LONDON — Boris Johnson insisted the exit of scandal-hit former Health Secretary Matt Hancock over a breach of coronavirus rules took place at the “right pace,” despite declaring the matter “closed” a day before Hancock quit.
Hancock resigned from the government on Saturday after pictures emerged of him kissing Gina Coladangelo, a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care. The images were reportedly from May 6, when gatherings of two or more people were banned indoors.
The exit came after Johnson on Friday publicly backed the health secretary, with his spokesman saying, “The prime minister has accepted his apology and considers the matter closed.”
But on Monday, Johnson himself told journalists, “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 Hancock had undermined the government’s message about being “all in it together” amid the coronavirus crisis, Johnson said, “That’s right.”
Johnson’s spokesman denied any inconsistency in the prime minister’s approach but emphasized that Hancock had indeed quit, rather than being sacked.
The row was seized on by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, who has since gone on to sharply criticize both Hancock and Johnson’s handling of the pandemic.
Cummings again likened Johnson to a shopping trolley for changing direction, and claimed the prime minister had acted only after pressure from Conservative MPs and his wife, Carrie Johnson.
The prime minister’s spokesman denied this. He said of Hancock and Johnson, “They discussed it further on Saturday, the former health secretary offered his resignation and the prime minister agreed it was the right thing to do.”
That was echoed by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who told reporters Monday, “Matt did the right thing, and the second thing I would say is that the matter is now resolved because we have a new health secretary.”
However, Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the matter was “far from over.” Labour has called for an inquiry into reports that Hancock and another health minister, James Bethell, used their personal email addresses to carry out government business.
The prime minister’s spokesman said, “Both the former health secretary and Lord Bethell understand the rules around personal email usage and only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses.”
The spokesman confirmed that Hancock himself had recruited Coladangelo as non-executive director in his department but added “all correct procedures were followed.”
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