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First Tory openly calls for Matt Hancock's resignation over kiss with married aide
26 June 2021, 07:16 | Updated: 26 June 2021, 16:28
- Calls grow for Health Secretary to resign after pictures of kiss with aide
- Major backlash over Mr Hancock's 'untenable' position advising nation on Covid rules
- Downing Street says Boris Johnson accepts his apology and considers the matter closed
- Nearly two thirds of Brits think he should quit, snap poll finds
Pressure is mounting on Matt Hancock to resign after the Health Secretary was caught kissing a close aide in breach of coronavirus restrictions.
Boris Johnson has said he considers the matter closed but North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker today became the first Tory to break ranks and call for Mr Hancock to resign.
In a statement to the Eastern Daily Press, Mr Baker said: “In my view people in high public office and great positions of responsibility, should act with the appropriate morals and ethics that come with that role. Matt Hancock, on a number of measures has fallen short of that.
“As an MP who is a devoted family man, married for twelve years with a wonderful wife and children, standards and integrity matter to me. I will not in any shape condone this behaviour, and I have in the strongest possible terms told the government what I think.”
There are also growing calls for Boris Johnson to call in the Government's ethics adviser over the incident.
A video of Mr Hancock in an embrace with Gina Coladangelo was published on Friday night, after stills from the CCTV clip earlier in the day prompted Labour to deem his position "hopelessly untenable".
Lawyers described how Mr Hancock may have broken the law regarding coronavirus restrictions, although he admitted only to breaching "guidance."
There were also questions about Mrs Coladangelo's appointment to her role in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in the first place.
The Prime Minister has so far resisted calls to sack Mr Hancock, who said he was "very sorry" for letting people down after The Sun first reported he was having an extramarital affair.
Tory MPs are reportedly telling the Prime Minister to "pull the plug", with public reaction over coming days key to his fate.
The SNP have also called for the health secretary to be "removed" from his position.
The party's Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald said: "Boris Johnson risks jeopardising the vital public health measures in place the longer he desperately clings on to his shamed health secretary - just like he did with Dominic Cummings.
"The Prime Minister must at long last do the right thing and put his responsibilities to public health first.
"There must be public confidence in those setting the rules and it cannot be the case that it is one rule for the Tory elite and another for the rest of us.
"Despite declaring the matter closed, the reality is that it is anything but closed.
"There are very serious questions for Matt Hancock to answer over the appointment of his aide to the lucrative position, as well as questions over whether or not Hancock broke the ministerial code.
"This cannot simply be brushed under the carpet.
"The Prime Minister must remove the health secretary from his position immediately, and there must be a full independent public inquiry into Tory sleaze and cronyism without any further delay."
A snap poll from Savanta ComRes, released hours after photographs of the pair kissing in Mr Hancock's ministerial office surfaced, found 58% of UK adults thought that Mr Hancock should resign, compared to 25% who thought he should not.
And the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice group, which represents those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, also called for Mr Hancock to go.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the group said it had broken its "position of neutrality on ministerial conduct" to urge Mr Johnson to relieve Mr Hancock of his job.
The Health Secretary is also deeply unpopular with some Conservatives who believe that he has been an obstacle to the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
In a statement, Mr Hancock said: "I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances, I have let people down and am very sorry.
"I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter."
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Johnson had accepted Mr Hancock's apology and "considers the matter closed".
Mrs Coladangelo, who is married to the founder of the retailer Oliver Bonas, Oliver Tress, is a friend of Mr Hancock's from their days together at Oxford University and was appointed to the DHSC last year.
She was seen loading bags into a car and speaking with her husband outside her south west London home yesterday before driving off alone, not long before the story emerged. She did not return to the property yesterday.
She was initially taken on as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract in March 2020, before being appointed as a non-executive director at the department.
The Metropolitan Police said it was not investigating any offences, which allegedly took place last month, because "as a matter of course the MPS is not investigating Covid related issues retrospectively".
Mr Hancock is also accused of breaking the ministerial code and in a letter to Mr Johnson, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, should probe Mr Hancock's behaviour.
Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said if Mr Hancock, who has been married to the mother of his three children, Martha, for 15 years, had been secretly having a relationship with an adviser he appointed to a taxpayer-funded role, it was "a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest".
A No 10 spokesman insisted the "correct procedure" had been followed in relation Mrs Coladangelo's appointment but refused to go into detail.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a government behavioural science adviser on the Spi-B committee, said the Prime Minister sticking by aides and ministers who may have breached the rules made the repercussions for restriction compliance "toxic".