Matt Hancock's UN job offer 'suspended'

16 October 2021, 14:32 | Updated: 16 October 2021, 16:34

Hancock has had his UN Africa job withdrawn
Hancock has had his UN Africa job withdrawn. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Matt Hancock's UN job offer to help African countries recover from Covid has stalled.

The former health secretary previously said he had been offered the role earlier in the week, just months after he was sacked from the Cabinet for breaking social distancing rules.

He was caught on camera kissing and embracing his aide in his office.

Read more: Matt Hancock given UN role less than four months after Covid breach scandal

Mr Hancock said the United Nations had written to him to explain that a technicality in its rules meant it could not offer him a special representative role as planned.

In a statement, Mr Hancock said: "I was honoured to be approached by the UN and appointed as special representative to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), to help drive forward an agenda of strengthening markets and bringing investment to Africa.

"The UN have written to me to explain that a technical UN rule has subsequently come to light which states that sitting members of parliament cannot also be UN special representatives.

"Since I am committed to continuing to serve as MP for West Suffolk, this means I cannot take up the position.

"I look forward to supporting the UN ECA in their mission in whatever way I can in my parliamentary role."

A UN spokesperson told outlet PassBlue, which reports on the international body: "Mr Hancock's appointment by the UN Economic Commission for Africa is not being taken forward. ECA has advised him of the matter."

Figures in Africa and in the UK opposition parties had opposed the decision to appoint him to a role for African recovery.

The former minister, who remains an MP, tweeted a letter from UN under secretary-general Vera Songwe earlier in the week.

Ms Songwe said his "success" in handling the UK's pandemic response showed the strength he would bring to the role, despite a report coming out this week sharply criticising the Government’s performance.

It highlighted too much focus on stopping a flu crisis and failure to learn lessons from Sars and Ebola outbreaks.

The letter from Ms Songwe added: "The role will support Africa's cause at the global level and ensure the continent builds forward better, leveraging financial innovations and working with major stakeholders like the G20, UK government and COP26."

In his acceptance letter, also posted on Twitter, Mr Hancock wrote: "As we recover from the pandemic so we must take this moment to ensure Africa can prosper."

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, a group which focuses on the Global South, said: "It is right for the UN to reconsider this appointment.

"If Matt Hancock wants to help African countries recover from the pandemic, he should lobby the prime minister to back a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.

"If he'd done that when he was in government, tens of millions more people could already have been vaccinated.

"The last thing the African continent needs is a failed British politician. This isn’t the 19th century."