Boris Johnson has been branded “spineless” after he refused to sack Matt Hancock despite Downing Street failing to rule out the possibility that he broke the law.
The Prime Minister “accepted the Health Secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed”, No10 declared today, after married Mr Hancock admitted pictures of him snogging aide Gina Coladangelo broke Covid guidance.
Yet Downing Street refused eight times to comment on questions about whether Mr Hancock’s actions broke Covid law.
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”. But England’s law also banned indoor social gatherings of people from different households.
Image: The Sun)
Before May 17, indoor gatherings between people from different households or bubbles were against the law unless they fell under an exemption such as being “reasonably necessary” for work.
A person would “commit an offence” if they broke this restriction without an exemption, and could be fined £200 on the spot.
The Covid regulations were signed into law by Mr Hancock himself.
It’s understood Mr Hancock believes no Covid laws were broken, because he and Mrs Coladangelo were in the Health Department for legitimate work purposes.
Mr Hancock apologised today and said he had broken the social distancing “guidelines” – but he and No10 did not clarify publicly whether he broke the law.
Instead a No10 spokesman said: “You’ve seen the Health Secretary’s statement so I would point you to that. I don’t really have anything further to add.
“The Health Secretary has set out that he accepted he’d breached the social distancing guidances and he apologised for that
“The Prime Minister has accepted the Health Secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.”
Asked if Mr Hancock broke the Covid laws he himself signed, No10 repeatedly “pointed back” to Mr Hancock’s own statement accepting he broke social distancing “guidance”.
Asked if he was refusing to comment on whether the Health Secretary broke the law, the spokesman said: “I’m simply pointing to the Health Secretary’s own statement where he says ‘I broke the social distancing guidance in these circumstances’.”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “This matter is definitely not closed, despite the Government’s attempts to cover it up.
“Matt Hancock appears to have been caught breaking the laws he created while having a secret relationship with an aide.
“The Prime Minister recently described him as ‘useless’ – the fact that even now he still can’t sack him shows how spineless he is.”
JESSICA TAYLOR/UK PARLIAMENT/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Hannah Brady, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “For Boris Johnson to keep him in his position is a slap in the face to bereaved families.”
She added: “Up and down the country, bereaved families have been doing everything they can to follow the rules and prevent further loss of life.
“But it’s clear Matt Hancock thought that ‘hands, face, space’ was a rule for everyone else.
“For bereaved families to know that the man responsible for public health in this country, was ignoring the rules whilst we were unable to hug friends and family at our loved ones funerals, is heartbreaking.”
The No10 spokesman refused to say if Boris Johnson asked Mr Hancock to resign, or if he offered to resign.
No10 also refused to say how the pair spoke, and refused to say if adviser on ministerial ethics Lord Geidt would be asked to investigate.
Asked if Boris Johnson has a problem with disciplining his ministers, the spokesman said: ”I’ve got nothing further to add”. Asked what sort of breach would lead to a sacking, he replied: “You’ve got what I said.”
Asked if there could be an impact on wider compliance with Covid rules, he said: “As I said the Health Secretary and Prime Minister’s focus remains on tackling the pandemic as we move towards step four in July, that work is ongoing and that will remain our priority.”
CCTV images emerged today in the Sun newspaper of Mr Hancock with Gina Coladangelo – who he first met at Oxford University in the early 2000s and was controversially hired last year.
Mrs Coladangelo was handed first an unpaid advisor job, then a £15,000-a-year role as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.
Labour demanded Mr Hancock is sacked as Health Secretary over a “charge sheet” that culminated in the incident.
Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said: “If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office… it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest.
“The charge sheet against Matt Hancock includes wasting taxpayers’ money, leaving care homes exposed and now being accused of breaking his own COVID rules.
“His position is hopelessly untenable. Boris Johnson should sack him.”
The married Health Secretary admitted he broke social distancing “guidance” – though did not say whether he believes he broke the law – in his embrace with Gina Coladangelo.
He said: “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances.
“I have let people down and am very sorry.”
But Mr Hancock confirmed he has no intention of resigning. He added: “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.”
Mrs Hancock was pictured wearing her wedding ring as she left their home after the claims emerged on Friday morning. Mr Hancock was not at his north London home on Friday morning, as he was due to attend an event in Newmarket, Suffolk.
However, he cancelled the appearance.
In May of last year, Mr Hancock said he was “speechless” and would back police action after it emerged SAGE member Prof Neil Ferguson had allowed a woman, reported to be his lover, to visit him at home in London during lockdown.
Mr Hancock also repeatedly urged Brits to follow lockdown rules, saying “we should all be careful, we all know the risks” and proclaiming: “These rules are there for everyone.”