Health secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of hypocrisy after details of an alleged affair with a departmental adviser emerged on Friday.
The Sun published photos from 6 May showing Mr Hancock in a “steamy clinch” with aide Gina Coladangelo. The pair were spotted embracing on several occasions during the pandemic, sources told the newspaper.
Many on social media recalled Mr Hancock’s harsh criticism of Professor Neil Ferguson after the government adviser was found to have broken lockdown rules by arranging visits from his lover last year.
In May 2020, the health secretary claimed to have been left “speechless” by Prof Ferguson’s “extraordinary” behaviour, and said it had been right for him to resign as a government Sage adviser.
Although Scotland Yard decided not to prosecute Prof Ferguson, Mr Hancock had said he would back the police if they wanted to take action over the matter.
“It’s extraordinary. I don’t understand,” the minister told Sky News on Prof Ferguson’s lockdown trysts. He added: “I think the social distancing rules are very important and people should follow them.”
Former minister for Europe Denis MacShane said: “Hancock’s hypocrisy in urging police investigate Prof Neil Ferguson’s affair will come back to haunt.”
Political commentator Ian Dunt said Mr Hancock faced questions over the “straight up hypocrisy” of offering Covid guidance about telling others to avoid close physical contact with others.
The pictures of Mr Hancock embracing his aide were taken with social distancing in place at workplaces – and two weeks before the ban on hugging between people from different households was lifted.
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps was asked on LBC whether Mr Hancock may have broken social distancing rules at his department. “I’m quite sure that whatever the rules are at the time were followed,” he said.
Host Nick Ferrari replied: “Wow – if those are the rules, I want to work where you work.”
The health secretary is also facing questions about his appointment of aide Ms Coladangelo to a £15,000-a-year advisory role – since there was no public record of the appointment.
Labour is now demanding an investigation in the minister’s alleged office affair to find out if any “rules have been broken”.
A spokesperson said: “The government needs to be open and transparent about whether there are any conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken.”
Asked if Mr Hancock’s job was now in doubt, Mr Shapps also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There has for a long time been a complete difference between what people do in their job … and what they do in their personal lives.”
Mr Shapps also suggested Ms Coladangelo’s appointment had been “rigorous”, telling Sky News: “In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government.”