Families of the Covid victims have questioned whether Matt Hancock still has the moral authority to announce any future pandemic restrictions after his rule-breaking tryst with a colleague, amid growing calls for the health secretary to quit.
The health secretary is facing mounting pressure to resign after he apologised for breaching social distancing rules during a clinch with Gina Coladangelo, a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care, on 6 May.
On Saturday, the Conservative MP for North Norfolk, Duncan Baker, called for Matt Hancock to quit, telling the Eastern Daily Press that politicians in high public office should act with “appropriate morals and ethics”.
“Matt Hancock, on a number of measures, has fallen short of that. As an MP who is a devoted family man, married for 12 years with a wonderful wife and children, standards and integrity matter to me,” he said.
“I will not in any shape condone this behaviour and I have in the strongest possible terms told the government what I think.”
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group has written to the prime minister urging him to sack Hancock if he does not resign, and has questioned whether the health secretary can now hold any moral authority in relation to the pandemic.
“Up and down the country, bereaved families have been doing everything they can to follow the rules and prevent further loss of life,” the group said.
“But it’s clear Matt Hancock thought that ‘hands, face, space’ was a rule for everyone else.”
Rivka Gottlieb, from the campaign group, told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight: “If he were to announce another lockdown or further regulations why would anybody listen to someone who doesn’t follow the rules themselves? It’s a bit like the Cummings effect.”
The campaign group said the prime minister’s support for Hancock was a “slap in the face” for families who had lost loved ones to the virus.
Last March, the prime minister’s then most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, drove 260 miles from his home in London to Durham during lockdown after he and his wife caught Covid-19, when there were strict limits on travel.
Johnson stood by key adviser, saying he had “no alternative” but to travel despite widespread condemnation of Cummings’ conduct.
On the mounting pressure for Hancock to resign, Labour party chair, Anneliese Dodds, said: “He set the rules. He admits he broke them. He has to go. If he won’t resign, the PM should sack him.”
The Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, accused the health secretary of “utter hypocrisy” and questioned Johnson’s response, saying whether or not he accepted the apology was “irrelevant”.
Downing Street said Johnson accepts Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”. However, a Labour spokesperson accused the prime minister of being “spineless”, adding: “This matter is definitely not closed, despite the government’s attempts to cover it up.”
Lawyers have questioned whether the health secretary has broken his own law regarding coronavirus restrictions, although he has admitted only to breaching guidance.
At the time the picture was reportedly taken, guidance said people should keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble.
Legislation in force at that point also said “no person may participate in a gathering” that “consists of two or more people … and takes place indoors”.
There was an exception for “work purposes or for the provision of voluntary or charitable services”, but it is unclear whether the health secretary considers that the clinch was part of a work meeting.
The Metropolitan police said it was not investigating any offences because “as a matter of course the MPS is not investigating Covid-related issues retrospectively”.
A snap poll from Savanta ComRes, released hours after photographs of the pair kissing in Hancock’s ministerial office surfaced, found 58% of UK adults thought that the health secretary should resign, compared with 25% who thought he should not.