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Matt Hancock has lost his new job at the United Nations just four days after being appointed, following outrage from figures who condemned the “jaw dropping” decision to appoint him as a special envoy for Covid recovery in Africa.
The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said his appointment was “not being taken forward,” following days of criticism.
Mr Hancock, who resigned his job as Health Secretary in June after he was pictured on CCTV kissing an aide, told The Telegraph on Saturday: “I was honoured to be approached by the UN and appointed as Special Representative to the Economic Commission for Africa, to help drive forward an agenda of strengthening markets and bringing investment to Africa.
“The UN have written to me to explain that a technical UN rule has subsequently come to light which states that sitting Members of Parliament cannot also be UN Special Representatives.
“Since I am committed to continuing to serve as MP for West Suffolk, this means I cannot take up the position. I look forward to supporting the UN ECA in their mission in whatever way I can in my Parliamentary role.”
Mr Hancock had been congratulated by senior Tories including his successor, Sajid Javid, and foreign office ministers Liz Truss and James Cleverly. Vera Songwe, a UN Under Secretary General, pointed to his "success" in tackling the UK's pandemic response.
But campaigners and politicians said his appointment was "the definition of a colonial hangover" and showed the UN was not taking the continent’s recovery from the pandemic seriously.
Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union's Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, told the Telegraph the decision was "jaw-dropping", adding: "It harkens back to what used to happen in the days of the British Empire, when badly behaved children of the upper classes would be sent off to India or wherever because they were in disgrace at home.
Jess Phillips, a Labour MP, said the appointment showed Mr Hancock was “failing up”, while Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African democracy at the University of Birmingham, said it "beggars belief".
Mr Hancock added the position to his LinkedIn page and tweeted a copy of the letter he had sent to the Commission, accepting the appointment.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) October 12, 2021
The MP for West Suffolk has kept a low profile after resigning in disgrace earlier this year, following an expose of his affair with Gina Coladangelo, a married former colleague at the Department of Health and Social Care.
He has since left his wife, Martha, and is understood to be pursuing a serious relationship with Ms Coladangelo.
The UN’s ECA did not give a reason for cancelling Mr Hancock’s appointment, but campaigners welcomed the news.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, an NGO, said: “It is right for the UN to reconsider this appointment.
“If Matt Hancock wants to help African countries recover from the pandemic, he should lobby the prime minister to back a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.
“If he’d done that when he was in government, tens of millions more people could already have been vaccinated.
“The last thing the African continent needs is a failed British politician. This isn’t the 19th century.”