The justice secretary has insisted “due process” was followed in appointing the aide Matt Hancock was caught kissing to a paid role at the health department.
Robert Buckland issued a defence of Boris Johnson’s handling of the scandal as the prime minister was dogged by questions in the wake of the resignation of his health secretary.
Hancock bowed to pressure and quit after CCTV footage emerged of him breaking social distancing guidelines to combat COVID-19 by intimately embracing aide Gina Coladangelo.
The long-term friend of 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.
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 Hancock’s relationship began with the aide, the justice secretary 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.”
Hancock’s replacement as health secretary, former chancellor Sajid Javid, said the camera that caught the embrace has been disabled and suggested its presence would be investigated.
The Labour Party has demanded an investigation into allegations that Hancock and junior health minister Lord Bethell used personal email addresses to conduct government business.
Buckland suggested the Cabinet Office is likely to investigate the matter and said that if ministers had 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.”
Javid was appointed health secretary over the weekend after Hancock’s resignation on Saturday.
On Monday, during a visit to St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, 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.”
Johnson initially stuck by Hancock after The Sun published footage on Friday of him kissing the aide, an old friend from his days at Oxford University, in his ministerial office on May 6.
The scandal led to renewed questions over standards in Johnson’s government after a series of controversies surrounding some of his most senior ministers.
Johnson rejected calls to fire Home Secretary Priti Patel when she was found to have bullied civil servants working for her, while Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded that his approval of a major property development involving Tory Party donor Richard Desmond was “unlawful.”
But Buckland suggested the prime minister’s critics are merely jealous of his popularity, when questioned about ministerial standards.
“The truth is a lot of people just don’t like the PM and they veil their dislike in this sort of language and they can’t get over the fact he’s popular in the country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme.
Buckland also said he was “amazed” to still be facing questions on Monday about the delay to Hancock’s exit.
“He resigned because he considered the matter carefully, he could see the issue of credibility was one that was really majoring,” he told “Today.”
“Matt Hancock had been, I think, an incredibly hard-working health secretary over the last three years in fact, but in the last 16 months somebody who frankly worked without a break to deal with this crisis.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said there must be “full transparency” and a “full investigation” over Hancock’s alleged use of a Gmail account.
“I’ve written to ensure that there is an investigation into ministers using private emails to conduct official government business in secret, agreeing contracts in private, etc.,” she told “Today.”
There were also questions about how the footage of the kiss from CCTV inside a ministerial office emerged.
Tory MP Peter Bone has been granted an urgent question in the Commons about the security arrangements in ministerial offices, amid alarm that sensitive meetings and conversations may be monitored.
Buckland said he has been informed there is no CCTV in his office, telling Sky News: “I think there is an important principle here about the need for ministers and civil servants who often are handling very sensitive material and information to have a safe space within which to work.
“I’m sure that many of my colleagues will be asking the same question and be making sure the offices are swept just in case there are unauthorised devices that are in there that could be a national security breach.”
By Sam Blewett