Pressure Builds On UK’s Johnson to Fire Health Secretary
By Staff, Agencies
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under mounting pressure on Saturday to fire his health secretary after the admission that he broke COVID-19 guidelines sparked accusations of blatant hypocrisy.
Matt Hancock, 42, has been at the center of the government's fight against the pandemic, routinely telling people to follow strict rules and even welcoming the resignation last year of a senior scientist who broke restrictions in a similar manner.
Hancock apologized on Friday after “The Sun” newspaper showed him embracing a senior aide in his office last month, at a time when it was against the rules for people to have direct contact with a person outside their household.
"I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances," he said. "I have let people down and am very sorry."
Johnson said on Friday he considered the matter to now be closed.
But Britain's leading newspapers, which all splashed the story on their front pages, said Hancock had lost any moral authority and must go.
The case had echoes of an incident last year when Johnson's then most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, also broke the rules at the height of the pandemic, sparking fury across the country and accusations that Johnson's government believed itself to be above the law.
Johnson has refused on a number of occasions to sack ministers, including his interior minister who was found to have broken rules by shouting and swearing at staff, prompting the official ethics adviser to resign instead.
The prime minister has himself been criticized in an official report over his personal finances.
And the country's spending watchdog has criticized the government for the way it awarded billions of pounds of contracts at the height of the pandemic, after some multi-million pound contracts went to companies with links to ministers, lawmakers and officials.
The health ministry has said it needed to move quickly.
The Times newspaper said Johnson's approach to criticism and wrongdoing put public support at risk.
"The danger is that this cavalier approach to rules is becoming corrosive to that most precious commodity for any government — public trust," it said.
Hancock said he is now focused on getting the country out of the pandemic and has asked for privacy for his family.