BORIS Johnson ordered security experts to visit Cabinet Ministers at home to examine their phones as part of a leak inquiry.
The hunt is on for the mole who leaked secret briefings to the media which forced the Prime Minister to make an early announcement about the introduction of a second coronavirus lockdown.
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Senior figures including the Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, have been ordered to surrender their personal mobiles, in a bid to reveal the person who has been dubbed the “chatty rat”.
Last night, Mr Hancock categorically denied any involvement in the leak, but declined to comment on the investigation.
Mr Gove’s allies said he and his advisers were happy to hand over their phones because they had “nothing to hide”.
Tories opposed to the lockdown, led by former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, called for the mole to apologise personally to the Commons if found out.
Mr Johnson is said to be furious about the leak which caused him to hold a hastily arranged press conference to make the announcement last Saturday.
Hawks believe the pro-lockdown “doves” leaked details of the “quad” meeting with Johnson, Gove, Hancock and Chancellor Rishi Sunak the previous day in order to stop the Prime Minister watering down the lockdown plans.
As part of the press conference presentation, which was watched by millions of TV viewers, projected figures of up to 4,000 deaths a day from Covid-19 by Christmas were announced but have since been discredited since.
Investigators have already called at Mr Gove’s home in West London and examined his calls, text messages and WhatsApp conversations, according to the Mail on Sunday.
Mr Hancock is also said to have been subjected to similar treatment after Mr Johnson appointed Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to head the probe.
The devices were returned after text messages were inspected.
Hawks believe Mr Johnson had intended to spend last weekend going over the latest figures and discussing it with the rest of the Cabinet before deciding whether to impose a national lockdown across England or extend the tier system which imposed restrictions on regional areas.
Lockdown supporters dispute this and claim the “rat” merely accelerated the announcement of what they say was an inevitable decision.
Following the leak, Mr Johnson sent a WhatsApp message to Tory MPs saying: “Folks – so sorry that you’ve had to hear about all this from the newspapers.”
A source told the Mail on Sunday last week: “Our rat, whoever it is, seems to be very chatty at the moment.”
Mr Hancock is said to have phoned Mr Sunak last Saturday evening to deny being the source of the leak and to ask Mr Sunak if he was making that accusation, Mr Sunak denied he was doing so.
An unnamed ally of Mr Gove said last night: “Gove and members of his staff have co-operated fully with the inquiry and were happy to submit their phones for examination, given that they have nothing to hide.”
In an interview last week Mr Gove denied being the source of the leak.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “What happened just over a week ago was an outrageous contempt of the Commons and the British people on an issue of the utmost importance to the country.
“If it turns out to be a Minister, they should of course be forced to apologise to the Commons and then be sacked.
“But if it’s an official, they should be made to come to the bar of the House and face the anger of MPs and most of all of the Speaker.
“What they did was appalling because they bounced the Government into taking their action.”