Why Matt Hancock's resignation was inevitable

  • Why Matt Hancock's resignation is not the end of his and Boris Johnson's troubles, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports

The only surprising thing about Matt Hancock's resignation is that it happened today, rather than yesterday, or on the morning after the Sun first disclosed that he broke mandatory social distancing rules by snogging his Department of Health colleague, Gina Coladangelo. If a minister doesn't resign for breaking important rules that impose a significant burden on all of us, and rules that he or she has written, then there's no such thing as personal responsibility in politics any more. Though presumably the PM takes the view that ministerial accountability is oh so yesterday, because on Friday Johnson said the matter was closed, after Hancock apologised but insisted he would carry on. According to Johnson's colleagues, the reason he initially preferred that Hancock clung on, albeit with authority seriously impaired, is that he hates the idea that a media baying for his minster's head would call the shots. And it will rankle for Johnson that his estranged former aide, Dominic Cummings, will seem vindicated, in that for weeks Cummings has been alleging that Hancock is unfit for high office.

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In that context, the appointment of Sajid Javid to replace Hancock looks like the PM trolling Cummings, in that it was Cummings who forced Javid out of his job as Chancellor and out of the government in February last year. It's doubtful however that either the PM or Hancock will believe that Hancock's resignation is the end of potential embarrassment for them. There will be sustained pressure from Labour for a Cabinet Office investigation into whether all the proprieties were followed when Coladangelo was appointed as a Department of Health non-executive director and around the awarding of NHS contracts to friends and associates of Hancock. The PM wrote in his letter, accepting Hancock's resignation, that he was sure his "contribution to public service is far from over" - meaning that after an appropriate time in the wilderness, Johnson wants Hancock back in government. Whether in practice that can happen any time soon, when the official inquiry into all that has gone wrong in the government's stewardship of the pandemic won't start till next spring and will take years, is highly doubtful.

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