Matt Hancock resigned after being told that 80 Tory MPs had complained to the whips’ office that he had not quit over breaching lockdown rules with his mistress in his office.
Mr Hancock finally stood down on Saturday night, admitting that the news he had breached social distancing rules by kissing an aide in his Whitehall office had begun to "distract attention" from the Government’s response to Covid-19.
Separately, Mr Hancock is unlikely to accept the three-month pay-off worth around £16,000 for resigning as a minister. Critics were already comparing it to the one per cent pay offer to nurses.
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.
He issued a statement on Friday apologising for breaching the rules and asking for privacy for his family. But he had a change of heart on Saturday and quit that evening after what sources close to Mr Hancock insisted that he had taken time to "think it through".
However The Daily Telegraph understands that this view crystallised in a "fairly direct" conversation with Mark Spencer, the Government’s chief whip, at lunchtime on Saturday, who told him that 80 Tory MPs had complained to the whips’ office about him in the 24 hours after he refused to resign.
Mr Spencer fed back the concerns in a call to Mr Hancock at midday on Saturday. "There were 80 Tory MPs saying he should go at that time," a source said.
The number of complaints means that more than one in four of the party’s 363 MPs complained about Mr Hancock.
Mr Hancock rang back at 2pm, saying he was resigning. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, then rang Mr Hancock to thank him for his service through the pandemic. The traditional exchange of letters between a resigning minister and the PM happened just after 6pm.
Within hours ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid had been brought in from the backbenches to replace Mr Hancock avoided a destabilising Cabinet reshuffle which risked impacting the Conservative party’s showing at Thursday’s Batley and Spen by-election, which the Tories are tipped to steal from Labour.
Senior Tories likened the angry reaction to that of the public’s furious reaction to the MPs’ expenses scandal, when The Telegraph laid bare how MPs had been spending their House of Commons’ allowances.
One Government source said Mr Hancock’s refusal to quit had put his colleagues in a difficult position trying to defend him publicly: "In the real world people could not compute it."
The fury over Mr Hancock’s decision not to resign was apparent from BBC political discussion programmes on Friday evening and Saturday lunchtime.
Mr Hancock was openly mocked on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions when Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick, in trying to defend Mr Hancock, said he had been "on the job", triggering gales of laughter from the audience.
The issue dominated the entire 45 minute long edition of the Any Answers programme that followed the repeat of Any Questions on Saturday lunchtime. Every caller said he should resign or be sacked.
By Saturday morning it was clear that support for Mr Hancock was non-existent. The Telegraph contained warnings from Cabinet sources that Mr Hancock’s future hung on the public reaction.
The presenters on Radio 4’s Today programme had to announce that an unnamed "supporter" who had been booked to come on the programme to defend Mr Hancock was now "not been answering his phone".
Soon Tory MPs were breaking cover. Tory MP Duncan Baker, who represents North Norfolk, a short drive from Mr Hancock’s west Suffolk constituency, said the Health secretary had "fallen short" of "the appropriate morals and ethics" that apply to someone in his position.
Hours later former Cabinet minister Esther McVey then stepped in, saying: "If it had been me, I would have resigned myself." And By the early evening, Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope was telling the BBC’s PM programme that his constituents were "seething".
The MP for Christchurch told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that the annual general meeting of his local party association had "unanimously called on Matt Hancock to resign immediately" and he said he felt this reflected the mood of the public.
Matt Hancock quits
Last night friends of Mr Hancock urged people to remember the months he had put in to fight the pandemic and keep people safe.
One insisted that he would have resigned even if Tory MPs had come out in support of him on Saturday morning.
One said: "Matt’s biggest frustration is not being able to see this out. The guy has been working his a*** off since early January, he has not had a day off.
"Everything he has done in the past year and a half he has done because he genuinely wants to protect lives and get us out of this thing. There will be a bit of him that will be said that he cannot see it through to the end.
"Look at the vaccine programme – there are people alive today because of the decisions he took. We will see how history will judge him."
Separately, Mr Hancock could also be investigated over whether he used his own personal account to negotiate contracts and communicate with officials during the pandemic.
Using a Gmail account rather than a designated government address makes communications less accessible to officials within his own department and members of the public submitting Freedom of Information requests.
It could mean crucial emails, potentially including ones where the awarding of lucrative PPE contracts were discussed, may never see the light of day.