Matt Hancock: Denise Welch slams Boris Johnson's statement

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The decision came after Mr Hancock had initially attempted to cling on to his job but Prime Minister Boris Johnson was faced with a furious backlash from party donors, MPs, members and voters. Major donors were threatening to pull funding for the party if Mr Hancock did not go citing wider concerns about the leadership.

One significant donor likened Downing Street to the reign of the infamous Roman Emperor Calligula describing it as “like the last days of Rome”.

Meanwhile, Tory MPs were being inundated with emails from Conservative voters and members demanding that he quit or was sacked.

There was rage over his affair with his aide and family friend Gina Coladangelo.

In his resignation letter to Boris Johnson, Mr Hancock said: “We have worked so hard as a country to fight the pandemic. The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis. I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this. I also need be with my children at this time.

“We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance.”

He went on: “The NHS is the best gift a nation has ever given itself, and the dedication and courage of the NHS staff and the ceaseless work of the officials in the Department is something we should all be proud of.

“We didn’t get every decision right but I know people understand how hard it is to deal with the unknown, making the difficult trade-offs between freedom, prosperity and health that we have faced.

“I am so proud that Britain avoided the catastrophe of an overwhelmed NHS and that through foresight and brilliant science we have led the world in the vaccination effort, so we stand on the brink of a return to normality.”

He added: “It has been the honour of my life to serve in your Cabinet as Secretary of State and I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved. I will of course continue to support you in whatever way I can from the back benches, and I would like to thank you for your unwavering support, your leadership and your optimism, particularly as we worked together to overcome this awful disease.”

The Prime Minister responded: “You should leave office very proud of what you have achieved – not just in tackling the pandemic, but even before COVID-19 struck us. Under your leadership, the Department has led fundamental reforms to the provision of care in this country.

“The NHS Long Term Plan was a major milestone in the history of that great institution. Your work on the Health and Care Bill will support our NHS and deliver greater integration between health and social care. And your efforts mean that we have a record numbers of doctors and over 14,800 more nurses working in our NHS than last year.

“Above all, it has been your task to deal with a challenge greater than that faced by any of your predecessors, and in fighting Covid you have risen to that challenge – with the abundant energy,intelligence and determination that are your hallmark.

“Under your leadership, the Department for Health and Social Care has identified and deployed critical life-saving treatments such as Dexamethasone, rapidly increased hospital capacity through the Nightingale programme, and provided 11.7 billion items of PPE to the frontline at record speed. In March 2020, we had the capacity to test 2,000 people a day; now, we have built the largest diagnostic network in British history and have administered over 200 million tests.

“The vaccine procurement and deployment programme – in my view one of the greatest successes of the modern state – is now forging our path out of the pandemic.”

Before the resignation, Tory donors had threatened to stop funding the Conservatives as fury grows over the behaviour of Matt Hancock.

Conservative MPs have also rounded on the health secretary, demanding he be sacked after he flouted his own Covid rules.

A significant donor has contacted the Sunday Express to discuss the “widespread disgust” over Mr Hancock’s behaviour and what fellow financial supporters of the party are describing as “a last days of Rome” atmosphere in Downing Street.

Mr Hancock was caught on camera in a steamy clinch in his Whitehall office with aide Gina Coladangelo, a married mother-of-three

Married father Mr Hancock apologised and admitted breaking social distancing rules. The kiss with his aide, who is on the public payroll, took place eleven days before the ban of hugging was lifted.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he accepted the apology and considered the matter closed. But this has lead to fury from the party’s financial backers and growing rage among Tory MPs.

A party donor who has given large sums of cash to the party and is well connected with other backers said: “We are being told it is a last days of Rome atmosphere in Downing Street. It’s like something out of Caligula.

“It’s one thing to throw stones in glass houses on personal issues but the lack of morality is really concerning people.”

He said some donors were now re-thinking about funding the party, explaining: “I think the behaviour of Hancock is the last straw for a lot of us. It is so hypocritical. The man is a laughing stock.

“How can he stand up in Parliament next week to explain why we can’t open up properly from July 6? He will be laughed out of the House.

“He has to go or be sacked.”

The donor noted that party backers were already angry about the continuation of lockdown which has had a major impact on their businesses

“A lot of people have lost a lot of money.”

MPs were also openly pressing for the health secretary to go.

There is speculation that Mr Johnson wanted to hold off because he would rather have a proper reshuffle in September and had been considering holding it back until next year.

But possible replacements include former Chancellor Sajid Javed, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and former defence secretary Liam Fox.

It is understood that Conservative MPs are passing on dozens of emails to the Chief Whip Mark Spencer and chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady from Tory members and supporters demanding Hancock is removed.

One said: “This is not the Labour activists who usually write outraged emails, it is known Conservative voters. They don’t mind about the affair, they do mind about him breaking the rules and the hypocrisy.”

Yesterday Conservative MP for North Norfolk Duncan Baker became the first MP to publicly call for Hancock to resign.

Mr Baker said: “In my view people in high public office and great positions of responsibility should act with the appropriate morals and ethics that come with that role.

“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.

“I will not in any shape condone this behaviour and I have in the strongest possible terms told the Government what I think.”

He was followed by former cabinet minister Esther McVey, founder of the Blue Collar Conservatism Movement, who noted: “If it was me I would have resigned.”

Tory grandee Sir Christopher Chope said: “I feel that his position is completely untenable and that he should resign.”

Conservative MP William Wragg tweeted: “Re Mr Hancock, a thought: Covid regulations have created a dystopian world of denunciation, finger-wagging & hypocrisy.

“Let us be freed from this tyranny of diktat and arbitrary rule. As we shall inevitably see with this sad example, the revolution always consumes its own.”

MPs said that Mr Hancock’s authority to force further extensions has now gone and him continuing in post undermines anything the government may try to do.

One MP said: “He simply cannot try to extend lockdown further now or bring in new restrictions. People won’t buy it.”

Another said: “The silver lining is that this should put an end to efforts to extend restrictions beyond July 19.

“Hancock, the UEFA lot being able to ignore quarantine and the G7 barbecue has created a real one rule for us and another for them atmosphere.”

Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s former chief press secretary, said the health secretary should be sacked for breaking the rules before he causes further damage to the government and suggested he could be replaced with the minister responsible for the successful vaccine roll-out.

He said: “I think Matt Hancock has got to go. Leaving aside the rights and the wrongs of it, it doesn’t look good and [his actions were] I think a breach of the rules that he laid down.”

Describing what the PM must do, he said: “You have to call in and say, ‘I’m sorry. We can’t go on like this.

“’You’re damaging the Government. Full stop, goodbye.’”

A former cabinet minister said the health secretary had now lost the moral authority to tell people what to do.

They said: “Certainly, what he was doing was quite contrary to the rules on social-distancing.”

The MP warned that the scandal was “bad” for the Conservatives in all parts of the country and said Mr Hancock’s actions fed into a sense that the “people at the top can do one thing and the rest of the country has to do something else”.

Echoing concerns that Mr Johnson will damage the Government by keeping Mr Hancock in his job, the source said: “Obviously we had the problem over Cummings last year and the the prime minister spent a lot of political capital when he backed [him], and I really don’t think he should be wasting political capital now…

“What I also think is wrong is that Hancock is putting the prime minister in that position. I mean, Hancock should do the honourable thing and resign.”

A former Conservative minister urged Mr Hancock to step down, saying: “His position is clearly untenable and he should do the honourable thing.”

A Tory MP called for Mr Hancock’s immediate resignation, saying: “He needs to resign. [It is] hypocrisy, telling other people to abide by the rules and blatantly disregarding them himself – especially when people have lost their loved ones. He needs to go now!”

MPs say angry emails are flooding in from constituents.

One Conservative MP, speaking off the record, said: “Boris should sack him and end lockdown on Monday… I’m just embarrassed.”

Another MP said: “I’m getting emails and texts in from constituents who are very aggrieved about it. One chap said that he was absolutely livid because his son was just about to get married and he would have to put up with all sorts of restrictions and apparently Hancock was quite happy to ignore those personally.”

However, Mr Hancock has also received support, with Former Conservative Party leader William Hague saying it was “not in the national interest” for him to resign.

Former Conservative minister Edwina Currie ,who had an affair with former prime minister John Major when both were married in the 1980s, told Times Radio: “My own feeling is that private lives are private – they’ve obviously got some explaining to do to their families, but other than that it’s none of our business.”

One Tory MP who wanted Mr Hancock to stay said: “We need to be very careful about moralising over someone’s private life and using Covid to punish people this way.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the Hancock incident – along with events including the G7 summit in Cornwall – sent out the message that Covid-19 rules do not apply to elites.

He said: “All of the leaders of the G7 can have their barbecues, can fly into Britain without quarantining… It would seem from all of these things that the ordinary plebs are expected to abide by the rules; the people who make the rules, and the people whom they think are important enough, are exempt from the rules, and quite frankly I think it’s disgusting.”

Last night Downing Street said that the Prime Minister had accepted the health secretary’s apology and “the matter is now closed”.

But Paul Wooley, chief executive of the influential London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, said: “The matter cannot be closed. In March last year, the Government entered into a covenant with the public. It introduced restrictions on a scale not seen since World War II in order to protect the NHS and save lives. On the whole, the public have complied. But covenants are based on trust, and that trust has been broken.

“It’s for this reason that Mr Hancock should leave the government. If he remains, his reputation will be demeaned and our politics will be damaged.”

However, despite the scandal, an Opinium poll has revealed that the Conservatives are still eight points ahead of Labour on 43 per cent to 35 per cent.

And MPs campaigning in the Batley and Spen by-election, where voters will go to the polls this week, believe the party is still favourites to take the seat off Labour.

Before the scandal a cabinet minister had described the result as 50/50 for the Conservatives.

However, knocking on doors in the Yorkshire constituency, tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “It’s still looking good for us. We are getting a very positive response.

“One woman did ask me if she could have the full Hancock treatment.”

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