Health Secretary Matt Hancock is facing calls to resign after being accused of having an affair with an adviser to his department.
The Sun published pictures of the married Cabinet minister appearing to kiss his close friend Gina Coladangelo, who the newspaper said was hired by Mr Hancock last year.
The images, apparently captured from CCTV footage, were taken on May 6 at the headquarters of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the newspaper adds.
The minister hired Ms Coladangelo as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract in March last year, before appointing her as a non-executive director at the department.
Mr Hancock, who met Ms Coladangelo at Oxford University, where they both worked on the student radio station, has been married to his wife Martha for 15 years and they have three children.
Ms Coladangelo is the marketing and communications director at Oliver Bonas, a British retailer founded by her husband, Oliver Tress.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said on Twitter: “The reason Matt Hancock should resign is that he is a terrible Health Secretary, not because of his private life.
“From the PPE scandal, the crisis in our care service and the unbelievably poor Test and Trace system, he has utterly failed.”
Meanwhile, Labour said the Government needs to answer whether the Health Secretary had broken any rules or there had been “conflicts of interest” in the appointment of his adviser.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday morning that reports about his Cabinet colleague were a personal matter and that Ms Coladangelo would have gone through an “incredibly rigorous process” to get the role.
Asked if the Health Secretary had been ignoring social distancing rules when the images were taken, Mr Shapps told LBC: “I’m quite sure that whatever the rules were at the time were followed.
“You’ll recall that there was a point at which social distancing rules were changed but, as I say, I don’t want to comment on somebody else’s private life – that is for them.”
However, the Government’s road map out of lockdown said people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble until May 17.
Asked about the rules around appointing friends to Government positions, Mr Shapps told Sky News: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.
“In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in Government, so, whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.
“There are no short cuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the Civil Service knows.”
He said there are “very strict rules in place” in terms of how advisers are appointed, adding: “I think it is a bit of red herring in this case.”
Responding to the reports, a Labour spokesman said: “Ministers, like everyone, are entitled to a private life.
“However, when taxpayers’ money is involved or jobs are being offered to close friends who are in a personal relationship with a minister, then that needs to be looked into.
“The Government needs to be open and transparent about whether there are any conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken.”
It emerged in May last year that Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson had allowed a woman, reported to be his lover, to visit him at home in London on at least two occasions during lockdown.
The Government adviser, whose work was crucial in Boris Johnson’s move to enforce strict restrictions, stood down from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) over what he called an “error of judgment”.
Mr Hancock called the revelations “extraordinary” at the time, telling Sky News: “Everyone has got to follow the social distancing rules.”
The Health Secretary was not at his north London home on Friday morning, while the PA news agency has contacted the DHSC for comment.