(Bloomberg) -- Senior U.K. officials in Boris Johnson’s government have lost faith in Health Secretary Matt Hancock and believe he should resign after being pictured embracing a top adviser in breach of pandemic rules.
Hancock apologized for breaking his own government’s restrictions on social distancing -- which he has criticized others for not adhering to -- and Johnson is standing by him. The U.K. prime minister regards the matter as “closed.”
These senior Conservative figures, speaking on condition of anonymity, believe there is no way Hancock, 42, could keep his job. Some ministers see Johnson’s own personal history as a reason why the premier won’t fire him.
The controversy risks rebounding on Johnson and undermining his government’s authority at a critical time, when infection rates are surging and public compliance with the rules is vital to efforts to beat the pandemic.
The rapid spread of the delta coronavirus variant has already forced the government to delay lifting pandemic curbs by a month until July 19. That dismayed many Tory libertarians and caused fresh pain for businesses struggling to stay afloat as they apply rules that Hancock broke.
One minister said the hypocrisy of flouting rules Hancock himself helped create would finish his career and that the pressure would eventually force him out. That was a view shared by other senior figures in the U.K.’s ruling party.
Johnson hasn’t had a reshuffle of his Cabinet since February 2020, his only one so far. That is when he brought in Rishi Sunak to replace Sajid Javid as chancellor of the exchequer. He’s tended to resist pressure to makes changes at the top of his administration, even when under intense scrutiny.
Hancock apologized for breaking Covid rules after The Sun newspaper published two photos of him and Gina Coladangelo apparently kissing in his Whitehall offices last month. He said he’s not stepping down.
“I accept that I breached the social-distancing guidance in these circumstances,” Hancock said. “I have let people down and am very sorry.” He went on to request “privacy for my family on this personal matter.”
Hancock’s past words however are coming back to haunt him. Last year, he attacked a scientific adviser who broke lockdown rules, telling Sky News the scientist’s resignation from a government panel was the “right decision.”
Two senior Tories said Hancock is a divisive figure in the party and that his future will depend on whether there are even more damaging revelations in the coming days. Another Tory member of Parliament said they are worried about the government’s credibility in enforcing Covid measures.
Hancock and Coladangelo have been friends since their time together as students at Oxford University and are both married with children.
She is a former director at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon and a current shareholder who was appointed by Hancock as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health last year.
Coladangelo was later made a non-executive director at the department, a role that pays 15,000 pounds ($21,000) a year, according to the Sun. Hancock chairs the departmental board. Luther Pendragon has listed a number of state health groups among its clients.
At the time the photos of the couple were taken, pandemic rules were advising against meeting people from different households indoors. Labour accused Hancock of “breaking the laws he created” in the clinch with Coladangelo, and accused Johnson of being “spineless” in choosing not to fire him.
“This matter is definitely not closed, despite the government’s attempts to cover it up,” a Labour spokesperson said.
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