UK’s Matt Hancock given UN role months after resigning over scandal

Former government minister was caught breaching Covid guidelines in the summer

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a virtual news conference at 9 Downing Street in London, Britain, April 28, 2021. Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool via REUTERS
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Matt Hancock, Britain’s former health secretary who resigned after being caught breaking social distancing rules, has been appointed a special representative to the United Nations.

The former government minister will focus on helping African countries to recover from Covid-19 in his new role, which is unpaid.

In a tweet, he said he was honoured to be given the new job, which he said would involve working to “help African economic recovery from the pandemic and promote sustainable development”.

He said that it was a cause close to his heart.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in its impressive efforts to support Africa strengthen its economic recovery from the pandemic and the sustainability of its development.

“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.”

In June, a video showing him kissing and embracing an aide was leaked to the media, sparking a wave of criticism.

The footage was captured by a camera in Mr Hancock’s office at a time when the public were told to obey strict social distancing rules.

Soon after he was caught breaking the rules he resigned from his Cabinet role and split from his wife. He is still a British MP.

At the time, he said: “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.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed Sajid Javid as the new health secretary.

Mr Hancock had served as the UK’s health secretary since July 2018 and played a major part in deciding Covid rules for England throughout the pandemic, which included three nationwide lockdowns.

The UK’s devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales made their own rules.

The undersecretary general of the UN, Vera Songwe, said Mr Hancock’s success in handling the country’s pandemic response is a testament to the strengths he will bring to the role.

In a letter posted on Twitter by Mr Hancock, Ms Songwe pointed to the UK’s vaccine programme.

“The acceleration of vaccines that has led the UK to move faster towards economic recovery is one testament to the strengths that you will bring to this role, together with your fiscal and monetary experience,” she wrote.

“The role will support Africa’s cause at the global level and ensure the continent builds forward better, leveraging financial innovations and working with major stakeholders like the G20, UK government and Cop26.”

According to the UN, African countries face paying more than £300 billion ($409 billion) to recover from the pandemic.

A health official prepares a Covid-19 vaccine prior to administering it during a mass vaccine drive in Kenya. AFP

In his acceptance letter, also posted on Twitter, the Conservative MP said as the global community recovers from the coronavirus crisis “we must take this moment to ensure Africa can prosper”.

His appointment comes after a damning report from MPs published this week laid bare how errors and delays by the British government and scientific advisers cost lives during the pandemic.

The study, from the cross-party Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, said the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu, while ministers waited too long to push through lockdown measures in early 2020.

In a wide-ranging report, MPs said the UK’s planning was too “narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model” that failed to learn the lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola.

Former chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies told MPs there was “groupthink”, with infectious disease experts not believing that “Sars, or another Sars, would get from Asia to us”.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:07 AM