Matt Hancock, UK Health Secretary announced his resignation on June 27, a day after apologising for breaching social distancing rules.
Why did the Health Secretary resign?
The tabloid Sun newspaper had run images appearing to show the married Hancock and senior aide Gina Coladangelo kissing in an office at the Department of Health.
The Sun published pictures and then a video of Mr Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, who are both married with three children, kissing. The newspaper said they had been taken inside the Department of Health on May 6.
PM Boris Johnson had been facing widespread calls to fire Hancock, who had apologised for breaching social distancing rules. Coladangelo is a friend of Hancock’s from their days together at Oxford University and was appointed to his department last year.
In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Hancock said: "I have been to see the prime minister to resign as secretary of state for health and social care.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) June 26, 2021
A day after posting the video, he sent a letter of his resignation to PM Johnson.
“The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis,” Hancock said in his letter of resignation.
“I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance, and apologize to my family and loved ones for putting them through this,” Hancock said, who served as health secretary for three years. “I also need (to) be with my children at this time.”
I have resigned as Health Secretary pic.twitter.com/eyWi1AA19i
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) June 26, 2021
In response, the prime minister said Mr Hancock "should leave office very proud of what you have achieved - not just in tackling the pandemic, but even before COVID-19 struck us".
Former chancellor Sajid Javid, who has held several key roles in government, said he was "honoured" to be appointed as health secretary "at this critical time".
Honoured to have been asked to serve as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at this critical time.
I look forward to contributing to our fight against the pandemic, and serving my country from the Cabinet once again.
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) June 26, 2021
“Boris Johnson should have had the guts, the spine, the awareness, the judgment, to sack him on Friday,” said Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labour Party’s health spokesman.
Hancock, who is married, wasn’t the first senior British politician caught red-handed for breaking the government’s own COVID-19 rules.
Johnson’s former top aide, Dominic Cummings, was accused of undermining the government’s “stay home” message during Britain’s first lockdown in 2020 when he broke a travel ban and drove across England to his parents’ home. The breach caused a furor and was widely seen to erode public trust in Johnson’s government.
And Neil Ferguson, a leading government scientific adviser who advocated for strict lockdown rules, quit his position in May 2020 after it emerged he didn’t practice what he preached and allowed his girlfriend to visit him at home. At the time, Hancock remarked that the social distancing rules in place “are there for everyone” and are “deadly serious.”
Hancock had come under fire for his leadership in the government’s response to the pandemic long before the publishing of the intimate photos.
He was accused of cronyism for hiring his friend, businesswoman Dido Harding, to run the much-criticized national test and trace system. Questions were also raised after the government awarded a lucrative coronavirus testing contract to a company run by a pub landlord near Hancock’s former constituency home. Hancock has denied involvement in the contract.
Some are now also asking how Coladangelo, a close friend of Hancock’s from university, landed her job as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.
The scandal came on the back of wider accusations from the opposition about “sleaze” in the Conservative party. Last month, former Prime Minister David Cameron was called before lawmakers to answer questions about lobbying work he did to win government funds for a now-bankrupt financial services company.
Lucy Powell, a Labour lawmaker, said the fact that Hancock wasn’t fired reflected poorly on Johnson’s judgment.
“I’m afraid it feels to me that the prime minister has a very dangerous blind spot when it comes to issues of integrity and conduct in public life,” she told Sky News. “That’s a really big problem and it’s an even bigger problem when you’re in the middle of a pandemic and you’re asking the public to also have integrity and conduct in the way that they go about with their own lives.”
(With inputs from agencies)