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UK health secretary under fire over affair with aide

Published: in European News by .

Matt Hancock recruited Gina Coladangelo as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.

LONDON — Matt Hancock, the U.K. health secretary, is facing questions over whether he broke coronavirus measures and government hiring rules after pictures of him emerged kissing an aide he hired to work in his department.

The photographs were published by The Sun on Thursday night, showing Hancock with Gina Coladangelo, who was recruited last year as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.

The images date from May 6, almost two weeks before hugging between households was officially allowed under the relaxation of coronavirus rules. A friend of Hancock told The Sun: “He has no comment on personal matters. No rules have been broken.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio it was an “entirely private matter — I don’t plan to comment.”

However, questions have been raised about whether the relationship represents a conflict of interest. “Ministers, like everyone, are entitled to a private life. However, when taxpayers’ money is involved or jobs are being offered to close friends who are in a personal relationship with a minister, then that needs to be looked into,” said a Labour spokesperson.

Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard said: “Private matters are just that but public appointments are another matter entirely — and they warrant proper scrutiny and full transparency.

“There must be an investigation into this appointment and a full public inquiry into the Tory cronyism scandal engulfing Westminster, which is out of control. The public deserve answers as to why so many Tory friends and donors have been handed jobs, peerages, public contracts and many millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money.”

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Cath Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, said: “The U.K.’s ministerial code does not ban relationships with aides … But in the U.K., ministers are responsible for the conduct of special advisers working for them. This suggests a potential conflict of interest if they are in a relationship.”

The atmosphere in the health department was described as “tense” by a Whitehall official on Friday morning, with his colleagues apparently unsure as to whether he might resign.

In November 2020, the Sunday Times reported that Hancock failed to declare that he appointed Coladangelo as an unpaid adviser and later gave her a £15,000-a-year role on the board of his department.

Coladangelo, who has been friends with Hancock since university, is a director at Luther Pendragon, a lobbying firm based in central London, and communications director at Oliver Bonas, a fashion and lifestyle store founded by her husband.

Neil Ferguson, one of the U.K.’s leading coronavirus experts, was forced to resign his advisory role to the government last year after he breached lockdown rules to see a woman he was in a relationship with. At the time, Hancock said he would back any action by the police over Ferguson’s actions.


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