Keir Starmer has said that Matt Hancock was right to resign as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care after pictures and a video of the minister breaking his own Covid public health restrictions with an aide were revealed.
But tweeting shortly after Hancock announced this afternoon that he would be stepping down, following the story emerging on Friday, the Labour leader argued that Boris Johnson should have sacked the Health Secretary.
The footage, showing Hancock kissing his aide, was from May 6th according to The Sun. At the time, the public were still being instructed not to hug people outside of their household, which was only allowed from May 17th.
The Sun published details of an “explosive affair” between Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, who was hired as an adviser and then appointed as a non-executive director at the Department for Health and Social Care last year.
In a letter to the Prime Minister this afternoon, the Health Secretary wrote: “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”.
He tweeted today: “I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this country has made, you have made, and those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them and that’s why I’ve got to resign.”
Hancock has now been replaced as Health Secretary by Sajid Javid, the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove who was Chancellor from 2019 to 2020 and Home Secretary before that. He resigned from the cabinet last year over a row related to Dominic Cummings.
After the pictures of the Health Secretary and Coladangelo emerged on Friday, Johnson accepted the apology of Hancock and a Downing Street spokesperson said that the Prime Minister “considers the matter closed”.
Labour said on Friday that Johnson should sack Hancock. A party spokesperson said ministers are “entitled to a private life” but raised concerns over her hiring and possible “conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken”.
There was initially no public record of Coladangelo being appointed as a non-executive director, a taxpayer-funded role that pays at least £15,000, but the hire and failure to declare was revealed by The Sunday Times in November last year.
Tweeting shortly after the resignation today, Angela Rayner wrote: “Why did Boris Johnson back Matt Hancock, why did he say that the matter was closed on Friday and why didn’t he have the guts to sack him?”
Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News: “It shouldn’t have come to this. The Prime Minister should have shown the guts, the spine, the judgement to have sacked him. You cannot have a Health Secretary breaking the rules in a pandemic.”
The Shadow Health Secretary added: “This reveals the weakness, lack of judgement, lack of leadership from Boris Johnson that he didn’t sack him. If No 10 are briefing tonight that this was Matt Hancock’s decision, not Boris Johnson’s, I think that tells you even more so that Boris Johnson isn’t cut out for the demands of leadership.”
The Health Secretary had already been under pressure in recent weeks after the former adviser to Boris Johnson Dominic Cummings revealed text messages in which the Prime Minister appeared to call Hancock “totally fucking hopeless”.
Cummings also told MPs during an evidence session recently that he had urged Johnson to sack the Health Secretary up to 20 times for allegedly lying to colleagues and the public about care homes, testing and other aspects of the Covid response.
The former aide to the Prime Minister has claimed, in response to Javid’s appointment, that he “tricked” Johnson into “firing” Javid last year. “Saj = bog standard = chasing headlines + failing = awful for NHS,” he tweeted.