Matt Hancock has announced he is launching a “leak inquiry” into inaccurate information reported about Greater Manchester moving into a Tier 3 lockdown.
There was widespread confusion and chaos on Thursday morning as national media reported that the region would immediately face tougher rules, but this wasn’t the case.
Last-minute talks between the government and leaders in Greater Manchester have been held throughout Thursday after Downing Street pushed for the region to go into Tier 3 measures that would force pubs and bars to close unless they serve food.
The region has been under a local lockdown since summer, but coronavirus cases continue to rise.
MPs have asked for evidence to support the proposed move. A key sticking point is the extra funding that would be made available if harsher lockdown measures are imposed – with mayor Andy Burnham threatening legal action if Tier 3 restrictions are imposed without full financial backing.
In a private meeting on Thursday morning, MPs and council chiefs criticised the plan and the way it has been handled by Downing Street and the Department of Health.
But reports surfaced from national journalists that Greater Manchester had been ordered into Tier 3 restrictions after reportedly being briefed by Number 10 officials while the talks – which did not end in an agreement – were still ongoing.
No agreement has been made over the region’s lockdown status as of yet, with Matt Hancock saying discussions were ongoing between the region and the government on Thursday afternoon and a decision expected later in the day. Follow live updates throughout the rest of today here.
And speaking in the Commons on Thursday morning, the Health Secretary announced he was looking into how the wrangling became public.
Labour’s Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) said: “I’m just slightly confused because on Monday the Secretary of State gave up his valuable time to Greater Manchester MPs and confirmed Tier 2 with a four-week review. This was Monday.
“He had the unanimous support cross-party from Greater Manchester. As (William Wragg) has said, every day it has been briefed in the press that we were moving to Tier 3, so I am grateful to the Secretary of State that (health minister Helen Whately) has today announced that there is going to be a leak inquiry by the department.
“Today again there was full unanimity about Tier 2 in Greater Manchester. Come on minister, just confirm it and you’ve got our whole-hearted support.”
Mr Hancock replied: “What I’d say to him is I have started a leak inquiry into the leaks around some of the information around Greater Manchester.
“That will of course have to cover both national and the local government. But there is a more important thing though, which is the need for people to come together, to take the action that is necessary to get this virus under control.”
He added: “Very sadly, across Greater Manchester the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise, the number of cases amongst the over 60s continues to rise, the number of hospitalisations continues to rise, and further action is therefore necessary.
“And I very much hope we can reach the sort of cross-party agreement that we have had in London and that the local leadership in Manchester can work with us to find a solution because it is critical that we get this virus under control.”