Britain’s government will investigate how footage of former minister Matt Hancock kissing his aide found its way into the media and forced his resignation, in the latest scandal to hit Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
After first rejecting calls for Hancock to be sacked or resign as health minister after pictures were published of him embracing a woman he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role, Johnson accepted his decision to step down on Saturday.
The departure puts pressure on Johnson’s government, which has overseen one of the highest official death tolls from the COVID-19 pandemic and was criticized for its early handling - led by Hancock - of the crisis.
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A report by the BBC that sensitive documents from the defense ministry were found by a member of the public at a bus stop did little to dispel a feeling of chaos at the heart of government. The ministry said it was investigating the incident.
Asked whether the health ministry was investigating how the images of Hancock had been taken in his government office and then leaked, Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis told Sky News: “It is a matter I know the department of health will be looking into to understand exactly how that recording ... got out of the system.”
He later told Times Radio there were two issues for the government to look into - whether the camera in Hancock’s office was there “appropriately” and, if it was there for security reasons, “how that video got out to the public domain”.
After the images were published on Friday, many of his fellow Conservative lawmakers had privately called for Hancock to go, saying his position was untenable after he admitted to breaking coronavirus restrictions in place at the time.
Johnson, who has faced down criticism of various scandals including the funding of refurbishment of his apartment in Downing Street, first stood by his health minister. He then accepted Hancock’s resignation on Saturday but suggested he might return to a higher public role.
Britain’s main opposition Labor Party has raised a number of questions about the Hancock scandal, including whether the former health minister had broken government rules.
“They say a fish rots from the head down,” Labor’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said in a statement on Sunday in which she called for an investigation.
“The stink of sleaze hanging around this government comes from the very top and the prime minister’s own total disregard for rules and ethics sets the standards for his ministers.”
The Sunday Times, citing documents, reported that Hancock faced an investigation into allegations he had used his personal email to conduct government business, breaching guidelines.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “All DHSC ministers understand the rules around personal email usage and only conduct government business through their departmental email addresses.”
New health minister Sajid Javid, appointed by Johnson soon after Hancock quit, praised his predecessor for working “incredibly hard” during the coronavirus pandemic.
He told the BBC he was honoured to take on the new role which he admitted “comes with huge responsibility”.
“We are still in a pandemic, and I want to see that come to an end as soon as possible and that will be my most immediate priority to see that we can return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible,” said Javid, a former finance minister.