Matt Hancock is facing calls for his sacking after an alleged affair with a close aide which appeared to breach Covid rules.
The Sun photos of Hancock, who is married, in his office in a clinch with a woman reported to be Gina Coladangelo, who he hired as a non-executive director at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Hancock is facing questions about whether he broke Covid rules when the image was taken on May 6, when hugging people from other households was still largely not allowed.
Rules were eventually relaxed to allow friends and family to hug from May 17.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for Hancock’s sacking.
Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office - who he personally appointed to a taxpayer-funded role - it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest.
“The charge sheet against Matt Hancock includes wasting taxpayers’ money, leaving care homes exposed and now being accused of breaking his own Covid rules.
“His position is hopelessly untenable. Boris Johnson should sack him.”
Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “Matt Hancock is a terrible health secretary and should have been sacked a long time ago for his failures.
“This latest episode of hypocrisy will break the trust with the British public.
“He was telling families not to hug loved ones, while doing whatever he liked in the workplace.
“It’s clear that he does not share the public’s values. Rules for them and rules for us is no way to run a country.
“From the PPE scandal, the crisis in our care service and the unbelievably poor test and trace system, he has utterly failed. It is time for the health secretary to go.”
According to the Sunday Times, Coladangelo was hired by Hancock in March 2020 as an adviser before being appointed in September as a non-executive director role, which will see her earn at least £15,000 of taxpayers’ money, which could rise by a further £5,000.
Coladangelo is also marketing and communications director at retailer Oliver Bonas, and is reportedly a major shareholder in lobbying firm Luther Pendragon.
Hancock has already been under pressure following a string of attacks from Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings.
Cummings accused Hancock of repeatedly lying to ministers and officials during the Covid pandemic, which the health secretary denies, and recently published WhatsApp messages which revealed that the prime minister thought his Cabinet colleague’s performance was “totally fucking hopeless”.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he was “sure” that Hancock and Coladangelo followed Covid rules.
He told LBC Radio: “I’m quite sure that whatever the rules were at the time were followed.”
Shapps also said Coladangelo would have gone through an “incredibly rigorous” process to get the job, telling Sky News: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.
“In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government, so whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.
“There are no short cuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the civil service knows.
“There are very strict rules in place.”