London: U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock rendered his resignation on Saturday following latest embarrassing controversy in which he broke country’s coronavirus rules by kissing a senior aide in his office. Soon after, the post was filled by former finance minister Sajid Javid.
“We have worked so hard as a country to fight the pandemic,” Hancock, 42, said in his letter of resignation to President Boris Johnson. “The last thing I want is for my private life to distract from the single-minded approach that is leading us out of this crisis.”
His resignation came after a leading newspaper published photos of Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, whom he’d appointed to his team, apparently embracing in his Whitehall offices last month. Initially Hancock tried to keep his job and Johnson backed him on Friday, saying the matter was closed.
But pressure continued to mount after senior officials in Johnson’s Conservative Party said the minister’s behavior was beyond the pale, with one highlighting the hypocrisy of Hancock flouting the same rules that he helped create.
Hancock’s departure is a fresh blow for Johnson’s administration and puts a renewed focus on “sleaze” allegations — a British media shorthand for dubious actions ranging from corruption to secretive financial arrangements to sex scandals — in his party. The controversy may also harm the health department’s efforts to tackle the pandemic and undermine its messaging about the importance of maintaining social distancing.
Hancock, who ran against Johnson for the Tory leadership in 2019, had already been under pressure over his handling of the crisis. Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, earlier this month published text messages he said showed the premier regarded Hancock as “hopeless.” Cummings also accused Hancock of lying and incompetence at the height of the Covid outbreak last year.
Hancock and Coladangelo had been friends since their time together at Oxford University and both are married with children. At the time the photos were taken, pandemic rules advised against meeting people from different households indoors.
Coladangelo, a former director at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon and current shareholder, was appointed by Hancock as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health last year. She was later made a non-executive director at the department. Hancock chairs the departmental board.
Johnson’s administration has battled various “sleaze” accusations during the pandemic, including over whether lucrative government contracts were awarded to people with connections to the Conservative Party, and whether Johnson used underhand methods to fund a refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.