Labour demands inquiry as row over Matt Hancock’s emails escalates with PM embroiled

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the former health secretary being accused of using a private Gmail account to conduct government business

The row over Matt Hancock’s use of a private email account has led to questions for the prime minister over his own communications.

Former health secretary Mr Hancock has been accused of using a private Gmail account to conduct government business, something denied by No 10.

The allegation comes amid Mr Hancock's resignation for breaking Covid rules by kissing an aide - footage of which was captured by video in his office and shared with The Sun.

Boris Johnson was also targeted by Labour after refusing to be drawn on whether he also used a personal email account for work purposes.

Labour has demanded the government "tell the truth" and has called on the PM to "come clean".

The PM is being pushed to 'tell the truth' in a potential row over personal emails. Credit: PA

"I don’t comment on how I conduct government business," Mr Johnson said.

"But I can tell you that we in this government are getting on with focusing on the people’s priorities."

Mr Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings suggested the prime minister and Mr Hancock routinely used WhatsApp message instead of official communications channels.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner warned that if Mr Johnson was using a personal email account for government business it would be "rank incompetence" which could put national security at risk.

She told ITV News: "This is not just about ensuring security, but it's about probity so the civil service can make sure what contracts are coming in, how they're coming in.

"We know there was a fast-track [...] we found out through the court proceedings that have been going on."

'There's a real sleaze and stink about what this government have been up to'

The Sunday Times reported that minutes of meetings revealed that Mr Hancock had been using a private email address since March 2020.

The newspaper said it meant key decisions and their reasoning were not recorded or could be difficult to access for any future inquiry into the handling of coronavirus.

The minutes from a meeting between senior officials in the department in December reportedly showed that David Williams, who was then the department’s second permanent secretary, warned that Mr Hancock "only" dealt with his private office "via Gmail account".

The Sunday Times reported that Mr Williams said "the SOS [secretary of state] does not have a DHSC inbox" and that health minister Lord Bethell also "routinely uses his private inbox", but that official accounts had been provided afterwards.

The newspaper claimed Mr Williams said he "doesn’t believe there was inappropriate acts on behalf of ministers but can clearly see the optics suggest otherwise".

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: "Both the former health secretary and Lord Bethell understand the rules around personal email usage and only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses.”

The spokesperson suggested Mr Hancock’s use of a Gmail account was "related to things like diary acceptances".

In response, Ms Rayner said: "I don't think that's true at all."

Tory MP Peter Bone was granted an urgent question on the issue on Monday.

Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez told MPs: "At the time at which we’re in the height of the pandemic, a huge volume of correspondence was coming to ministers via their personal email addresses, to their parliamentary email addresses, to their ministerial email addresses."

There were "15,000 offers of help in securing PPE that came in following the prime minister’s call for assistance", she told the Commons.

Mr Cummings suggested government business was discussed on WhatsApp rather than government email accounts.

Responding to the claim that Mr Hancock and Lord Bethell "only ever" conducted departmental business on their official email accounts, Mr Cummings said: "Except for all the WhatsApps between PM, MH and Tory donors which No 10 officials know exist cos they’re copied in to some.

"So dozens of No 10 officials know No 10 press office openly lying again."

Speaking to ITV News earlier in the day, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland suggested the Cabinet Office is likely to investigate the matter.

The MP said that if ministers had to use a personal email address then their communications should be retained.

What about a potential new scandal, over the use of personal email accounts?

He said: "I think that the important point is we went through a very pressurised emergency situation earlier last year.

"I think the key thing for me is was there any sensitive material sent and was there any way of retaining the emails so they can be retained for future examination.

"I don’t know whether those principles were adhered to but I think it makes sense for minister to use the government channels for official business."

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