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The results of the Savanta ComRes survey for The Independent suggest that voters were not convinced by the prime minister’s attempt to imply that he had forced Hancock out after he was caught on camera breaking social distancing rules in a passionate clinch with a married aide.
Some 50 per cent said the affair made the PM look “weak”, against just 32 per cent who said he looked “strong”, in a clear indication that voters think Mr Johnson was forced to bend to pressure for Mr Hancock’s removal, rather than being in control of events.
And 48 per cent said that Hancock’s affair with Gina Coladangelo and his subsequent resignation made them more likely to regard the government as sleazy, against just 9 per cent who said they made it less likely.
Mr Johnson initially accepted the health secretary’s apology and allowed him to stay in his job on 25 June, ordering his spokesperson to declare the matter “closed”.
But after Hancock quit the following day amid a rising tide of anger on Tory backbenches, Mr Johnson attempted to claim credit for the resignation.
In an apparent attempt to dispel suggestions that Hancock was forced out against the PM’s will, Mr Johnson said in a TV interview that “when I saw the story on Friday, we had a new secretary of state for health in on Saturday”.
He was later branded “ridiculous” by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer when he repeated the line in the House of Commons.
Today’s poll found that 36 per cent of voters saw Mr Johnson’s handling of the scandal as “very weak” and 18 per cent “quite weak”, compared to 19 per cent who saw him as “quite strong” and 14 per cent “very strong”.
Even among Tory voters, the PM’s response to Hancock’s misdemeanour got the thumbs-down by a narrow majority, with 39 per cent saying he appeared weak and 38 per cent strong.
• Savanta ComRes questioned 2,176 British adults between 2 and 4 July.