Johnson insists Government moved at ‘right pace’ in response to Hancock row

Boris Johnson is struggling to draw a line under the row surrounding former health secretary Matt Hancock as questions mount about his conduct.

The Prime Minister was challenged over his refusal to sack Mr Hancock after he was pictured breaking social distancing guidelines to combat Covid-19 by intimately embracing aide Gina Coladangelo.

Asked whether it undermined the message about being “all in it together”, Mr Johnson said: “When I saw the story on Friday we had a new Secretary of State for Health in on Saturday.”

But on Friday Mr Johnson refused to sack his health secretary and Downing Street said the Prime Minister “considers the matter closed”.

Mr Hancock quit on Saturday and was replaced by Sajid Javid.

Speaking to reporters during a campaign visit to Batley in West Yorkshire on Monday, Mr Johnson said the process was “the right pace to proceed in a pandemic”.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland insisted “due process” was followed in appointing the aide Mr Hancock was caught kissing to a paid role at the health department.

The long-term friend of Mr Hancock was brought into the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) first as an unpaid adviser before getting the £15,000-a-year role of non-executive director in September.

Mr Buckland told Sky News: “Everything that I understand so far leads me to believe due process was followed in the appointment of this person and any declarations that should’ve been made were made.”

But pressed on when Mr Hancock’s relationship with the aide began, the minister said: “I’m confident that due process was followed and that declarations were made; as to when the relationship began, I’m afraid I don’t know.”

Robert Buckland
Robert Buckland (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Hancock’s replacement as Health Secretary, former chancellor Mr Javid, said the camera that caught the embrace has been disabled and suggested its presence would be investigated.

Labour has demanded an investigation into allegations that Mr Hancock and junior health minister Lord Bethell used personal email addresses to conduct Government business.

Mr Buckland suggested the Cabinet Office is likely to investigate the matter and said that if ministers have to use a personal email address then their communications should be retained.

“We should use Government emails, I think that’s very clear,” he told Sky News.

“I think the Cabinet Office, if they’re asked to look at this – they probably will be – will need to satisfy themselves that if that was the case then the material is available.”

On Monday, during a visit to St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Mr Javid told broadcasters: “I haven’t disabled the camera that you are talking about but it has been disabled by the department.

“For security it’s just common sense. I don’t think, as a general rule, there should be cameras in the Secretary of State’s office.

“I’ve never known that in the other five departments that I’ve run and I’m not really sure why there was one here, but I’m sure there will be more to this as the whole incident is investigated.”