Boris Johnson has backed embattled health secretary Matt Hancock, after he admitted breaching Covid rules in an office affair with an aide.
Mr Hancock was forced to issue a grovelling apology this morning after images depicting him in a romantic embrace with his adviser, Gina Coladangelo, were splashed across the national press.
The pictures appeared to show Mr Hancock – who has been married to wife Martha for 15 years – kissing Ms Coladangelo, who is married to Oliver Bonas founder, Oliver Tress.
The Cabinet minister hired Ms Coladangelo, who is understood to be an old university friend, last year in the midst of the pandemic.
— The Sun (@TheSun) June 25, 2021
In a brief statement, Mr Hancock said he was “very sorry” but made clear he would not be resigning.
“I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances, I have let people down and am very sorry,” he said.
“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.”
The prime minister, whose career has been dogged by reports of extramarital affairs, met with Mr Hancock to discuss the matter this morning.
His spokesman said: “The prime minister has accepted the health secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.”
But Labour said his position has become “hopelessly untenable”, party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office – who he personally appointed to a taxpayer-funded role – it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest.
“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.”
The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard agreed, adding: “Private matters are just that but public appointments are another matter entirely – and they warrant proper scrutiny and full transparency.
“There must be an investigation into this appointment and a full public inquiry into the Tory cronyism scandal engulfing Westminster, which is out of control.
“It might be an amazing coincidence that the Tory health secretary’s university friend was the best person for a £15,000 role on the board of his department and also as an adviser – but it raises more questions over why Tory friends and donors are being given privileged access and public money.”
Number 10 said Ms Coladangelo’s appointment had been “made in the usual way” and had “followed correct procedure”.
The row carries echoes of the political storm which erupted last year when Mr Johnson’s then top adviser Dominic Cummings made his infamous trip to Castle Barnard in County Durham in apparent breach of lockdown rules.
On that occasion, the Prime Minister resisted calls for Mr Cummings to be sacked despite widespread public anger over his actions.
Mr Johnson also rejected calls to fire Home Secretary Priti Patel when she was found to have bullied civil servants working for her, and he appears to be determined to do the same with Mr Hancock.
Mr Hancock meanwhile has been accused of hypocrisy after it was pointed out that he previously called on UK Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson to stand down following revelations he was visiting a lover during lockdown.
The Government adviser, whose work was crucial in Mr Johnson’s move to enforce strict restrictions, stood down from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) over what he called an “error of judgment”.
Mr Hancock called the revelations “extraordinary” at the time, adding: “Everyone has got to follow the social distancing rules.”