LONDON – 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 colleagues and the public who were living in detention.
Hancock, 42, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step down after The Sun newspaper published photos of the married minister on Friday of the married minister kissing senior assistant Gina Coladangelo, whom he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role to review the performance of his department.
The tabloid said the CCTV footage was taken on May 6 – 11 days before lockdown rules were relaxed to allow hugs and other physical contact with people outside of its own household.
Hancock has been at the center of the government’s fight against the pandemic, appearing regularly on TV and radio telling people to follow strict rules to contain the virus.
His departure means Johnson will have to appoint a new minister to take over the huge department overseeing health services and fighting the virus, at a time when cases have started to rise again.
Johnson had said on Friday he had accepted the minister’s apology and considered the case closed, but Hancock had faced increasing pressure to resign.
“We owe it to the people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we let them down like I did by breaking guidelines,” Hancock said in his letter.
Johnson replied that he was sorry to receive it.
“You should be immensely proud of your service,” he wrote. “I appreciate your support and believe your contribution to public service is far from over.”
The Sun showed 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.
Opposition Labor has also questioned whether it broke the ministerial code: the woman, a longtime friend of Hancock’s, has been appointed non-executive director, with a taxpayer-funded salary, to oversee the operation of his department.
Labor leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter that Hancock was right to step down. “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 office for almost three years, had been heavily criticized for his initial handling of the pandemic.
However, Johnson’s Tory government was boosted by a rapid rollout of the immunization program, with 84% of adults having one dose and 61% both, well ahead of most other countries.