'Eating kangaroo testicles has clearly affected Matt Hancock’s memory' - Ex-Health Secretary criticised for diary account of 2020 'knee-jerk' Covid lockdown for the North East
A fresh row has broken out over “knee-jerk” Covid lockdowns imposed on the North East at the height of the pandemic.
In an excerpt from the former health secretary’s diaries, which have been serialised in the Daily Mail, ex-Newcastle Labour leader Nick Forbes is labelled a “chancer” for criticising the Government’s imposition of Covid restrictions in the region in September 2020.
Mr Hancock alleges that the Prime Minister was “indignant” at Mr Forbes claiming the local lockdown measures had been announced in a knee-jerk fashion that had spread “confusion and chaos”.
But the former council leader told the Local Democracy Reporting Service regional leaders suffered “endless frustration” with ministers during the pandemic.
Of the I’m a Celebrity… contestant’s diary entry, Mr Forbes said: “Eating kangaroo testicles has clearly affected Matt Hancock’s memory.
“I argued both in public and in private for appropriate restrictions to deal with the Covid pandemic as it developed.
“I also argued that we needed proper support for businesses that would be affected.
“For several months, the Government tried to fob us off with inadequate resources and it was an endless frustration that they would announce restrictions for the North East without publishing the details of the regulations, which made it virtually impossible to answer the myriad of questions that were inevitably raised as a result.
“Matt Hancock seems to be misunderstanding my raising concerns with Government about their incompetence in writing the rules and lack of support for businesses with a political agenda.
“It is fair to say that we were strongly aligned in our wish to battle Covid right from the outset, and I wish the government had been more responsive to those of who were closer to the ground and listening to what was happening and what needed to be done to keep people safe and businesses going.”
In an interview with the BBC on September 29, 2020, Mr Forbes criticised the Government’s handling of a local lockdown announcement the night before, which he claimed was made “without any kind of understanding about the impact on affected businesses, and the potential for job losses”.
Mr Hancock had confirmed at the time that indoor mixing of people from different households would be banned in all settings across Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.
In his diary entry for that day, which was published by the Mail this week, Mr Hancock wrote: “Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, has been sounding off about the impact of the [latest] restrictions on the local economy, accusing me of imposing them in ‘knee-jerk’ style and claiming it’s ‘confusion and chaos’.
“Boris was indignant. ‘Who is this t****r from Newcastle?’ he asked. I told him Forbes had called for the measures and we’d worked all weekend with his council to agree them. ‘Then he’s come out against them. Unreal,’ I said.
“It’s part of a pattern: Labour chancers cooperate with us privately and then the minute we announce everything we’ve been talking to them about, they take to the airwaves to bleat about it all being a mess.”
The Department of Health was contacted for a response.