Matt Hancock quit as Health Secretary on Saturday night after Tory MPs began breaking ranks to publicly call for him to quit over his “toxic” breach of social distancing guidance to have an affair with his aide.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Hancock admitted that he had begun to “distract attention” from the Government’s response to Covid-19, adding: “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 also released a video apologising for his behaviour.
Mr Hancock had clung to his job for almost 48 hours after pictures emerged of him kissing Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office on May 6, when social distancing rules outlawed contact with members of other households.
Mr Hancock spoke to his wife, Martha, on Thursday evening, to tell her that he was leaving her, shortly before news of his affair with Ms Coladangelo broke. A friend of Mr Hancock said: “Matt and Gina are in love. It started in May but it is serious.”
Martha Hancock. She remained in London on Saturday while her husband was believed to be staying in Suffolk
On Saturday night it emerged Ms Coladangelo, who first started providing unpaid advice to Mr Hancock during his short-lived Conservative Party leadership campaign in 2019, was quitting as a non-executive director for the Department of Health and Social Care.
Ms Colandangelo was paid to provide advice to Mr Hancock during the Covid-19 pandemic
Sources close to the Health Secretary claim that the affair began in May, but Mr Hancock has refused to confirm on the record that did not break the rules on other occasions.
Backbenchers in revolt
His resignation was announced by No 10 as Boris Johnson faced an open revolt over his refusal to take action himself. Earlier, sources had told The Telegraph that Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee of backbenchers, had been preparing to tell the Chief Whip that the Health Secretary must go. Tory backbenchers bombarded whips with messages demanding that Mr Johnson sack Mr Hancock.
Mr Johnson said he was “sorry” to receive Mr Hancock’s resignation, and a No 10 source said: “This was Matt’s decision.”
In a letter to Mr Johnson, Mr Hancock said: “I am writing to resign as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. We have worked so hard as a country to fight the pandemic. 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.
“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 pledged to “support you in whatever way I can from the back benches”, adding: “I would like to thank you for your unwavering support.”
Mr Johnson replied: “You should leave office very proud of what you have achieved – not just in tackling the pandemic, but even before Covid-19 struck us. Under your leadership, the department has led fundamental reforms to the provision of care in this country.”
He added: “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.”
Sajid Javid was appointed as Health Secretary on Saturday night. He will return to lead the Covid-19 response, having resigned as chancellor last year over a power struggle with No 10. Bringing Mr Javid back into government means that Mr Johnson can avoid a wider shake up of his ministerial team following Mr Hancock’s departure.
Mr Johnson, however, left room for Mr Hancock to return to a senior role in the future.
A government source said: “He had to go. He couldn’t credibly see out the remainder of the pandemic given we still have restrictions in place. It would have just come up every time a minister was on television or in the Commons.”
‘Zero support’ for Hancock
The source said that Mr Hancock had “absolutely zero support in the party”, an assertion born out by the absence of any public messages of support from colleagues on Saturday, in contrast to the reaction when Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief aide, broke lockdown rules last year.
One former minister said Mr Hancock’s position had clearly become “completely untenable”.
“If anything I think it’s worse than the Cummings episode because here you have got the Cabinet minister overseeing the lockdowns himself quite blithely doing what he was telling everyone else they shouldn’t do,” the MP said.
He added: “I had a constituent contact me today who said he was absolutely livid because his son was wanting to get married and he and his partner were concerned they might have to face a £10,000 fine if they didn’t obey social distancing at their wedding – and there was the Secretary of State behaving in this manner.”
Had Mr Hancock remained in his post, the former minister continued, the message would have been “if you’re at the top of the pile you can do what you want and get away with it, and if you’re at the bottom of the pile they’ll throw the book at you”.
However, Simon Hoare, the Tory MP, said: “It’s easy to kick a person when they’re down. I regard Matt Hancock as a friend. We’re all human, with the frailties and imperfections of humanity. Of course those of us who make the rules must adhere to them. There’s no leeway. But: let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Aide at centre of affair ‘in shock’
Reports in The Sun on Saturday suggested Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo were seen in a “second steamy clinch” in his office last week. The newspaper also reported they had an “intimate dinner” two weeks after the kiss on May 6, which was seen in leaked footage.
CCTV images show Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo in a passionate embrace
A close friend told The Telegraph that Ms Coladangelo was “in shock”. It is believed that she travelled to her father’s house in Cambridgeshire. The friend, speaking at the home, said: “It’s tough. Gina is not particularly happy. She does not want to talk to anybody, it is all just too soon. It is all just a shock to us all, everybody, friends and family actually.”
Mr Hancock’s resignation came after three Conservative MPs broke ranks to publicly call for him to quit, with Duncan Baker, a member of the 2019 intake, stating: “People in high public office and great positions of responsibility, should act with … appropriate morals and ethics.”
A fourth MP, William Wragg, the chairman of the public administration committee, said Mr Hancock’s actions highlighted how the Covid regulations had “created a dystopian world of denunciation, finger-wagging and hypocrisy”. He added that “the revolution always consumes its own”.
Dozens of MPs were said to have been privately messaging party whips warning that Mr Hancock’s position had become untenable, ahead of a scheduled meeting of whips on Monday. One government source said: “There has been a massive loss of credibility.”
Party risked becoming laughing stock had Hancock stayed on
Sir Graham had been preparing to convey MPs’ demands to Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip, at a planned meeting on Wednesday if Mr Hancock failed to quit before then.
In addition to the public calls for Mr Hancock to quit, a series of Tory MPs had told The Telegraph that they had sent messages to whips demanding that Mr Hancock quit or be sacked over the affair. MPs feared that Mr Hancock had lost his “authority” to make public pronouncements about Covid-19 restrictions.
The source close to the 1922 committee executive said that many backbenchers’ concerns had “come down to the credibility issue and the authority to be speaking out about what we shouldn’t do. That’s his problem”. The source added: “You can’t say it’s one rule for you and another for me. That’s toxic for the Government.”
The Health Secretary had been expected to give a statement in the Commons on Monday to provide an update on plans to lift restrictions, ahead of the two-week review stage of the month-long extension announced last month. Labour was also expected to request an urgent question in the Commons over Mr Hancock’s affair and the questions raised by his appointment of Ms Coladangelo as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.
But if Mr Hancock did appear at the Despatch Box, one MP predicted that “the silence from Conservative backbenchers” would have been “deafening”, in contrast to the usual cheers of support offered to a minister under pressure from opposition parties.
One member of the 2019 intake of Tory MPs said on Saturday night: “In the last 24 hours, we have seen a real spike in constituency correspondence about it.
“The thing I’m getting thrown at me more than anything is that at the very beginning, families were not able to even have a funeral for their loved ones who died from Covid. I’ve got constituents who had the gates closed on them at the crematorium.”
Another MP said that when Mr Hancock “stood up at the next press conference about Covid”, people would “laugh at him, frankly”.
Scores of scientists, including academics advising the Government, said the affair would damage public acceptance of social distancing rules.
Dr Nilu Ahmed, a behavioural scientist at the University of Bristol, said: “It has almost certainly dented public confidence.” She added: “I think more than anything it’s led to a further sense of feeling disheartened and demoralised.”
Mr Hancock’s local Conservative association in West Suffolk said he continued to have their “full support” as their MP.