Health secretary Matt Hancock has apologised for breaching social distancing rules after photographs were published appearing to show him in an embrace with his aide.
In a statement, he said he was “very sorry” for the breach and asked for privacy for his family.
It comes after images were published appearing to show him in an embrace with his aide, Gina Coladangelo, on May 6 when Government guidance said two people from different households should not hug.
The Sun published pictures of the married Cabinet minister appearing to kiss Coladangelo, who the newspaper said was hired by Hancock last year.
The images, which appear to be captured from CCTV footage, were taken from the headquarters of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the newspaper adds.
It said the minister hired Coladangelo as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract in March last year, before appointing her as a non-executive director at the department.
Hancock said on Friday: “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.”
Downing Street said Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accepted Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”.
Hancock, who is said to have met Coladangelo at university, has been married to his wife Martha for 15 years and they have three children together.
Coladangelo is the marketing and communications director at Oliver Bonas, a British retailer founded by her husband Oliver Tress.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday morning that he would not be commenting on the “entirely personal” matter following the reports about his Cabinet colleague.
When asked if the health secretary had been ignoring social distancing rules when the images were taken, Shapps told LBC he is “quite sure that whatever the rules were at the time were followed”.
However, the UK Government’s road map out of lockdown said people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble until May 17.
Asked about the rules around appointing friends to Government positions, Shapps told Sky News: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.
“In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in Government, so whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.
“There are no short cuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the Civil Service knows.
“There are very strict rules in place.”
Labour said the Government needs to answer whether the health secretary had broken any rules or there had been “conflicts of interest” in the appointment of his closest adviser.
An opposition party spokesman said: “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.
“The Government needs to be open and transparent about whether there are any conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said on Twitter: “The reason Matt Hancock should resign is that he is a terrible health secretary, not because of his private life.
“From the PPE scandal, the crisis in our care service and the unbelievably poor test and trace system, he has utterly failed.”
SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said that there must be an investigation into the appointment of Coladangelo.
“Private matters are just that but public appointments are another matter entirely and they warrant proper scrutiny and full transparency,” he said.
“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.”