The recent resignation of former Health Minister Matt Hancock, who led the country’s response to the pandemic, was the latest in a series of British officials being accused of violating Covid-19 restrictions. A number of conservative lawmakers in Parliament had called for him to resign after the Sun published pictures of Matt Hancock kissing and hugging his assistant Gina Colangelo. The Sun took the photos of Matt Hancock and his aide at the Department of Health building, just as he was urging the public on social media to abide by social distancing rules. The Sun did not say how the security camera images were obtained, but referred to a whistleblower about the relationship between the health minister and his assistant.
“Hancock met his assistant at Oxford University in the early 2000s,” the Sun wrote. Colangelo is listed as a non-executive director on the UK Department of Health website. Hancock issued a statement saying he regretted ignoring the health advice. Boris Johnson also stated that in his opinion, this case is considered closed; but the protests continued, and many questions were raised about the whys and hows of employing Mrs Colangelo at the Ministry of Health, claiming that she had been hired by the party. The Sun also wrote that Hancock’s aide was a friend of his before working with the health minister.
“The appointment follows all the correct steps,” Spokesman Davis said. The assistant was hired as an unpaid consultant last year and this year became a non-executive director at the Ministry of Health, a role that pays around £15,000 a year. The BBC also wrote that Gina Colangelo receives 15 thousand pounds for working for 15 to 20 days a year as Assistant Minister of Health.
Criticism for hiring consultants and contractors from outside the civil service without meticulous levels of scrutiny has been recognised by Johnson’s Conservative government as “democracy.”
“If Matt Hancock was secretly having an affair with an adviser in his office – and personally appointed him to a tax-paying role – this is an abuse of blatant use of force and conflict,” said Labour leader Anneliese Dodds. “The benefits are obvious.” “His position is hopelessly indefensible. Boris Johnson must fire him.”
The Liberal Democrats have condemned Hancock for hypocrisy over social distancing rules. “Hancock ignored the rules while we could not hug family and friends during Covid funerals,” the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said. “There are very strict rules about appointing friends to government positions,” said Grant Shapps, Britain’s transport minister.
According to a poll, more than half of adults in Britain say Hancock should resign. A study by Savanta ComRes found that 58% of those polled thought the health minister should step down. “It’s embarrassing,” said Charlie Leroy, a 19-year-old resident of Kent. Until now, the government has only said, “Be careful, you cannot do this, you should not do that, and then they themselves broke the law.”
The Sun published pictures showing married Hancock and a senior aide kissing at the offices in the Department of Health. The development comes after a picture of him in the media and cyberspace was published last week, which shows him betraying his wife and embracing one of his assistants, Gina Colangelo, while breaking social distancing rules. It is said that this image belonged to 6 May.
Reactions by Political Parties
Matt Hancock was at the forefront of efforts by Boris Johnson’s government to combat the pandemic, appearing regularly on television and urging people to abide by the strict rules. He had previously been under pressure over revelations by a former adviser to the British prime minister about mismanaging the Covid-19 crisis. Former adviser, Dominic Cummings, called Hancock a disappointing element.
Cummings, now a bitter critic of the government he once served, told lawmakers last month that Hancock “should have been fired for lying and making mistakes.” He also posted a WhatsApp message in which Johnson described Hancock as utterly disappointing or hopeless.
Cummings also violated the rules and undermined the government’s “stay at home” message by driving 400 kilometres from England to his parents’ house during the 2020 spring lockdown. Johnson resisted pressure to fire him, but Cummings resigned in November amid a power struggle.
Jonathan Ashworth called Hancock a permanent element of frustration, and members of the Conservative ruling party called on the prime minister to remove him from office.
“I acknowledge that I have violated social distancing guidelines in these circumstances,” Hancock said in a statement. “I’ve disappointed people and I’m very sorry,” he said. “I am still trying to get the country out of this pandemic, and I am grateful for my family’s privacy on this personal issue.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sided with Hancock, but the main Opposition Labour Party said he should be fired for breaking social distancing rules and, potentially, government employment laws.
Johnson’s spokesman, Jimmy Davis, said the prime minister had full confidence in Hancock. “The prime minister has accepted the health minister’s apology and said the issue is over,” he said. “He and the rest of the government are still focused on continuing the fight against the pandemic.”
The Labour Party, opposed to Johnson, called for Hancock to be fired and for further investigation into violations of the ministers’ code of conduct. A spokesman for the Labour Party said: “Despite the government’s efforts to cover up the issue, this is not over yet”. He added: “Matt Hancock seems to have had a secret affair with an assistant who was hired as a tax and budget consultant and was hunted while breaking the rules he made himself.”
Incompetence by Hancock or the Government
Hancock’s department has often been accused under procurement laws of using personal contacts to award lucrative contracts for protective equipment and other medical necessities. Hancock said he was pressed by the need to provide essential equipment quickly at the height of the outbreak.
Hancock was again criticised last February for not revealing the details of a contract concluded during the pandemic. But the Ministry of Health stated that speed of action was necessary for their work during the crisis.
In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Hancock acknowledged that he had violated Covid restrictions and that he did not want his personal life to divert from the government’s focus on the crisis. He once again apologised to the people for violating Covid restrictions he was championing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said he regretted receiving Hancock’s resignation.
The Matt Hancock scandal was widely reported because Britain, under Johnson’s government, initially had one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in Europe. For this reason, Hancock and Johnson were at the forefront of criticism for the government’s mismanagement of Covid-19. “I know the Department of Health is investigating to know exactly how these recorded images were taken out of the system,” Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland’s minister in the Cabinet, said.
Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick, said that his colleague in the Cabinet had the right to apologise and that he should now be allowed to continue as Minister of Health.
Sources say the government believes no laws have been violated, because Hancock and Colangelo were in the organisation for business and legal purposes. Hancock, 42, is at the centre of the government’s crackdown on Covid-19 and often tells people on television to obey the strict rules. He also defended his department against criticism aimed at the Covid-19 crisis management.
The British government is set to investigate several recent scandals, particularly the release of a controversial video of the Secretary of Health and the leak of classified documents related to a destroyer and other sensitive Department of Defence secrets. The BBC’s report that sensitive Department of Defence documents were found by an ordinary passerby at a bus stop has exposed security tensions within the government, adding to the plight of the prime minister.
Social distancing at work is not a legal requirement, but the government has repeatedly recommended that a two-metre distance be maintained between employees at work, or one metre for people wearing a mask. Hancock also said last year that a government scientist resigned after breaking coronavirus rules and meeting with his partner. Sexual harassment of women in the British Parliament also made headlines two years ago, leading to the resignation of several members of the Boris Johnson government.