Tory fury after Matt Hancock 'told to tone down China lab leak claims'

Tories condemn ‘Project Kowtow’ after it emerged the government ordered Matt Hancock to tone down claims in his book about Covid originating in Chinese lab

  •  Matt Hancock was ordered to tone down his comments about the virus’s origins
  •  He said he treated the official version of events with ‘considerable scepticism’

Tories condemned ‘Project Kowtow’ today after it emerged Matt Hancock was ordered to tone down claims in his book about Covid leaking from a Wuhan lab.

The former health secretary was reportedly told by the Cabinet Office to tweak passages from his pandemic diaries because they might provoke a backlash from Beijing.

Mr Hancock had intended to say that it was ‘too much of a coincidence’ to believe the pandemic started in a market not far from a Chinese government’s biological research facility.

He pointed out that Britain would have been ‘laughed out of town’ under similar circumstances, and wanted to write that ‘global fear of the Chinese must not get in the way of a full investigation’.

However, Mr Hancock was asked to water down the wording to avoid ‘causing problems’ with Beijing, according to The Daily Telegraph. 

Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith told MailOnline that the situation showed the government is ‘petrified about upsetting China’. He demanded to know who had asked for the changes, and said Mr Hancock should have told the censors to ‘get stuffed’.  

Matt Hancock was censored by Whitehall officials over his concerns that Covid-19 may have begun from a lab leak in Wuhan, it emerged last night

The changes were made when he submitted the manuscript of his Pandemic Diaries book to the Cabinet Office for review, as all former ministers are required to do. 

After the required alterations were made, it was signed off for publication by under-fire Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in November.

The Government has tried to avoid commenting publicly on the suspicion that the deadly virus may have escaped from a laboratory, although in the United States, both the FBI and the Department for Energy now believe the theory is plausible.

In the first of the extracts from his book that the Cabinet Office objected to, Mr Hancock originally wrote: ‘Given how cagey the Chinese have been, I think we have to treat their official version of events – still the Wuhan thing – with considerable scepticism.’

He said that if a ‘deadly new virus’ had emerged in Wiltshire, yet the British ‘shrugged off’ the fact that it was near chemical warfare research facility Porton Down, ‘we’d be laughed out of town’.

‘Global fear of the Chinese must not get in the way of a full investigation into what happened,’ he urged.

But the published version simply stated: ‘Though the international consensus and the Government’s position is that the virus originated at the Wuhan wet market, I remain sceptical. There must be a full investigation into what happened.’

In the interim, the Cabinet Office had told Mr Hancock: ‘This is highly sensitive and would cause problems if released.’

Mr Hancock was ordered to tone down his comments about the virus’s origins because the Government was worried it would ’cause problems’ with Beijing

He was told: ‘Must be clearer that it is supposition rather than revealing any confidential information received from inside government. Should also be clear that this is not (the Government’s) views or beliefs.’

In another section, Mr Hancock originally wrote: ‘To me it seems pretty credible. It’s just too much of a coincidence that the pandemic started in the same city as the lab, which – by the way, is a full 40 minutes drive from the wet market originally linked to the outbreak. 

‘The only plausible alternative is that the virus was brought to Wuhan to be studied, and then escaped.’

Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘If this is correct then this completely exposes the nature of what has happened in government when it comes to China.

‘The government as far as I can see is petrified about upsetting China.

‘The truth is there is clear and obvious strong evidence now that the Chinese are responsible for the outbreak from the laboratory.’

‘The finger points directly now to China. The reason they don’t want to say that is because it leads them into, what are you going to do about it?

‘Just imagine if the UK had a laboratory leak like this and we had denied everything, and because of the delay it had spread all over the world… they would be demanding reparation.’

Mr Duncan Smith went on: ”Governments play this game of Project Kowtow that desperately doesn’t want to confront the Chinese about anything.’

‘They cannot wean themselves off China and they don’t want to. If this is correct it is another example of the British government and the establishment doing their level best to shut down debate.’

He added: ‘I certainly want to know who it was who it was that asked for these changes. Hancock should have turned round to them and said ‘get stuffed’. This wasn’t official secrets, these were opinions.’

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