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Matt Hancock, the former UK health secretary, will no longer become a special envoy for the United Nations, after the job offer was withdrawn.
Hancock said on Tuesday he was “honoured” to be working with the UN’s economic commission for Africa (Uneca) to help the continent recover from the pandemic.
However, campaigners objected to the appointment because of his record in government during the coronavirus crisis, and on Friday the UN’s official spokesperson said the appointment would not be taken forward.
The Uneca has since removed the press release from its website announcing Hancock’s appointment to the unpaid role.
The Uneca had lavished praise on Hancock’s abilities, saying it had asked him to take on the role because of his “economic policy expertise, experience operating financial markets at the Bank of England and in-depth understanding of government and multilateral through his various ministerial cabinet roles”.
The release quoted the commission’s under secretary general, Vera Songwe, saying: “We are confident that his expertise and leadership will offer immediate and long-term impact particularly in effecting long-term financial growth.”
Hancock was also quoted in the Uneca release as saying he was “thrilled” to be joining the organisation, adding: “I care deeply about making this happen not only because of the strong economic opportunity but because we share a view of Africa as a strategic long-term partner.”
The withdrawal of the offer will come as a blow to Hancock’s efforts to rebuild his career after resigning as health secretary in June, following revelations that he had been having an affair with his parliamentary aide during lockdown.
Songwe is said to have appointed Hancock Nimco Ali, a Home Office adviser on violence against women, introduced her to the MP. He spoke at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference this month, saying he wanted to help bring private investment to Africa.
The announcement of his new role was greeted with support by senior Conservatives including Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Damian Green.
However, NGOs and activists objected to the appointment, which was announced on the same day that MPs published a report saying thousands of people had died because the government had failed to lock down early enough, while Hancock was health secretary.
Global Justice Now said in a tweet: “Matt Hancock blocked international efforts to allow low- and middle-income countries to produce their own Covid-19 vaccines, leading to millions of global south deaths. The audacity of this man claiming to help African nations and promote sustainable development is sickening.”
The UN secretary general’s official spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said: “Mr Hancock’s appointment by the UN economic commission for Africa is not being taken forward. ECA has advised him of the matter.”
Hancock said the UN had written to him to explain that a technicality in its rules meant it could not offer him a special representative role as planned.
In a statement, Hancock said: “I was honoured to be approached by the UN and appointed as special representative to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), to help drive forward an agenda of strengthening markets and bringing investment to Africa.
“The UN has 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 Uneca in its mission in whatever way I can in my parliamentary role.”
UN sources indicated that rules on conflicts of interest had been a factor in secretary general António Guterres’s decision to withdraw the offer.
Gordon Brown was appointed as a UN special envoy on education by former secretary general Ban Ki-moon in 2012, two years before he stood down as an MP.