The social care minister joked about celebrating Piers Morgan‘s exit from Good Morning Britain on a day when parties were illegal in the UK. In a WhatsApp message to Matt Hancock, Helen Whately said: “How about we celebrate the departure of Piers at/after our team meeting tmr pm? Just a thought.” Mr Hancock replied: “Perfect.”
The exchange came shortly after it was revealed that Mr Morgan would be leaving the breakfast show after making controversial comments about the Duchess of Sussex.
At the time the messages were sent, the UK was in its third lockdown, with social gatherings limited to two people meeting outside in public places.
The messages do not indicate whether they made any plans to celebrate.
But a Government spokesman said today that there was “no celebration” and that Ms Whately’s comment was intended as “a joke”.
Ms Whately found herself in a heated exchange with Mr Morgan in April 2020, when the presenter accused her of laughing during an interview about the care homes crisis.
Mr Morgan left Good Morning after he said on air that he “didn’t believe a word” that the Duchess of Sussex had said in her interview with Oprah Winfrey.
The comments triggered 41,000 complaints to television regulator Ofcom, with the presenter accused of dismissing her mental health issues.
The WhatsApp messages, published as part of an investigation by the Telegraph, also suggest Mr Hancock rejected advice to give Covid tests to all residents going into English care homes.
They show Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
But the messages suggest Mr Hancock did not follow the guidance, telling an aide the move “muddies the waters”.
He introduced mandatory testing for those entering care homes from hospitals, but not from the community until later.
Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, according to the messages.
In one message, Mr Hancock said Sir Chris had finished a review and recommended “testing of all going into care homes, and segregation whilst awaiting result”.
The then health secretary described it as “obviously a good positive step”.
However, the investigation said he later responded to an aide: “Tell me if I’m wrong but I would rather leave it out and just commit to test & isolate ALL going into care from hospital. I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.”
Matt Hancock is “considering all options” over the leaked messages, hitting back at what he branded a “distorted account” on his handling of care home testing in the pandemic.
A spokesman for the West Suffolk MP said: “It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being pushed with partial leaks, spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed.