda,” he said.

Ms. Oakeshott, a former political editor of The Sunday Times, did not deny breaching a legal agreement. But she said that she had been willing to take that risk and denied that The Telegraph, which has editorialized against lockdowns, was publishing them selectively. Editors, she said, had assigned eight people to comb through 2.3 million words of texts, four times the length of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

“The paper has been extraordinarily careful not to cherry-pick bits of conversation,” she noted. “The team has been meticulous about the process.”