The Daily Telegraph

Never again: Project Fear caused ‘terrible damage’

Experts line up with Tory rebels to denounce tactics government used to scare public into following rules


THE “psychologi­cal warfare” of “Project Fear” used during the pandemic to scare the public into following rules must never be repeated, leading Tory lockdown rebels and scientific experts have warned.

Leaked messages showed that in December 2020, Matt Hancock, the then health secretary, suggested the Government “frighten the pants off everyone” to ensure strict Covid rules were adhered to.

Sir Charles Walker, who was a leading member of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservati­ve backbenche­rs, said yesterday he was distressed by the leaked conversati­ons.

“What makes me so angry is the evils and the psychologi­cal warfare we deployed against young people and the population, all those behavioura­l psychologi­sts,” Sir Charles said. “And there needs to be a reckoning. We need to understand and fully appreciate the damage that those sorts of campaigns did.”

Sir Charles lamented Parliament going “missing in action” as most MPS waved through Covid restrictio­ns with little debate. “Those voices that raised concerns were just othered. We were positioned as being anti-lockdown, Right-wing headbanger­s. And actually wanting to do the right thing isn’t Rightwing. We did terrible things to youngsters, we did terrible things to a large number of people. We need to make sure we never do those things again.”

A former minister who served in Boris Johnson’s government during the three lockdowns said it was “clear now that many mistakes were made”.

“It’s really important that we make sure that should any event like this ever happen again, we take all steps we can to preserve as much liberty as we possibly can, rather than take a risk-averse, safety-first approach,” they said, branding school closures “diabolical”.

Craig Mackinlay, the Tory MP for South Thanet, added: “An artificial climate of fear was created, which has led to all the corollary outcomes that many of us, particular­ly in the Covid Recovery Group, were concerned about. Ongoing negative health issues, education issues – and not least the destructio­n of our economy, as one crackpot idea after another found its way on to the statute book.”

Sir John Redwood, another member of the Covid Recovery Group, said the tactics ministers used “always backfire, they always mislead and they don’t lead to good government”.

Yesterday, Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland Office minister, who led revolts against restrictio­ns as a backbenche­r, retweeted 19 tweets he sent while lockdowns were in place. They set out the economic and mental health damage caused by restrictio­ns and called for a new Public Health Act to reform modelling. Meanwhile, Prof Karol Sikora, a medical expert who specialise­s in oncology, insisted there was “no doubt” some cancer patients were frightened to the point they did not seek treatment.

Speaking to Camilla Tominey, the associate editor of The Telegraph, on her GB News politics programme, Prof Sikora said: “I was horrified when I read the Whatsapp messages. I am really looking forward to the public inquiry, but it’ll be a whitewash.”

Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioura­l science at the London School of Economics, blamed a mix of “mission creep” and “expertise creep” for a response dominated by groupthink.

“It was wrong in every sense to make younger people scared of a virus that we knew very early on was of very limited risk to them,” he said.

 ?? ?? Boris Johnson led a government that stoked fear as it sought to control the spread of coronaviru­s during the pandemic, it has been claimed
Boris Johnson led a government that stoked fear as it sought to control the spread of coronaviru­s during the pandemic, it has been claimed

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