politics

No 10 rebuffs calls to sack Matt Hancock for kissing aide


Downing Street has rebuffed calls for Matt Hancock to be made to resign for breaching Covid rules by kissing an aide, saying Boris Johnson has accepted the health secretary’s apology and “considers the matter closed”.

Answering questions from the media, Johnson’s spokesperson declined to say whether No 10 was concerned Hancock may have broken the law in his contact with Gina Coladangelo, or to comment on whether their relationship constituted a conflict of interest.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for Hancock to go after the Sun acquired CCTV photos of Hancock at his office in a “clinch” with Coladangelo, a longtime friend whom he appointed last year as a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

According to the paper, the images are from 6 May. Under the government’s unlocking timetable, intimate contact with people from outside one’s household was only permitted from 17 May.

Hancock said in a statement: “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.”

Johnson’s spokesperson said: “You’ve seen the health secretary’s statement, so I would point you to that. I don’t really have anything to add. The health secretary set out that he accepted he breached the social distancing guidelines, and he has apologised for that. The prime minister has accepted the health secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.”

Under repeated questioning at a media briefing, the spokesperson said Johnson had full confidence in Hancock, but declined to elaborate on whether there was concern that his actions may have breached the law or the ministerial code, or whether they could undermine public confidence in Covid guidelines.

There was some evidence that public compliance with Covid rules earlier in the pandemic was undermined after Dominic Cummings, then Johnson’s chief adviser, breached them to leave London and travel to Durham.

Asked about the latter issue, Johnson’s spokesperson said the PM was grateful to “the vast majority” of people who abided by the rules.

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, said that if Hancock had been having a relationship with Coladangelo it was “a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest”. Dodds added: “His position is hopelessly untenable. Boris Johnson should sack him.”

The Lib Dems also called for Hancock to go. Munira Wilson, the party’s health spokesperson, said it was “hypocrisy” that he had urged people to avoid close contact while kissing someone not in his household.

In November last year, Labour complained about apparent cronyism after it emerged that Coladangelo, the head of marketing at the Oliver Bonas retail chain and a university friend of Hancock, had first been made an unpaid adviser at the DHSC and then a non-executive director, a part-time role paid £15,000 a year.

Parliamentary records show that in 2019 Hancock sponsored Coladangelo for a parliamentary pass, which she received under her married name, Gina Tress. Her husband, Oliver Tress, is the founder and head of Oliver Bonas. She was formerly an executive for the PR and lobbying firm Luther Pendragon.

Asked if there had been a conflict of interest in Hancock appointing a close friend to a job in his department, Johnson’s spokesperson said the process had followed “correct procedures”.

He declined to comment on whether it was a conflict of interest for the two to have a relationship, or whether there would be a review into how CCTV footage from a ministerial office was leaked.

It follows a highly difficult few weeks for Hancock. Giving evidence to MPs last month, Cummings said the health secretary should have been sacked and had repeatedly lied.

This week footage of Johnson having his first in-person weekly audience with the Queen in 15 months showed the monarch referring to Hancock as “your secretary of state for health, poor man”.

This month Cummings published screenshots of phone messages including one from Johnson in which the PM called Hancock “totally fucking hopeless”.

Last year when Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist who has helped shape the government’s response to coronavirus, quit his advisory role for breaking social distancing rules by having a woman visit him at his home, Hancock said he would support the idea of police taking action against him.



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