U.K.’s Hancock Defended by Government After Report of Affair

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The U.K. government defended Health Secretary Matt Hancock after The Sun newspaper said he has been having an affair with a close aide.

The newspaper published two photos of Hancock embracing Gina Coladangelo, apparently in his Whitehall office last month. The pair are friends from Oxford University and are both married with children. Hancock’s office did not immediately return requests for comment from Bloomberg.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, speaking to Times Radio as part of Friday’s ministerial media round, said: “What somebody does in their private life is their private business. We’re living in the 21st century.”

U.K.’s Hancock Defended by Government After Report of Affair

Coladangelo, a former director at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon and current shareholder, was appointed by Hancock as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health last year. She was later made a non-executive director at the department, a role that pays 15,000 pounds ($21,000) a year, according to the Sun. Hancock chairs the departmental board.

A spokesperson for Labour, the main opposition party, said the issue isn’t the affair but the potential conflict of interest, because “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.”

The revelations will pile pressure on Hancock at a delicate time, following repeated criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It emerged this month that Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded Hancock “hopeless” last March in a private message to his then aide Dominic Cummings.

Hancock defended his response to the coronavirus pandemic in a parliamentary hearing this month, saying he acted with “honesty and integrity” throughout the crisis. Until the rapid rollout of vaccines, the government was repeatedly criticized over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has left the U.K. with one of the world’s highest death tolls.

Hancock, who is responsible for the National Health Service in England, was also accused of “cronyism” in April after NHS Wales awarded two contracts to a company he owns shares in. His sister is a director of the firm.

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