Sajid Javid ‘honoured’ to take over as health secretary after Matt Hancock quits over COVID rules breach – Asia Despatch

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Sajid Javid starts work today as the new health secretary, replacing Matt Hancock who resigned after being caught kissing a close aide.

Former chancellor and home secretary Mr Javid said he was “honoured” to be appointed to the role – just 90 minutes after Downing Street announced Mr Hancock had quit on Saturday evening.

The 51-year-old takes over the job not only with coronavirus to contend with, but NHS reform, battles over pay, a lack of a plan for social care, the appointment of a new NHS chief executive, and a huge backlog for treatments.

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NHS in limbo after Hancock resignation

Mr Hancock resigned yesterday after leaked CCTV showed him kissing aide and former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office.

Ms Coladangelo will also leave her position at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), it has been confirmed.

Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, pictured in May
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Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, pictured in May

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.

In his resignation letter, Mr Hancock said: “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.

“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.”

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NHS in limbo after Hancock resignation

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: “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.”

Mr Johnson had refused to sack his health secretary and his spokesman said the PM considered the matter closed following Mr Hancock’s apology. But Mr Hancock submitted his letter of resignation on Saturday.

Analysis: Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor

One thing that became clear today was that Tory MPs were prepared to publicly call for Matt Hancock’s resignation.

Another thing that became clear was the distinct absence of any countervailing outpouring or support from friends and allies.

There was nobody making the case that he had been at the forefront of the pandemic response for 16 months, or that we should give him some space to work out issues in his private life.

That was one of the big factors in determining what has happened.

Even yesterday friends of Matt Hancock were suggesting they thought this moment might come – the conspicuously few voices of support were vital and they didn’t emerge.

To get to where he did by the age of 42, you have to step over a few people – perhaps that is the reason that at this moment of political peril, he did not have a huge number of allies close enough to back him up.

He did run for the leadership at one stage in 2019, but he pulled out and backed Boris Johnson,

That did him damage because the people who had offered Mr Hancock support were doing so precisely in order to prevent Boris Johnson.

It is just one example, and there will be a plethora of other reasons, but you see the consequences of that damage today.

Read more from Sam

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 DHSC spokesman had earlier rejected any impropriety, saying the appointment “followed correct procedure”, but Labour is now calling on “all documents and correspondence” related to Ms Coladangelo’s employment to be released.

In a letter to DHSC permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “We can’t believe a word Matt Hancock says. He has broken the ministerial code and is treating the public like fools.

“We need to know how this appointment was made, whether any conflicts of interest were declared.”

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

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 DHSC.

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

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

Martha Hancock pictured near her home on Friday
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Mr Hancock has been married to his wife Martha (pictured) for 15 years

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

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Hancock told his wife he was leaving her on the night the affair was revealed, having raced home after being told about reports of his infidelity.

Mr Hancock had even woken up the couple’s youngest child, aged eight, to break the news that he was leaving.

Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby reports that Mr Hancock has left his wife for Ms Coladangelo. Friends of his say their relationship is “recent but serious”.

During the pandemic Mr Hancock 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.”

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”.

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