Matt Hancock has resigned as UK health secretary on Saturday after he was caught breaking Covid-19 rules by kissing and embracing an aide in his office, enraging colleagues and the public who have been living under lockdown.
The 42-year-old wrote to prime minister Boris Johnson to resign after the Sun newspaper published photos of the married minister embracing a woman who he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role to scrutinise the performance of his department.
Hancock has been at the centre of the government’s fight against the pandemic, routinely appearing on the television and radio to tell people to follow the strict rules to contain the virus.
“We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance,” he said in the letter.
Johnson said in reply that he was sorry to receive it. “You should be immensely proud of your service,” he wrote. “I am grateful for your support and believe that your contribution to public service is far from over.”
The Sun’s photographs showed Mr Hancock kissing the aide in his office last month, at a time when it was against the rules for people to have intimate contact with a person outside their household.
British former finance minister Sajid Javid will replace Mr Hancock as the country's health minister, the prime minister's office said on Saturday. Mr Javid resigned as finance minister last year after he refused to fire his political advisers as requested by Johnson.
The opposition Labour Party also questioned whether he had broken the ministerial code: the woman, a long-time friend of Hancock’s, was appointed as a non-executive director, on a taxpayer-funded salary, to oversee the running of his department.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter that Hancock was right to resign. “But Boris Johnson should have sacked him.”
With 128,000 deaths, Britain has one of the highest official death tolls from Covid-19 in the world and Hancock, in the post for almost three years, had been heavily criticised for his initial handling of the pandemic.
However Johnson’s Conservative government has been boosted by a rapid rollout of the vaccine programme, with 84 per cent of adults having one dose and 61 per cent having both, well ahead of most other countries.
Despite the improving situation, the revelations around Mr Hancock sparked anger and accusations of hypocrisy. They also reignited the charge that Mr Johnson’s government is beset by cronyism.
Hancock had last year welcomed the resignation of a senior scientist who broke restrictions in a similar manner.
Britain’s leading newspapers had all splashed the story on their front pages on Saturday, saying Hancock had lost all moral authority and would not be able to impose restrictions in future if required.
The case has echoes of an incident last year when Mr Johnson’s then most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, broke lockdown rules. Mr Johnson’s decision to retain him sparked fury across the country and damaged the government’s standing.– Reuters