Matt Hancock Admits He "Breached Social Distancing" After Affair Allegations
Matt Hancock has admitted "breaching" social distancing rules after the publication of pictures appearing to show him in an embrace with an aide.
The health secretary has issued an apology but refused to resign after admitting to breaking social distancing rules after he was pictured kissing aide Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office.
The pictures, which appeared to be stills from CCTV footage captured in his Whitehall office, were published by The Sun on Friday morning.
They show the former health secretary in what the paper described as a "steamy clinch" with the aide, who was a friend of his from Oxford University.
In a statement, he said: "I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances. I have let people down and am very sorry.
"I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter."
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Downing Street had "accepted" his apology and "considers the matter closed".
The spokesperson pointed to Hancock's statement and said there was nothing further to add.
"The Health Secretary set out that he accepted that he breached the social distancing guidelines, and he he has apologised for that," they said.
"The Prime Minister has accepted the Health Secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed."
But Labour, who have called for Hancock's resignation, did not look ready to drop the matter yet.
“This matter is definitely not closed, despite the Government’s attempts to cover it up," a Labour spokesperson said.
“Matt Hancock appears to have been caught breaking the laws he created while having a secret relationship with an aide he appointed to a taxpayer-funded job. The Prime Minister recently described him as “useless” - the fact that even now he still can’t sack him shows how spineless he is.”
Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, put it more succinctly. "Sack him,
@BorisJohnson", she tweeted.
In November, Hancock had come under pressure over Coladangelo's appointment after The Sunday Times revealed the head of marketing at retail firm, Oliver Bonas, had been hired as an unpaid adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care.
Labour had accused the then-health secretary of 'cronyism' over the appointment, with Coladangelo later being appointed as a non-executive director at the department, where she was paid £15,000 for her part-time role.
Opposition figures have accused Hancock of breaching Covid rules over the 6 May tryst because Covid guidelines at the time had imposed a ban on people from two different households hugging unless they were in a Covid 'bubble' together.
In early May, DHSC rules had also ordered workplaces to enforce a 2-metre social distancing rule between employees.
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chair, said Boris Johnson should sack Hancock over the relationship.
"If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office - who he personally appointed to a taxpayer-fund role - it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest," she said.
"The charge sheet against Matt Hancock includes wasting taxpayers' money, leaving care homes exposed and now being accused of breaking his own COVID rules.
"His position is hopelessly untenable. Boris Johnson should sack him."
Speaking on Friday morning, transport secretary Grant Shapps had referred to the story as an "entirely personal" matter.
Asked whether the issue could cost the health secretary his job, he told the BBC's today programme: "There has for a long time been a complete difference between what people do in their job...and what they do in their personal lives."
Pressed on Hancock having potentially breaching social distancing rules, he added: "I'm quite sure that whatever the rules were at the time were followed.
"You'll recall that there was a point at which social distancing rules were changed but, as I say, I don't want to comment on somebody else's private life - that is for them."
The reports had come amid growing pressure on Hancock who had allegedly been described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as "f**king useless" in text messages with former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings in the early months of 2020.
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