Sunday, December 5

Hancock to quit over Covid rule breach

Matt Hancock has apologised for breaking coronavirus rules after pictures emerged of him kissing a close aide.

The health secretary admitted he breached social distancing rules following The Sun’s overnight story showing photographs of him kissing Gina Coladangelo, a close friend who is a taxpayer-funded adviser to his department.

The security camera pictures were reportedly taken on 6 May, when indoor meetings with people from a different household were not allowed.

He said: “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances. I have let people down and am very sorry.

Labour said Hancock’s position has become hopelessly untenable and called on Boris Johnson to sack him.

However, Downing Street said the prime minister has “accepted” Hancock’s apology and considers the matter closed. Asked if the PM has “full confidence” in him, a spokesman replied: Yes.

Coladangelo was given her role as non-executive director at the Department of Health last September, with a salary believed to be at least £15,000 a year and having scrutiny over its running.

Labour had earlier said the government needs to answer whether Hancock had broken any rules or there had been conflicts of interest in the appointment of his closest adviser. Downing Street insisted the appointment followed all the correct procedures.

However, Hancock’s admission of breaking social distancing rules could be more damaging to his authority as health secretary.

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds tweeted following Hancock’s apology: He set the rules. He admits he broke them. He has to go. If he won’t resign, the PM should sack him.

In May last year, after the Daily Telegraph reported Prof Neil Ferguson broke lockdown rules to allow his married lover into his London home on at least two occasions, Hancock had said he was left speechless by the rule breach.

Prof Ferguson, whose coronavirus modelling convinced Johnson to impose the first national lockdown, subsequently quit his government advisory role, with Hancock saying it was just not possible for him to continue. I think that he took the right decision to resign, he added.

Hancock’s apology on Friday came after he cancelled a scheduled visit to a vaccination centre in his West Suffolk constituency.

The Sun story has capped off a miserable few weeks for Hancock, whose ability as health secretary has been the subject of repeated and brutal attacks by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser.

Cummings also leaked text messages, apparently from Johnson himself, in which the PM called Hancock “totally f***ing hopeless”.

Even the Queen has been talking about Hancock. On Wednesday, in her first in-person audience with Johnson since the pandemic began, she told the PM: I’ve just been talking to your secretary of state for health poor man.

In his statement, Hancock had suggested he would resist calls to resign as he said: 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.

Hancock, 42, has been married for 15 years to wife Martha, and the pair have three children. Coladangelo, 43, is also married with three children.