Politics

Boris Johnson’s former aide says Matt Hancock should resign for ‘undermining own Covid rules’


A former aide to Boris Johnson has suggested Matt Hancock should resign for undermining his own Covid rules, as the health secretary faces intensifying calls from across opposition parties to step down from government.

Tim Montgomerie, who worked in No 10 during the first months of Mr Johnson’s premiership, suggested it was “not good at all” to have the cabinet minister remain in office “when other people have fallen on their swords very quickly and very honourably”.

While defending the Mr Hancock’s previous record at the Department of Health, the founder of the Conservative Home website said: “When you undermine your own rules you have to show to the public that you understand the transgression you’ve made and you resign”.

It comes after Mr Johnson attempted to save the health secretary — declaring the matter “closed” — but questions continue to mount over Mr Hancock’s conduct in office, after he was caught embracing in his departmental office with a longtime friend he had put on the government payroll.

A cabinet source also told the Daily Telegraph that while No 10 was standing by Mr Hancock after his apology on Friday morning, “it could unravel pretty quickly”. A snap survey for Savanta ComRes found that a clear majority (58 per cent) believed the health secretary should resign.

Mr Hancock — a key government figure during the pandemic whose name appears on the Covid regulations that have governed people’s lives since March 2020 — acknowledged his embrace with Gina Coladangelo had broken social distancing rules and said he was “very sorry”.

A video of Mr Hancock’s embrace with Ms Coladangelo — a non-executive director at the Department of Health since September 2020 — was published on Friday evening by The Sun newspaper, prompting Labour to deem his position “hopelessly untenable”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Montgomerie suggested Mr Hancock may stay in his position for a “little longer” due to the public support offered by Downing Street by Friday, as the prime minister’s official spokesperson stonewalled journalists’ questions over the affair.

“Whether he should have that support is a whole other matter,” he said. “So many people have made sacrifices during this Covid period and Matt Hancock has been one of the principled people asking the country to make those sacrifices — he helped draw up the rules.

“He’s been a good secretary of state in my opinion, he’s worked incredibly hard to fight Covid, but when you undermine your own rules you have to show to the public that you understand the transgression you’ve made and you resign.

“You could come back in 12-18 months, but if the public don’t see some act of contrition, some sense that when rules are broken there are consequences then confidence in the government, the Covid rules, and the Conservative Party is diminished.”

Quizzed on whether his apology was sufficient, he replied: “I don’t think so. I think in some of the interviews that have been played out over the last 24 hours with Matt Hancock, he didn’t think it was good enough for Neil Ferguson, the scientific adviser when he was involved in a similar public controversy.”

“For the secretary of state for health to continue in office when other people have fallen on their swords very quickly and very honourably, I think is not good at all.”

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, also suggested that there was a significant issue around “conflict of interest” over his close relationship with Ms Coladangelo.

“He appointed her as an adviser, he then was involved in appointing her as a paid non-executive director of the department and we don’t know if they were in a relationship at that point in time,” he said.

“It’s really critical that the public can trust the government and the people who are appointed a paid by taxpayers that they are appointed on merit and not because of their close relationship with ministers.”

He added: “I think there a significant issues both for Gina Coladangelo in her role as a non-executive director and for the secretary of state and whether they have breached the respective codes. It says no conflict should arise, or reasonably should be perceived to arise, I don’t think anyone can say that’s the case here.”

Defending the beleaguered cabinet minister, however, Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, told the BBC it was “right” for Mr Hancock to issue an apology, but added: “There’s a task to be done. Matt is on the job doing that, and I think we should allow him to get on with the job.”

“The rules have been hard,” he added. “It is everybody’s duty to follow the rules, but equally I’ve not been somebody who has criticised and condemned people when they’ve made mistakes.”

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