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Boris Johnson has broken his silence on Matt Hancock's resignation for kissing a senior aide – saying it had undermined public health messaging.

The PM made the remarks despite giving his full backing to the former Health Secretary on Friday after pictures emerged of him in clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo.

Downing Street repeatedly insisted on Friday that Mr Johnson considered the matter closed and had accepted Mr Hancock's apology.

But Mr Hancock was forced to resign the next day in the face of overwhelming criticism.

He was swiftly replaced by former Chancellor Sajid Javid.

Asked whether Mr Hancock's actions undermined the message about being "all in it together", the PM made a complete u-turn, saying: "That's right, and that's why when I saw the story on Friday we had a new Secretary of State for Health in on Saturday."

Matt Hancock resigned as Health Secretary on Saturday after pictures emerged of him kissing a close aide
(Image: Getty Images)

He said the move was "about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic".

Mr Johnson's comments stoked further confusion about the circumstances of Mr Hancock's departure, who was said to have offered his resignation rather than being sacked.

The row raised also fresh questions about Mr Johnson's refusal to sack ministers, in the wake of his decision to back a string of senior Tories in the face of criticism.

Mr Johnson stood by Home Secretary Priti Patel after an official report found she "shouted and swore" at staff in behaviour "that can be described as bullying".

He also famously stood by Dominic Cummings after his lockdown trip to Durham at the height of the pandemic.

Speaking on a visit to Batley and Spen, in West Yorkshire, ahead of a crucial by-election this week, the PM also said it was looking "set fair" to ease restrictions on July 19.

"You will be hearing a statement from Sajid Javid in the House later on this afternoon about where we are in the pandemic, the steps that we are going to be taking," he told reporters.

New Health Secretary Sajid Javid is due to update MPs on lockdown restrictions
(Image: Sky News)

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"I think we are looking set fair for July 19."

The new Health Secretary is expected to update MPs on when lockdown restrictions can be lifted, as ministers review whether so-called Freedom Day can be brought forward to July 5.

Mr Johnson announced a four-week delay to the final stage of the lockdown roadmap, earmarked for after June 21.

He pledged to review the delay to see if Step 4 could go ahead after two weeks – which would be July 5.