Sajid Javid has been named Britain’s new health secretary after Matt Hancock was forced to resign on Saturday following revelations he broke coronavirus rules by kissing his aide.
“The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care,” a short press release from the government read on Saturday.
Javid, the former chancellor of the exchequer and home secretary, said he was “honoured” by the appointment.
Hancock, who led Britain’s response to the pandemic, particularly the nationwide vaccine rollout, quit in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance,” he wrote.
“The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis.”
Johnson said he was sorry to receive Hancock’s resignation, and that he should be “immensely proud” of his service.
Government accused of hypocrisy
Johnson, who has faced down criticism of various scandals including funding of the refurbishment of his apartment in Downing Street, had initially stood by his health secretary after Hancock admitted breaking COVID social distancing rules, when at the same time he was urging the public to stick by the measures.
Opposition parties have accused the government of hypocrisy over breaches of lockdown rules which have seen many members of the public slapped with fines.
Hancock conceded he had let the public down after The Sun newspaper on Friday published a security camera image obtained from a whistle-blower showing him kissing the aide in his office on May 6.
The main opposition Labour party said the government needed to answer questions about the undisclosed appointment of the aide, former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo, to Hancock’s top advisory team.
Both she and Hancock, who first met at university, were married until they became aware that news of the scandal was going to be published.
Last week, Hancock rejected criticism of his handling of the COVID pandemic after Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings released private WhatsApp exchanges in which Johnson appeared to describe him as “hopeless”.
Johnson’s government has overseen one of the highest official death tolls from the pandemic and has been criticised for its early handling – led by Hancock – of the coronavirus pandemic which was characterised by missteps.
Hancock has also previously faced allegations that he lied to Johnson and awarded a contract to an unqualified friend.
He has also faced further questions about his ownership of shares in a family company that won a COVID-related contract from his ministry last year.
But Johnson praised Hancock for his role in Britain’s successful vaccine rollout, which he called “one of the greatest successes of the modern state”.
Government to probe leak of Hancock footage
Meanwhile, the UK government said on Sunday it will investigate how footage of former minister Hancock kissing and embracing his aide found its way into the media and forced his resignation.
Asked whether the health ministry was investigating how the pictures of Hancock had been taken in his government office and leaked, Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis told Sky News: “It is a matter I know the department of health will be looking into to understand exactly how that recording … got out of the system.”
Hancock’s replacement Javid has already held two of the top jobs in government, serving as finance minister from 2019 to 2020 and interior minister in 2018.
One of five sons of Pakistani immigrant parents, Javid is a former managing director at Deutsche Bank and previously worked as an aide to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said Hancock was right to resign, but tweeted that Johnson “should have sacked him”.
England was due to fully ease restrictions on June 21, but the emergence of the Delta variant, first found in India, has led to an extension of social distancing and other rules until July 19.