Matt Hancock's Resignation Was At 'The Right Pace', Says Boris Johnson

No.10 denies PM sacked health secretary and struggles to explain why he initially backed him.
Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images

Matt Hancock’s resignation as as health secretary happened at “about the right pace”, Boris Johnson has said.

Hancock resigned just after 6pm on Saturday after CCTV footage emerged of him breaking Covid social distancing guidelines by kissing aide Gina Coladangelo.

The Sun revealed the breach on Friday morning. Hancock said he was “very sorry” but did not immediately quit.

On Friday Downing Street said the prime minister accepted Hancock’s apology and considered the matter “closed”.

After Hancock decided to resign on Saturday, former chancellor Sajid Javid was appointed health secretary in his place.

During a campaign visit Batley on Monday, Johnson said: “I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic.”

Asked whether Johnson was implying that he changed his mind from Friday and sacked Hancock, the PM’s spokesperson told reporters: “No, the former health secretary resigned.

“The prime minister accepted his resignation, he agreed it was the right decision.”

The spokesperson also struggled to explain how Johnson went from considering the matter “closed” on Friday after Hancock’s apology, to accepting his resignation the next day.

“All I can say is that they discussed it further,” the spokesperson said.

They denied that Johnson was reacting to Saturday newspaper headlines, but did not totally reject the suggestion that the angry response of Covid bereaved families may have played a role.

The spokesperson also did not deny that Johnson had been somewhat inconsistent.

But asked whether the PM could be described with his own regular jibe at Keir Starmer - “captain hindsight” - after his comments on Monday, the spokesperson said: “I don’t think that’s accurate.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson is trying to rewrite history because he didn’t have the guts to sack Matt Hancock. A fish rots from the head down, and by failing to sack the former health secretary, Johnson proved he doesn’t have the leadership qualities or judgement required to be prime minister.

“On Friday he said the matter was closed. It is far from closed, there are serious unanswered questions about the judgement of the prime minister and Matt Hancock and we will not rest until we have uncovered the truth.”

The scandal has led to renewed questions over standards in government after a series of controversies surrounding some of its most senior ministers.

Johnson rejected calls to fire home secretary Priti Patel when she was found to have bullied civil servants working for her, while housing secretary Robert Jenrick conceded that his approval of a major property development involving Tory Party donor Richard Desmond was “unlawful”.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland suggested the PMs critics were merely jealous of his popularity, when questioned about ministerial standards.

“The truth is a lot of people just don’t like the PM and they veil their dislike in this sort of language and they can’t get over the fact he’s popular in the country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Buckland also said he was “amazed” to still be facing questions on Monday about the delay to Hancock’s exit.


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