Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared on TV urging people to be careful when hugging – 10 days after he was pictured snogging an aide at work.
The under-fire Tory, 42, also said he was excited about hugging his parents when rules were relaxed – while failing to mention is own behind-closed-doors close contact.
Explosive images published overnight show the married Cabinet member in a passionate embrace with university pal Gina Coladangelo, who he recruited last year.
The images were reportedly taken on May 6 – at a time when randy Brits were being told to resist physical contact with people they did not live with.
Responding to the pictures today, Mr Hancock said: “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances. I have let people down and am very sorry. I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter.”
Although friends of the Health Secretary maintain he did not break any rules, it is clear as Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo locked lips that they were not keeping two metres apart, and neither were wearing masks.
Indoor meetings between people from different households or bubbles were banned, unless they were “reasonably necessary” for work until May 17.
Workplaces were advised to ensure that employees stuck to social distancing rules.
On May 16, Mr Hancock appeared on Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday show, calling on people to hug outside and to be “careful”.
It was suggested that people should hug outside or in well-ventilated areas with their heads turned away from each other.
The pictures of the Health Secretary and Ms Coladanglo, published by The Sun, appear to show the pair ignoring this advice.
Mr Hancock told Ms Ridge: “We should all be careful, we all know the risks. Outside is safer than inside, so even though you can from tomorrow, meet up inside, it’s still better to meet up outside.
“Of course there are people who have been yearning to have some physical contact. You should do that carefully. If you’ve had both jabs more than two weeks ago, that’s much safer.”
He said he was looking forward to hugging his parents, but made no reference to his own alleged hugging inside the Department of Health.
Mr Hancock said: “I was asked on Tuesday and I said the thing I’m really looking forward to is hugging my Mum, she’s had two jabs.
“Actually, Dad got quite upset about that. I’m really looking forward to hugging you as well, Dad. But we’ll probably do it outside and keep the ventilation going: Hands, face and space.”
People found to be flouting this faced a £200 fine, while official guidance urged people to stay two metres apart if they did not live together or were not in a bubble.
It is not clear if the Health Secretary’s embrace with his aide was exempt from these rules.
Critics were quick to point out his angry reaction when it emerged Prof Neil Ferguson had broken lockdown rules.
At the time, while a full national lockdown was in place, Mr Hancock said he was “speechless” at Prof Ferguson’s actions, which he described as “extraordinary”.
In May last year Prof Ferguson was forced to quit as a government advisor after his alleged lover visited him at home after travelling across lockdown.
In an interview with Sky News in the aftermath of the scandal, Mr Hancock said he would back police action against the scientist, whose work helped convince the government that a lockdown was needed last March.
He said: “I back the police here. They will take their decisions independently from ministers, that’s quite right, it’s always been like that.
“Even though I have got a clear answer to what I think, as a minister the way we run the police is that they make decisions like this. So I give them their space to make that decision, but I think he took the right decision to resign.”
Asked by presenter Kay Burley whether he was speechless, he said: “I am.”
Mr Hancock bragged about working with “brilliant women” and urged others to get involved in politics – just hours before his alleged affair came to light.
The Tory cabinet member shared a message on his Instagram account urging women to “swipe up” to find out more.
It was posted last night, shortly before pictures emerged showing him kissing one of his closest aides during the Covid pandemic.
His Instagram story said: “I work alongside some brilliant women.
“If you’re a woman who wants to get involved in politics swipe up.”
Females who did swipe up were taken to a page on the Conservative website titled ‘Calling all Conservative women’.
Mr Hancock, 42, first met Ms Coladangelo at Oxford University in the early 2000s. She joined his team last year.
A whistleblower told The Sun the Health Secretary has been cheating on his wife of 15 years, Martha Hoyer Millar, as the UK continues to fight the Covid pandemic.
Matt Hancock is yet to comment on the claims.
The Lib Dems today called for “hypocrite” Matt Hancock to quit or be sacked.
The party’s health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “Matt Hancock is a terrible Health Secretary and should have been sacked a long time ago for his failures.
“This latest episode of hypocrisy will break the trust with the British public. He was telling families not to hug loved ones, while doing whatever he liked in the workplace.”
She added: “From the PPE scandal, the crisis in our care service and the unbelievably poor test and trace system, he has utterly failed. It is time for the Health Secretary to go.”