Pressure is mounting on Matt Hancock to step down – and on Boris Johnson, the government’s ethics advisor – after the UK health minister was caught kissing a close advisor in breach of coronavirus restrictions.
A video of Mr Hancock hugging Gina Coladangelo was released Friday night after stills from the CCTV clip earlier in the day led Labor to consider its position “hopelessly untenable”.
Lawyers described how Mr Hancock may have broken the law regarding coronavirus restrictions, despite only admitting to breaking the guidelines.
There were also questions about the appointment of Ms. Coladangelo to her role in the Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) in the first place.
The Prime Minister has so far resisted calls for the dismissal of Mr Hancock, who said he was “very sorry” for abandoning people after The Sun first reported he was having an extramarital affair.
But the Daily Telegraph reported that Tory MPs were telling the prime minister to “pull the plug,” with the public response in the days to come being crucial to his fate.
North Norfolk Conservative Duncan Baker was the first MP to openly demand that Hancock leave on Saturday.
He told his local newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press, “I believe that people in high public office and positions of responsibility should act with the proper morals and ethics that go with that role.
“Matt Hancock failed to achieve that on a number of measures. As an MP who is a devoted family man, married to a wonderful wife and children for 12 years, standards and integrity are important to me.
“I will not condone this behavior in any way and I have firmly told the government what I think.”
A quick poll by Savanta ComRes released hours after photos of the couple kissing in Mr Hancock’s office of ministers found that 58% of UK adults felt that Mr Hancock should resign, compared to 25% who who thought he shouldn’t.
And the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice group, which represents those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, also urged Mr. Hancock to leave.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the group said it had broken its “position of neutrality on the conduct of ministers” to urge Mr Johnson to fire Mr Hancock from his job.
The health minister is also deeply unpopular with some conservatives who believe he has been an obstacle to easing coronavirus restrictions.
In a statement, Mr. Hancock said, “I accept that I have violated social distancing guidelines in these circumstances, I have let people down and I am very sorry.
“I remain focused on getting the country out of this pandemic and would be grateful for my family’s privacy on this personal matter.”
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr. Johnson accepted Mr. Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”.
Ms. Coladangelo, who is married to retailer Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress, is a friend of Mr. Hancock’s from their time at Oxford University and was called to the DHSC last year.
She was initially taken on as an unpaid consultant on a six-month contract in March 2020 before she was appointed to the department as a non-executive director.
The Metropolitan Police said they are not investigating crimes allegedly alleged to have taken place in the past month because “of course the MPS is not investigating retrospectively on Covid-related issues.”
Human rights attorney Adam Wagner told BBC News: “I’m pretty clear, although you can never be sure that the rules have been broken as it was illegal at the time to hold meetings of more than one person anywhere indoors unless there is an exception.
“The only thing that could reasonably be said to be true, or possibly to be true, would be that it was reasonably necessary for work purposes.
“But from what we know and can see in the pictures, this doesn’t seem to be reasonably necessary for work purposes.”
Mr Hancock is also charged with breaking the Ministerial Code and in a letter to Mr Johnson, Labor Vice-Chair Angela Rayner said Lord Geidt, the independent ministerial adviser, should investigate Mr Hancock’s conduct.
Labor leader Anneliese Dodds said when Mr Hancock, who has been married to the mother of his three children Martha for 15 years, was secretly in a relationship with an advisor he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role this is “a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest”.
A spokesman for Number 10 insisted that “correct procedure” had been followed in appointing Ms. Coladangelo but refused to go into details.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a government behavioral advisor on the Spi-B committee, said the prime minister, holding on to his aides and ministers who may have broken the rules, has made the impact on compliance “toxic” .