The prime minister has backed his health secretary over revelations Matt Hancock breached Covid rules by kissing his aide.
Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said the PM “considers the matter closed” after Hancock apologised for breaching social distancing rules after the Sun published images of Hancock embracing Gina Coladangelo.
The PM’s spokesperson declined to comment as to whether Downing Street has any concerns the health secretary may have broken the law, or if the relationship is a conflict of interest.
The Telegraph reports there have been “calls for M15 to get involved in order to rule out any involvement from hostile foreign states” in recording footage of the secretary of state’s office at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
In a statement released on Friday (June 25), Hancock said: “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.”
‘He has to resign’ but Hancock likely to survive
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for Hancock to quit but Johnson, as prime minister ultimately adjudicates on the ministerial code and thereby decides if ministers survive or not.
While Johnson may consider “the matter closed” he does not get to decide that it is and comments by Harry Cole, the political editor of the Sun, suggests knives are out for Hancock and the matter will therefore remain very much open.
Cole tweeted: “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.”
Professor of government at Manchester University, Colin Talbot said the health secretary “having an affair is not the issue” adding: “Hancock having an affair in his public office with someone he’s hired with public money is a clear breach of the ministerial code.
“He has to resign.”
Political editor for the Daily Mirror and presenter of the BBC’s The Week in Westminster, Pippa Crerar asked if Hancock will survive given he “probably” broke Covid rules, “but Dom Cummings wasn’t sacked”. Crerar tweeted that Priti Patel also broke ministerial rules and survived, and opined that the “alleged matter” – an affair with a aide – won’t matter to “this PM”.
Sky News editor-at-large and presenter Adam Boulton tweeted: “I will be surprised if the Health Secretary @MattHancock goes in the present circumstances.”
Boulton’s colleague Beth Rigby tweets that while transport secretary Grant Shapps calls it an “entirely personal matter…what isn’t is his [Hancock’s] decision to hire Coladangelo using public money as an aide (h/t @Gabriel_Pogrund) & then as a NED [non-executive director] on DHSC board. Serious questions.”
Red alert over who is spying on Her Majesty’s secretary of state
These questions will include how images from the secretary of state’s office have ended up on the front page of Rupert Murdoch’s biggest selling British tabloid newspaper.
A Whitehall investigation has already been launched into a “serious breach of security” with the Telegraph reporting the leak has “triggered a red alert in the Government over who could be spying on the country’s most senior ministers.”
There are calls for MI5 to get involved although the matter is being investigated by the Government Security Group (GSG) which is in charge of security at 800 Whitehall buildings, although “day-to-day security at government buildings is typically contracted out to private firms,” states the Telegraph’s report, adding that DHSC has not confirmed who looks after security at their £144 million building on London’s Victoria Street that is “owned by a Singapore-based property firm”.
Government insiders quoted by the Telegraph state it is “unheard of” for the offices of secretaries of state to have security cameras installed to watch ministers work. “What was that camera doing there, was it even a CCTV camera, and did Matt Hancock know it was there?
“More importantly, who is it that has access to what is going on inside that office? We are talking about people being able to spy on a Secretary of State, so this is a serious breach of security, regardless of what you think of Matt Hancock’s behaviour.”