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It should be over for Matt Hancock – but Boris Johnson is in a tricky position

·3-min read
‘Hancock ought to resign as a matter of honour rather than wait to be fired’ (Getty Images)
‘Hancock ought to resign as a matter of honour rather than wait to be fired’ (Getty Images)

Surely it’s over for Matt Hancock now? Isn’t evidence of irresponsible behaviour, perhaps in violation of some of the usual norms of propriety in public life, piling up?

What appears to be someone he has had an alleged affair with receiving public money makes me wonder whether the correct procedures were being followed… surely the prime minister should take action? The problem, of course, is that Boris Johnson himself has faced talk of an affair with Jennifer Arcuri when he was mayor of London.

That makes it all the more difficult for Johnson to fire Hancock. Shameless as he is, it would make Johnson look ridiculously hypocritical, even by his own standards.

Private lives are private lives, and it’s all a gross invasion of the individuals involved. But of course these are not normal circumstances, and their private relationship – whatever it is – is much complicated by their public roles. The questions will come tumbling down on Hancock’s head.

Was his friend Gina Coladangelo “secretly” appointed? What did she do for her reported £15,000 a year of taxpayers’ funding? Why was she taken to a meeting or meetings in Number 10? Was there a proper process of recruitment for his position on the board of the Department of Health and Social Care? What expertise did she bring to the job?

Did the “outdoor meeting” caught in the video grabs indicate that Hancock had been breaking his own lockdown rules, or the law, or the spirit of the health advice freely given to the public? Why was he having a cuddle when (at the time the CCTV was reportedly taken) the public were unable to hug loved ones outside their bubble? Other public officials have had to quit over similar behaviour. If any of these points are proven to be true, is Hancock not the ultimate hypocrite?

It certainly looks that way, and he will have to give an account of himself to parliament and the prime minister. It is not a purely private matter.

Admittedly, having Boris Johnson accuse you of reckless infidelity and cronyism would be an eerie experience for all concerned, but nonetheless Johnson has to do the right thing, for a change. Unless Hancock has some convincing explanations for his alleged behaviour in office, he should step down from his job.

The fight against Covid depends on public confidence and cooperation, and it cannot be compromised by those at the top behaving as though the rules don’t apply to them – and Dominic Cummings did enough damage with his famous visit to Castle Barnard last year.

Whatever Hancock has been getting up to in his private life, he has presided over one of the worst death rates for Covid in any comparable country, though he is hardly alone in making misjudgements. Cummings said that Johnson wanted to keep Hancock only so he could sacrifice him after the public inquiry to save his own skin. Maybe. But if Johnson was looking for a way to rid himself of Hancock in a way that didn’t suggest that the government as a whole had failed in its response to the pandemic, well – now he has it.

He could also easily refer Hancock to his adviser on the ministerial code and/or the cabinet secretary for their advice, formally or informally. The parliamentary party can’t be impressed, and neither is the public.

Hancock ought to resign as a matter of honour rather than wait to be fired, and prevent any further damage to the NHS and the campaign to beat Covid. Despite all the manifest blunders and mistakes by this government that have led to so many lives needlessly lost, no one has been sacked. The time has come to let Hancock go.

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