13/10/2021 12:01 BST | Updated 13/10/2021 16:53 BST

Matt Hancock's Envoy Role An 'Insult' To Bereaved Families, Says Angela Rayner

The ex-health's secretary's appointment has sparked criticism after it followed a damning report into the UK's response to the pandemic.

Karwai Tang via Getty Images
Hancock said he was “thrilled” to have been given the role, which is seen as his first step back into government.

Matt Hancock’s appointment as a UN envoy in Africa is an “insult” to families who have lost loved ones to Covid, Labour’s Angela Rayner has said.

The former health secretary prompted anger after he revealed he had been appointed as a special representative to the United Nations to help tackle Covid-19 in Africa.

Hancock resigned from government in June after leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing and embracing an aide in his office, in a breach of the social distancing rules he helped establish.

His new role was revealed on the same day as a devastating report by two parliamentary committees said the government’s early response to the pandemic - when Hancock was health secretary - was one of the “biggest health failures the UK has ever experienced”. 

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, criticised the move and questioned whether Boris Johnson’s office had any involvement.

Reports in the Mail and the Times suggest that Nimco Ali - an anti-female genital mutilation campaigner and close friend of the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson - may have influenced the appointment.

However, sources told HuffPost that Number 10 had no role in Hancock’s appointment.

“Apparently the one British export the Tories are successfully promoting is their own disgraced former cabinet ministers,” Rayner said.

“Right now the only role that Matt Hancock should have is answering questions to the ongoing ICO investigation into his own conduct, and the promised public inquiry which the government continues to delay.

“He should not be rewarded for his own failures with this or any other appointment.”

She added: “If the prime minister’s office pushed him for this role in this of all weeks, that is an insult to the bereaved families of those who died in the pandemic, and they deserve full transparency now.”

The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa said it had asked Hancock to take on the unpaid role based on his “economic policy expertise, experience operating financial markets at the Bank of England and in-depth understanding of government and multi-lateral through his various ministerial cabinet roles”.

“We are confident that his expertise and leadership will offer immediate and long-term impact particularly in effecting long term financial growth,” said Vera Songwe, under secretary general and executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa. 

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney hit out at the appointment, claiming it had more to do with Hancock “trying to recover his reputation” than helping Africa.

She also questioned whether he was suitable for the role given his lack of ministerial experience in both the Foreign and Trade departments, and following the government’s decision to cut international aid.

“The sheer audacity of sitting around the cabinet table and cutting international aid and then taking this role is utterly shameless,” she said.

On Tuesday Hancock said he was “thrilled” to have been given the role, which is seen as the first step back into government for a minister known for his ambition.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in its impressive efforts to support Africa strengthen its economic recovery from the pandemic and the sustainability of its development,” Hancock said.

“I care deeply about making this happen not only because of the strong economic opportunity but because we share a view of Africa as a strategic long-term partner.”

But Rayner said the “whole system of public appointments is broken” and renewed Labour’s pledge to replace the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) with a new Integrity and Ethics Commission.

Hancock and Downing Street have both been approached for comment.