UK health minister Matt Hancock quits after breaking COVID-19 rules with affair
Britain's health minister Matt Hancock has resigned after he admitted breaking COVID-19 guidance by kissing and embracing an aide in his office.
LONDON: UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock resigned on Saturday (Jun 26) following revelations that he broke the government's own coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.
The frontman for Britain's response to the pandemic, particularly the nationwide vaccine roll-out, quit in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
"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," he wrote.
"The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis," he added.
Johnson said he was "sorry" to receive Hancock's resignation, and that he should be "immensely proud" of his service.
The prime minister had initially stood by his beleaguered health secretary after he admitted to breaking COVID-19 rules on social distancing, at a time when he was urging the public to stick by the measures, including curbs on funeral numbers.
Opposition parties accused the government of hypocrisy over breaches of lockdown rules which have seen many members of the public slapped with fines.
Hancock conceded he had let the public down after The Sun newspaper published a security camera still obtained apparently from a whistleblower showing him kissing the aide in his office on May 6.
The main opposition Labour party said the government needed to answer questions about the undisclosed appointment of the aide, former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo, to Hancock's top advisory team.
Both she and Hancock are married, and first met at university.
Last week, Hancock rejected criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic after private WhatsApp exchanges emerged in which Johnson appeared to describe him as "hopeless".
Hancock has also previously faced allegations that he lied to Johnson and awarded a contract to an unqualified friend.
He has faced further questions about his ownership of shares in a family company that won a COVID-related contract from his ministry last year.
But Johnson praised Hancock for his role in Britain's succesful vaccine rollout, which he called "one of the greatest successes of the modern state".
"It has been your task to deal with a challenge greater than faced by any of your predecessors and in fighting Covid you have risen to that challenge - with abundant energy, intelligence and determination that are your hallmark," he added.
Hancock had been at the centre of the government's fight against the pandemic, routinely appearing on television to tell people to follow strict rules and to defend his department against criticism of its response to the crisis.
He will be replaced by Sajid Javid, a former finance minister with widespread 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 then most senior ally, Dominic Cummings.
He will be tasked with helping the state-run health service recover from the pandemic and to deal with any future infection waves. Cases have started to rise in the last month.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said Hancock was right to resign, but tweeted that Johnson "should have sacked him".
Johnson's former aide Dominic Cummings had recently turned his guns on Hancock, releasing scathing internal documents related to his early handling of the pandemic.
Johnson was already under pressure to replace him, with Saturday's announcement taking that dilemma out of his hands.
Britain was due to fully ease restrictions on Jun 21, but the emergence of the Delta variant, first found in India, has led to an extension of social distancing rules.
Hancock assumed the role on Jul 9, 2018, having previously been head of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport department.
Before entering politics, Hancock worked for his family business and as an economist at the Bank of England. He has three children with his wife Martha.