Matt Hancock resigns as UK health secretary over Covid-19 breach kissing scandal

‘I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance’, minister said in resignation letter

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British health secretary Matt Hancock has resigned after he admitted breaking Covid-19 guidance by kissing and embracing an aide in his office.

Downing Street published Mr Hancock's resignation letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and within two hours named former finance minister Sajid Javid as his successor.

“The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis,” Mr Hancock said.

“I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this. I also need [to] be with my children at this time.”

The woman involved in the scandal, Gina Coladangelo, also lost her job at the ministry and the government will face questions over how Mr Hancock hired her, a university friend.

Mr Johnson said he was sorry that Mr Hancock had to leave.

“You should be immensely proud of your service,” he said. “I am grateful for your support and believe that your contribution to public service is far from over.”

Mr Hancock stood down after failing to follow his own government’s rules on social distancing.

At a past news conference he said it was on "us at the podium to do our bit" and criticised other public figures who broke Covid rules.

In his resignation letter, he said he owed it to the health workers, volunteers and military personnel who had worked on the UK’s pandemic response to resign.

He publicly apologised to his own family. “I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this,” Mr Hancock said. “I also need to be with my children at this time.”

Mr Johnson had been under mounting pressure on Saturday to fire his health secretary after Mr Hancock admitted kissing an employee in breach of Covid-19 guidelines.

On Saturday, Mr Johnson's home was pelted with tennis balls as thousands of anti-lockdown protesters marched through London. Some carried placards calling for Mr Hancock's resignation.

Labour, other opposition parties, and even some Conservative MPs welcomed the resignation but still have questions for Mr Johnson's government.

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Hancock's legacy was one of "failure".

Mr Hancock, 42, has been at the centre of the government’s fight against the pandemic, routinely telling people to follow strict rules and even welcoming the resignation last year of a senior scientist who broke restrictions in a similar manner.

A smoke canister goes off during an anti-Vaccine and anti-lockdown demonstration outside Downing street in central London, on June 26, 2021.  / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

On Friday, Mr Hancock apologised after The Sun newspaper showed him kissing a senior aide in his office last month, when it was against the rules for people to have intimate contact with anyone outside their household.

Gina Coladangelo, an aide to Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock, reacts as they leave the BBC in central London on June 6, 2021, after Hancock appeared on the BBC political programme The Andrew Marr Show.  A British newspaper reported on June 25, 2021, that Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been having an affair with a close aide Gina Coladangelo, whom he appointed to his team in secret last year. / AFP / Tolga Akmen

On Saturday, Duncan Baker became the first Conservative politician to openly call for his resignation, while the Labour Party and the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group called for him to be sacked.

“To allow Matt Hancock to continue to hold the position of health secretary compounds he heartache of bereaved families who sacrificed so much while he broke the rules,” the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said.

“It is not only an insult to bereaved families and all those who have obeyed the rules but it undermines the public’s trust in measures designed to save others from the loss we have suffered.”

Last year Mr Johnson’s then most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, broke the rules at the height of the pandemic.

It led to accusations that Mr Johnson’s government believes itself to be above the law.

Mr Johnson refused on a number of occasions to sack ministers, including Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. She was found to have broken rules by shouting and swearing at staff, prompting the official ethics adviser to resign after his ruling was ignored by the prime minister.

The country’s spending watchdog criticised the government for the way it awarded billions of pounds of contracts at the height of the pandemic, after some went to companies with links to ministers and officials.

FILE  - In this Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 file photo, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock walks from 10 Downing Street in London. Britain’s health minister has apologized for breaching social distancing rules after a newspaper ran pictures of him embracing a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement that “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances." He said “I have let people down and am very sorry.” The tabloid Sun newspaper reported Friday, June 25, 2021 that Hancock had an extramarital affair with a senior aide, Gina Coladangelo. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

The Health Ministry justified the contracts on the grounds it needed to move quickly.

Last month, Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of lying and said the prime minister should have sacked him for failing to deliver on his promise that elderly patients in hospitals would be tested for Covid-19 before being returned to care homes.

Care Quality Commission data suggested the policy of returning infected people to care homes was responsible for 25,000 deaths in Britain.