Boris Johnson rejects calls to sack Matt Hancock after Health Secretary admits breaching social distancing guidance

The Sun says Matt Hancock and his aide Gina Coladangelo have been having an affair - ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener has all the fallout from the report

Boris Johnson has rejected calls to sack Matt Hancock after the Health Secretary apologised for breaking social distancing guidance following photos purportedly showing him having a ‘secret affair’ with his closest aide were published in The Sun newspaper.

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister had accepted Mr Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”.

Blurry photos given to the newspaper by a Whitehall whistleblower appear to show Mr Hancock, 42, in a passionate embrace with Gina Coladangelo, 43, at the Department of Health offices in London.

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The Sun alleges the photos were taken on May 6, before the rule of six applied indoors from May 17.

Mr Hancock said on Friday: “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances.

"I have let people down and am very sorry. I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter."

The Matt Hancock scandal is the latest in a series of events that have prompted calls of 'Tory sleaze'. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “You’ve seen the health secretary’s statement, so I would point you to that,” a spokesperson for the Boris Johnson said after being asked why Mr Hancock remained in post.

“I don’t really have anything further to add.

“The health secretary set out that he accepted he had breached the social distancing guidelines and he has apologised for that.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said he has “every confidence” in the Health Secretary

“The prime minister has accepted the health secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.”

Asked whether Mr Johnson had “full confidence” in Mr Hancock, the spokesperson replied: “Yes.”

The spokesperson repeatedly refused to comment on whether Mr Hancock had broken the law and instead said: "I would point you to his statement. He says ‘I accept I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances’."

Lobbyist Gina Coladangelo was appointed by Mr Hancock as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on a six-month contract in March last year, sparking uproar due to her various other positions.

The appointment spurred allegations of ‘chumocracy’ as the pair have known each other since their time at Oxford University and remained close friends since.

It had also emerged that Ms Coladangelo accompanied Mr Hancock to confidential meetings with civil servants and visited No10 and reportedly has had a parliamentary pass since April under her husband’s surname.

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In September 2020, Ms Coladangelo was appointed by Mr Hancock as a non-executive director at DHSC, making her a significant player in the department’s oversight board.

She was a director at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon and is Marketing and Communications director at Oliver Bonas, the fashion and lifestyle store founded by her husband Oliver Tress.

Mr Hancock, who has three children with his wife of 15 years, has faced increased scrutiny over the past months for his handling of the Covid pandemic, and has been the centre of a public row with Boris Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings, who launched a scathing attack on the health minister for repeatedly ‘lying’ during the health crisis.

Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds called for the health secretary to resign.

She told ITV News: "The prime minister must act, he must remove the health secretary from this post. That is very, very clear now, we can not continue with this situation."

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps responded to The Sun's story saying he would not be commenting on "somebody else's personal situation".

He told ITV News: "I think there is a complete difference between someone's public position of work that they do, the vaccination rollout, and their private life."

He continued: "I'm not privy to all the information and facts on timing and more recently, you have been able to hug people who are close to you. I don't have all that information.

"I would say I think the main thing people will look at is things like our incredible vaccination programme."

'We're all human beings. Relationships take place,' says Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

He also suggested there is nothing wrong with being in a close relationship with a colleague: "We're all human beings. Relationships take place. We know that.

"I remember a former leader of the Conservative Party William Hague ended up marrying somebody who he worked with. People end up in their own private relationships."

He also told Sky News Ms Coladangelo would have gone through an “incredibly rigorous” process to get the job.

Asked about the rules around appointing friends to government positions, Mr Shapps said: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.

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“In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government, so whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.

“There are no short cuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the civil service knows.

“There are very strict rules in place.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said Ms Coladangelo's appointment as non-executive director of the department was "made in the usual way and followed correct procedure”.

In a statement Labour said: “Ministers, like everyone, are entitled to a private life.

"However, when taxpayers’ money is involved or jobs are being offered to close friends who are in a personal relationship with a minister, then that needs to be looked into.

"The government needs to be open and transparent about whether there are any conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken.”