Ministers and the country’s top civil servant talked about the need to “get heavy with the police” to make sure the public obeyed lockdown rules during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The claim is the latest to be revealed from the thousands of WhatsApp messages sent to or from then health secretary Matt Hancock and leaked to The Daily Telegraph.
The first conversation took place in late August 2020 between Simon Case, then a permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, and Mr Hancock.
Mr Case had asked: “Who actually is delivering enforcement?”
Mr Hancock replied “I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police”, prompting Mr Case to point out that they were due to have a roundtable meeting with ministers and the “cops”.
After another meeting in January 2021, which included Boris Johnson, Mr Hancock messaged Mr Case to say the “PM was in vg shape” and “the plod got their marching orders”.
The exchanges were among more than 100,000 messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who had been given them by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir.
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Mr Hancock has said the leak was a “massive betrayal” but Ms Oakeshott has insisted her actions were “overwhelmingly” in the public interest.
Other messages released in the past day:
• An exchange where Mr Hancock joked about travellers arriving in the UK being “locked up” in quarantine hotels, described by the cabinet secretary as “hilarious”.
• Mr Hancock also shared a news article with Mr Johnson about two people fined £10,000 each for failing to quarantine and Mr Johnson replied: “Superb”.
• Mr Hancock’s special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin asked if ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage could be treated as a “pub hooligan”, adding: “Can we lock him up?”. It followed a news report suggesting Mr Farage had broken quarantine rules after returning from the US
• In March 2021 when Piers Morgan left ITV’s Good Morning Britain, having had a reputation for challenging the government over its COVID response, Social Care Minister Helen Whatley joked they should “celebrate” and Mr Hancock replied: “Perfect”.
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Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the exchanges revealed an “arrogance and shameful lack of respect” ministers had towards the police.
“At the same time as they were flagrantly breaking the law themselves with their lockdown parties, they were demanding stronger enforcement by the police on everyone else,” she said.