Cracks are beginning to show in Conservative support for Health Secretary Matt Hancock, after he was caught kissing a close aide in breach of coronavirus restrictions.
Boris Johnson has so far stood by Hancock, after a video of an embrace with university friend and Department of Health non-executive director Gina Coladangelo was published on Friday.
But Conservative MP Duncan Baker was the first on Saturday to confirm he was calling for him to go, while former Cabinet minister Esther McVey said she would resign if in the same position.
Hancock’s breach of the rules has been likened to that of former chief aide to the Prime Minister Dominic Cummings, who infamously drove to Barnard Castle in County Durham during a national lockdown.
But unlike that incident, most Tory MPs have so far remained quiet in their support for, or condemnation of, the health secretary.
North Norfolk MP Baker was believed to be the first MP to openly call for Hancock to go on Saturday.
He told the Eastern Daily Press newspaper: “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.”
Asked whether this meant he felt Hancock should resign, he said it did.
McVey told GB News: “If it would have been me, I would have resigned myself, and I said that for Dominic (Cummings), and I’m hoping that Matt Hancock is thinking the same thing, that he doesn’t have to have it pushed upon him.”
She said it would be “viewed far more admirably” if he resigned.
Veteran Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope said his constituents were “seething” and his party association had voted “unanimously to call on Matt Hancock to resign immediately”, which he felt reflected the mood of the public.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “I think that his position is untenable. For that reason, the sooner he does the honourable thing and announces his resignation, the better – because otherwise it is not going to go away.”
Hancock is deeply unpopular with some Conservatives who believe that he has been an obstacle to the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
And in a cryptic tweet, William Wragg, Tory MP for Hazel Grove and chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, said: “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.”
Tim Montgomerie, a Conservative commentator and former adviser to Johnson, told the BBC’s Today programme: “When you undermine your own rules, you have to show the public that you understand the transgression you’ve made and you resign.”
The Conservative critics joined opposition parties in saying the Health Secretary should go.
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “His position is hopelessly untenable. Boris Johnson should sack him.”
Liberal Democrat spokesman for health and social care, Munira Wilson, added: “This latest episode of hypocrisy will break the trust with the British public. He was telling families not to hug loved ones, while doing whatever he liked in the workplace.”
While the SNP’s Westminster deputy leader, Kirsten Oswald, said: “Boris Johnson risks jeopardising the vital public health measures in place the longer he desperately clings on to his shamed Health Secretary – just like he did with Dominic Cummings.”
Hancock has said he was “very sorry” for letting people down after The Sun first reported he was having an extramarital affair, and asked for privacy for him and his family.
But the West Suffolk MP has had support from some Cabinet colleagues.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told reporters: “The Secretary of State has apologised and has said everything he needs to say.”
While International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told Lincolnshire Live: “I understand this is a personal matter and he hasn’t broken any rules.”
Former Conservative minister Edwina Currie said “I couldn’t care less and I don’t think the electorate could either”, adding that the Prime Minister will not sack him partly due to his own “colourful history”.
Currie told Times Radio: “It’s a very thin catalogue of fault – I can’t see Boris with his rather more colourful history giving someone the boot because of stuff like that.
“Of course he shouldn’t have done it, but as long as Matt Hancock is doing his job properly, I think that’s fine.”
A snap poll from Savanta ComRes, released hours after photographs of the embrace surfaced, found 58% of UK adults thought that Hancock should resign, compared with 25% who thought he should not.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice group, which represents those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, said it had broken its “position of neutrality on ministerial conduct” to urge Johnson to relieve Hancock of his job.
In a statement, Hancock said: “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances, I have let people down and am very sorry.
“I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter.”
A Downing Street spokesman said Johnson had accepted Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”.