Public anger remained in the UK as British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had been steering the country’s battle against Covid-19, resigned for breaking a social distancing rule he had imposed on England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted promptly on Saturday evening to appoint former Chancellor Sajid Javid as Hancock’s successor, reports Xinhua news agency.
Hancock’s key job in Johnson’s top team of ministers was thrown into doubt after The Sun newspaper on June 25 published photographs of the Health Secretary kissing Gina Coladangelo, one of his key aides, at the Department of Health’s London HQ reportedly during office hours in May.
According to the Guardian newspaper, the incident took place on May 6 when the public were still being advised not to hug people outside their household.
But what doomed Hancock’s cabinet career was outrage from politicians and the public that the incident broke a legally-enforceable social distancing rule he had imposed across the country to contain the pandemic.
During the pandemic, Hancock regularly appeared on Downing Street virtual briefings, detailing restrictions that must be followed in the fight against the virus.
Political expert Iain Begg from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) told Xinhua that despite that Hancock “being the minister most able to claim credit for the vaccine successes, he was undone by the charge of hypocrisy”.
“UK voters would have been tolerant of the news of his relationship, but resent the idea of leaders breaking rules. One rule for us and another for them plays very badly with citizens.”
Ruling Conservative Party lawmakers said they had been bombarded with furious complaints about Hancock’s behavior from voters in their constituencies.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said on Saturday night that Hancock was right to resign, adding that Johnson should have fired him.
Ed Davey, leader of the minority opposition party Liberal Democrats, said on his social media site: “Matt Hancock’s legacy as Health Secretary will be one of cronyism and failure.”
British media engaged in a frenzy of coverage about his relationship with Coladangelo, a mother of three, who has also resigned from her government job.
For the second day in succession, the front pages of Britain’s national newspapers were dominated by the Hancock story.
The Observer newspaper said on Sunday that Hancock’s resignation was a heavy blow to the authority of the Prime Minister, who had stood by the 42-year-old Health Secretary following his apology.
The Sunday Telegraph said: “Hancock made the right decision to resign on Saturday… The most damaging accusation levelled against him was one of hypocrisy and it made his position untenable.
“As health secretary, he had taken it upon himself to intervene in the personal lives of the public while breaking lockdown rules himself.”
In a poll of its readers, the Telegraph said 93 per cent had wanted Hancock to resign or be fired.
Meanwhile, anger from citizens around the country, especially the affected families, is far from over.
A campaign group, ‘Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice’, said in a statement on Sunda: “Up and down the country, bereaved families have been doing everything they can to follow the rules and prevent further loss of life. But it’s clear Matt Hancock thought that ‘hands, face, space’ was a rule for everyone else.”
“For bereaved families to know that the man responsible for public health in this country, was ignoring the rules whilst we were unable to hug friends and family at our loved ones funerals, is heartbreaking.”
Care worker Janet Haycock from Cheshire in northern England told Xinhua: “Everyone I know has carefully been following the rules that Hancock insisted we must follow. For him to ignore his own rules is a big slap in the face for all of us. He just had to go.”