Boris Johnson 'considers matter closed' after Matt Hancock apologises for breaking social distancing rules

·7-min read
The Health Secretary declined to comment on reports he has been having an affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo
The Health Secretary declined to comment on reports he has been having an affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo

Boris Johnson has accepted Matt Hancock's apology for breaching social distancing rules, after the Health Secretary was photographed in a passionate embrace with an aide, and "considers the matter closed", Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister retains full confidence in Mr Hancock, a No 10 spokesman told reporters, but refused to confirm that Mr Hancock has not broken the law.

Seeking to draw a line under the scandal, the spokesman said: "The Health Secretary and Prime Minister's focus remains on tackling the pandemic, as we move towards Step 4 in July. That work is ongoing and that will remain our priority."

No 10 confirmed that Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock had both attended a daily coronavirus meeting on Friday morning, but declined to comment on the details of any "private conversations" between the pair about the revelations.

While the Health Secretary concedes he breached social distancing "guidance", Downing Street refused to answer questions over whether Mr Hancock had also broken the law, or whether the Government had sought legal advice over the issue.

Sidestepping the question of whether the debacle could encourage members of the public to ignore the coronavirus restrictions, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has been thankful throughout the pandemic to the vast majority of people who have complied with the rules."

The Health Secretary was clinging to his job on Friday morning, but refused to resign after reports emerged that he has been having an affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo, in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

He said: "I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances. 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."

Mr Hancock's position is made even more difficult to defend after he said last year that Prof Neil Ferguson was right to quit as a government adviser after The Telegraph revealed that he had breached lockdown rules to see his lover.

The Health Secretary looks at the phone of his aide Gina Coladangelo - TOLGA AKMEN/AFP
The Health Secretary looks at the phone of his aide Gina Coladangelo - TOLGA AKMEN/AFP

This morning a former Conservative minister said Boris Johnson should "chop" Mr Hancock today to avoid a re-run of the Dominic Cummings saga when the PM was politically damaged for failing to fire his chief adviser for breaching lockdown rules.

Mr Hancock, 42, appeared to be kissing Ms Coladangelo, 43, in what seemed to be captured CCTV footage taken on May 6 from the Department of Health's London headquarters.

The Sun revealed pictures of the Health Secretary in an embrace with his aide, who he hired last year with taxpayers' money, in what the newspaper called a "steamy clinch".

Mr Hancock cancelled a scheduled visit to a Pharmacy2U vaccine site at Newmarket Racecourse on Friday morning following the release of the pictures.


'Stay 2m apart'

The timing of the embrace was in clear breach of the Government's social distancing rules on embracing someone from outside his social bubble.

The guidance in place since March 2020 had ordered people to stay two metres apart from anyone outside their household or bubble. The rules were only relaxed on May 17.

They stated at the time of Mr Hancock's embrace that if people left their home, they had to "stay at least two metres away from people you do not live with or who are not in your support bubble".

They should also "avoid direct contact and face-to-face contact with people you do not live with", and "stay at least 2metres away from anyone who visits your home for work reasons".

Mr Hancock is also under pressure because last year he said that Prof Ferguson "took the right decision to resign" when he travelled to see his lover.

At the time Mr Hancock said he had been left speechless by Prof Ferguson’s behaviour, adding: "I think he took the right decision to resign. I think the social distancing rules are very important and people should follow them."

'Boris Johnson should sack him'

The Health Secretary also could be accused of breaching three of the seven Nolan principles on standards in public life covering integrity and leadership.

One Conservative MP told The Telegraph: "His position is completely unsustainable. Boris has been through this before with Cummings and he lost an awful lot of political capital by supporting Cummngs.

"Boris cannot afford to expend any more political capital on Matt Hancock. We already know he thinks he is hopeless.

"Boris should make sure he leaves now - he should get rid. Boris is going to get slaughtered over this if he does not get rid of him.

"What he can't afford is a re-run of Cummings. I am bracing myself for the avalanche of emails I am going to get from constituents asking 'why is the man still there'.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of emails over Cummings and I don't want to be in the same position over Hancock. Boris should chop him immediately - today."

A senior Whitehall source said that Mr Johnson could buy himself some time if he asked his new adviser on standards, Lord Geidt, a former senior aide to the Queen, to investigate.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats demanded that Mr Johnson fire Mr Hancock today with the LibDems describing Mr Hancock as a "hypocrite" for breaching social distancing rules that he had forced the country to follow.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Munira Wilson MP said: "This latest episode of hypocrisy will break the trust with the British public. He was telling families not to hug loved ones, while doing whatever he liked in the workplace.

"It’s clear that he does not share the public’s values. Rules for them and rules for us is no way to run a country.

"From the PPE scandal, the crisis in our care service and the unbelievably poor test and trace system, he has utterly failed. It is time for the Health Secretary to go."

Labour chairman Anneliese Dodds MP added: "If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office - who he personally appointed to a taxpayer-funded role - it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest.

"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."

Matt Hancock's closest aide, Gina Coladangelo

Ms Coladangelo is the millionaire communications director at Oliver Bonas, the fashion, jewellery and homeware store founded by her husband, Oliver Tress.

She was hired to work at the Department of Health and Social Care as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract in March last year, and appointed her as a non-executive director in September.

She is also a shareholder at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon, which boasts clients such as British Airways and Accenture.

She has been using a parliamentary pass sponsored by Lord Bethell, the hereditary peer and health minister, to gain access to Westminster since April.

Mr Hancock and his wife, Martha, have three children together. Ms Coladangelo is also married with three children.

Have any rules been broken?

Downing Street said of the recruitment of Ms Colangelo as a non-executive director to the DHSC board earlier this year: "The appointment followed correct procedure."

The Prime Minister's spokesman declined to comment on "security matters" surrounding the apparent leak of CCTV images from the department.

This morning the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said "the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock".

He added: "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 shortcuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the Civil Service knows. There are very strict rules in place."

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