UK Health Secretary resigns after breaking COVID-19 rules by kissing assistant

UK Health Minister Matt Hancock resigned on Saturday after being caught breaking COVID-19 rules by kissing and kissing an assistant in his office, angering his colleagues and the living public in prison.

In the latest scandal to rock a government that oversaw one of the highest official records of the pandemic, Hancock wrote Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step down, saying he had let people down.

A growing number of his fellow Conservative lawmakers had called him privately after the Sun newspaper on Friday published photos of the married minister kissing a woman he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded post to examine his ministry.

“Those of us who set these rules must abide by them and that is why I must quit,” the 42-year-old said in a video on Twitter.

Hancock had been at the center of the government’s fight against the pandemic, appearing regularly on television telling people to follow strict rules and defend his department against criticism of its response to the crisis.

Copies of the Sun newspaper can be seen at a newsstand in London on Friday. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

He will be replaced by Sajid Javid, a former finance minister with extensive government experience but new to health. Javid was forced out of the Treasury in early 2020 when he lost a power battle with Johnson’s longest-serving ally, Dominic Cummings.

He will be responsible for helping state-run health services recover from the pandemic and dealing with any future waves of infection. Cases started to increase last month.

Hancock’s departure also marks an embarrassment for Johnson after he said on Friday that he accepted Hancock’s apology and considered the matter closed.

He said on Saturday he was sorry to receive his resignation.

“You should be extremely proud of your service,” he wrote in response to Hancock. “I appreciate your support and believe your contribution to public service is far from over.”

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@MattHancock

The Sun had shown Hancock kissing the assistant in his office last month, at a time when it was against the rules for people to have intimate contact with someone outside their home.

Conservative lawmakers said many of them told the party they could no longer support it.

Opposition Labor Party had also questioned whether Hancock had broken the ministerial code: the woman, a longtime friend, had been appointed non-executive director to oversee the functioning of her department.

That sums up perfectly why Hancock is toast. 👇 pic.twitter.com/5begq7e15N

@piersmorgan

Media said on Saturday that she had now resigned.

Labor leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter that Hancock was right to step down, but added: “Boris Johnson should have sacked him.”

With 128,000 deaths and one of the deepest economic contractions on record, Britain was devastated by the pandemic and Hancock had come under heavy criticism. In the first few months, his department struggled to provide testing and protective equipment to hospital staff treating patients.

However, the government was spurred on by a rapid vaccine rollout, with 84% of adults receiving one dose and 61% both, well ahead of most countries.

As cases began to rise – up to 18,000 on Saturday – vaccines appear to have weakened the link between infections and deaths and most restrictions could be lifted by July 19.

Crony accusations

Despite the improvement in the situation, the revelations around Hancock had prompted accusations of hypocrisy. They also revived the accusation that Johnson’s government is in the throes of cronyism.

Hancock had welcomed the resignation of a senior scientist last year who similarly violated the restrictions. He had also been blamed for awarding COVID contracts to companies with close ties to the government. He had said he had to act quickly.

His case also echoed an incident last year when Cummings broke lockdown rules. Johnson’s decision to detain him sparked fury across the country and damaged the government’s reputation.

On this occasion, ministers and lawmakers expressed their support for Cummings in a coordinated effort. In contrast, few if any defended Hancock on Saturday.

A source in Downing Street said Hancock was not forced to resign. He said in his letter to Johnson that he wanted to apologize to his family and spend time with his children.

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