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Matt Hancock resigns as health secretary after admitting breaking COVID rules

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Matt Hancock has resigned as health secretary after admitting breaking coronavirus rules, Downing Street says.

In his letter of resignation, Mr Hancock said: “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.

“I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance, and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this. I also need (to) be with my children at this time.”

Live reaction to Matt Hancock’s resignation

It comes after leaked CCTV showed the MP kissing aide and former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office.

The images, published by The Sun, were from 6 May – more than a week before the easing of social distancing rules around close contact indoors for people from separate households.

Mr Hancock said in his letter of resignation: “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.

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“We didn’t get every decision right but I know people understand how hard it is to deal with the unknown, making the difficult trade-offs between freedom, prosperity and health that we have faced.

“I am so proud that Britain avoided the catastrophe of an overwhelmed NHS and that through foresight and brilliant science we have led the world in the vaccination effort, so we stand on the brink of a return to normality.”

Matt Hancock (centre, sitting) with adviser Gina Coladangelo (front left)
Image: Matt Hancock (centre, sitting) with adviser Gina Coladangelo (front left)

Responding to Mr Hancock’s resignation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote: You should leave office very proud of what you have achieved – not just in tackling the pandemic, but even before COVID-19 struck us.”

He added: “Above all, it has been your task to deal with a challenge greater than that faced by any of your predecessors, and in fighting COVID you have risen to that challenge – with the abundant energy, intelligence and determination that are your hallmark.

“You should be immensely proud of your service. I am grateful for your support and believe that your contribution to public service is far from over.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats had demanded Mr Hancock’s removal, saying the footage raised questions over whether there was a conflict of interest in the appointment of Ms Coladangelo, and whether social distancing rules had been broken.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman had earlier rejected any impropriety, saying “This appointment was made in the usual way and followed correct procedure.”

As questions over his future were growing, Mr Hancock pulled out of a planned constituency event and issued a written statement apologising for breaking COVID rules, but indicated he intended to continue in post.

The Sunday Times reported in November that Mr Hancock had failed to declare he had appointed Ms Coladangelo as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract last March and later gave her a role on the board of the Department of Health.

Ms Coladangelo, who has been a close friend of the former cabinet minister since their time at university, is listed on the department’s website as a non-executive director.

She is also the marketing and communications director at British retailer Oliver Bonas, which was founded by her husband Oliver Tress.

Her LinkedIn profile says she has been working as a non-executive director at the Department of Health since September 2020 and was at Oxford University at the same time as the health secretary.

Mr Hancock was appointed health secretary by then prime minister Theresa May in 2018 and has been married to his wife Martha for 15 years and they have three children together.

During the pandemic he had been critical of those who broke COVID rules, including Professor Neil Ferguson – a senior epidemiologist who sat on the government’s advisory panel, SAGE.

Speaking to Sky News in May last year after it was revealed that Professor Ferguson had broken lockdown rules by allowing a woman he was having a relationship with into his home, Mr Hancock said: “I think the social distancing rules are very important and people should follow them.”

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Flowers delivered to Hancock’s home

Mr Hancock has also been heavily criticised by Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

In a lengthy evidence session to a joint select committee of MPs investigating the government’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Cummings said the former health secretary should have been sacked for “at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions”.