London: Matt Hancock, Britain’s health minister, resigned on Saturday after he was caught kissing and embracing an aide at his office, enraging colleagues and the public who have been living under lockdown.
Hancock, 42, wrote to PM Boris Johnson to resign after a media published photos on Friday of the married minister embracing senior aide Gina Coladangelo, who he had designated to a taxpayer-funded role to scrutinize the performance of his department. The tabloid said the closed-circuit television pictures were taken on May 6, 11 days before lockdown rules were lifted to allow hugs and other physical contacts with people outside one’s household.
Hancock has been at the center of the government’s fight against the pandemic, frequently appearing on television and radio to tell the public to follow the strict rules to restrain the virus.
Johnson will now have to find a replacement who will look after the huge ministry that shall manage the health service and fights the virus, at a time when cases have risen again. Johnson said on Friday that he had accepted an apology from the minister and considered the matter to be closed, but Hancock was under increasing pressure to resign.
‘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,’ Hancock said in his letter.
Johnson replied that he is sorry to have received 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 showed Hancock kissing his aide last month, at a time when it was against the rules to have intimacy with anyone outside their household.
The opposition Labour Party also inquired whether he had broken the ministerial code: the woman, a long-time friend of Hancock’s, who was designated as a non-executive director, on a taxpayer-funded salary, to manage the running of his department.
Labour leader Keir Starmer tweeted that Hancock was right to resign. ‘But Boris Johnson should have sacked him.’
British authorities have reported 128,000 deaths from Covid-19, amongst the highest numbers in the world. Hancock had been heavily criticized for the way he handled the outbreak initially. However, Johnson’s Conservative government has been boosted by the rapid rollout of the vaccine program, with 84 percent of adults having received a dose and 61 percent with both, an unprecedented number compared to most other countries.