Matt Hancock has finally resigned after it emerged he broke his own Covid rules by kissing his millionaire lobbyist aide.
The startling image of Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo was reportedly taken on May 6 – when England’s law banned indoor social gatherings of people from different households, and guidance urged people to stay two metres apart and avoid “face to face contact”.
He made a grovelling apology, admitting he “let people down” and “breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances”.
Yet he and Downing Street spent 36 hours straining to avoid his resignation before the hypocrite Health Secretary belatedly quit tonight – amid new revelations in the Sunday newspapers.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman on Friday claimed the Prime Minister had full confidence in his Health Secretary and considers the matter “closed”. Now, even after Mr Hancock and Mrs Coladangelo’s resignations, this story is far from over.
Downing Street has refused to clarify whether Mr Hancock has, in fact, broken the law – while questions over how Ms Colangelo was handed the job continue to swirl.
Here are all the questions the government must answer.
Were you too weak or compromised to sack Matt Hancock?
The Prime Minister spent Friday stubbornly refusing to fire his Health Secretary – then let him resign of his own accord.
Some believed the Health Secretary acted as the PM’s “human shield” against mounting criticism of the government on Covid failures on care homes and testing.
Meanwhile, are allegations of an affair a bit close to home? When Boris Johnson was London Mayor he was allegedly involved in an extra-marital affair with Jennifer Arcuri, so he may have felt hypocritical in acting against his Health Secretary.
When quizzed over whether he acted with “honesty and integrity” in his relationship with the US businesswoman, the PM, who fiercely guards his own private life, simply said “yes” and has refused to be drawn on the matter since.
Perhaps Mr Johnson finally learned his lesson from not sacking Dominic Cummings, and realised hypocrisy at the top of government would undermine compliance with lockdown rules.
Or did he? We don’t know whether the PM forced Mr Hancock out or let him offer his resignation. Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “Matt Hancock is right to resign. But Boris Johnson should have sacked him.”
Did Matt Hancock break his own Covid laws?
On May 6, when the images are said to have been taken, guidance urged people to stay two metres apart and avoid “face to face contact”. Mr Hancock has admitted he broke this guidance.
But the bigger question is about England’s law at the time – signed by Matt Hancock himself.
The law banned indoor social gatherings of people from different households or bubbles – punishable with £200 fines. Before May 17, they were illegal unless they fell under an exemption such as being “reasonably necessary” for work.
No10 refused eight times to comment on whether the Health Secretary broke the law.
It’s understood Matt Hancock believes no Covid laws were broken – because he and Mrs Coladangelo were in the Health Department for legitimate work purposes.
But will any reasonable member of the public take this excuse seriously? And would it wash if a police officer was doing the questioning?
Did he break the Ministerial Code?
Point 1.2 of the Ministerial code says: “Working relationships, including with civil servants, ministerial and parliamentary colleagues and parliamentary staff should be proper and appropriate.”
Was replacing “hands, face, space”, with “hands, lips, bottom” the definition of an appropriate relationship?
Point 7.1 of the Ministerial code adds: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.”
As we explain more below, Mrs Coladangelo was a university friend of Mr Hancock; got a government job in unclear circumstances; and now it seems they had a personal relationship.
A friend of Mr Hancock has insisted he broke no rules, other than social distancing, but Labour want a probe into whether that is correct. Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said if there was an affair, “it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest.”
Did he break rules on conduct at work?
Most workplaces have a code of conduct which its staff must abide by – often with clauses on relationships.
While we couldn’t find the Department of Health’s code, the code for Public Health England for example says: “Private relationships with colleagues are acceptable as long as they do not give rise to conflicts with our duties at work.
“Any situation where bias would or could reasonably appear to have influenced any decisions or outcomes must be avoided.
“This means that staff must not manage or undertake management action (e.g. take part in a selection exercise) in respect of partners or relatives.”
Would such a code apply to Mr Hancock – or Mrs Coladangelo? We don’t know yet.
Did Boris Johnson bother to check if he had broken the rules?
No10 said on Friday: “The Prime Minister has accepted the Health Secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.” Downing Street added Mr Johnson had “full confidence” in his Health Secretary.
But why did he have full confidence? Quizzed by journalists, No10 seemed unable to confirm that Mr Hancock had not broken the law, or to answer even basic follow-up questions.
Is the truth that Boris Johnson exonerated Mr Hancock by 1pm on Friday with only a cursory look at the facts of the case?
How did Gina Coledangelo get her government job?
Millionaire lobbyist Gina Coladangelo was first handed an unpaid advisor job in the Department of Health last year, for a period of six months, it’s understood.
Following that, she landed a £15,000-a-year role as a non-executive director at the Department of Health – sitting on its board with such luminaries as Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty. On Saturday night sources confirmed she was leaving her role.
Exactly how she got this job remains shrouded in mystery.
The Department of Health insisted “this appointment was made in the usual way and followed correct procedure”, but had not elaborated on what that procedure was.
Did Matt Hancock appoint her himself, as the Sunday Times reported last year? And if so…
Did Matt Hancock declare the nature of their relationship?
The Ministerial Code is clear that ministers must take steps to avoid a conflict of interest in their personal relationships.
That explicitly means telling civil servants about a relationship, and possibly recusing themselves from key decisions.
The Code states: “Within departments, the Minister should advise their Permanent Secretary of the interest and responsibilities should be arranged to avoid any conflict of interest.”
Did married Mr Hancock declare his relationship?
Will this be investigated by the ministerial interests advisor?
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to Mr Johnson saying Ms Coladangelo’s appointment may be in breach of the Ministerial Code.
The code states ministers “must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.
During a testy briefing with reporters, Downing Street was asked if Mr Hancock’s hiring of his aide would be referred to the government’s standards advisor Lord Geidt.
Crucially, Lord Geidt cannot launch his own investigation into the matter, as Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is the “ultimate arbiter” of the Ministerial Code.
Journalists were told, however, that the PM had “nothing to add” on this point and had “accepted” the Health Secretary’s apology. It also may no longer be possible now Mr Hancock has quit as a minister.
How did the CCTV footage leak and will there be a leak inquiry?
The image of Mr Hancock with his aide was captured on CCTV. It is not known how it then came to be passed by a “Whitehall whistleblower” to The Sun.
Downing Street would not reveal whether there would be an investigation into security or if any internal probe was under way as a result.
Will Matt Hancock get a £16,000 payout?
Matt Hancock will be entitled to a £16,000 golden goodbye despite resigning in disgrace over his Covid breach.
Ministers under 65 years old who leave their office – whether sacked or resigning – are entitled to a quarter of their annual ministerial salary under the 1991 Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act.
The salary for a Secretary of State is £67,505 according to latest figures, which would in theory lead to a payout of £16,876 for 42-year-old Mr Hancock.
It is not yet known whether Mr Hancock intends to take and keep the payment.
Ministers’ decisions to take severance pay are only published in annual accounts, so unless he makes a statement the answer may only become clear in summer 2022.