Sajid Javid, the new Health Secretary, is expected to confirm the 19 July reopening date in a statement to the House of Commons later today, as MPs return to Westminster following a weekend of high drama. In the wake of Matt Hancock’s resignation, attention has now turned to the impact that Javid’s return will have on the balance of power in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, with most in Westminster expecting a more hawkish approach to Covid restrictions from Javid compared to his predecessor.
The new Health Secretary said in May 2020 that he would favour “running the economy hot”. While his views may well be moderated by the health brief (rather than speaking as a former chancellor), the switch from a lockdown “dove” in Hancock to a hawkish Javid could have significant implications for border restrictions this summer and for the wider challenge of managing the virus this winter. That’s not to mention the tensions that could arise when Javid goes toe-to-toe with his successor as chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on social care funding.
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There are, meanwhile, more questions for the government to answer about the Hancock revelations. Labour is keen to highlight how Boris Johnson failed to sack Hancock in the first place, while Tory MPs are jittery about Johnson’s reply to Hancock’s resignation letter, fearing he needlessly burned political capital by indicating that Hancock would be welcome to return to the cabinet in future.
The biggest questions by far, however, remain those asked by the Sunday Times in February. How did Hancock come to appoint a “close friend” to a taxpayer-funded role in the Department of Health? Why was Gina Coladangelo’s parliamentary pass sponsored by James Bethell, a Tory peer and health minister, for whom she has never worked? And were the NHS contracts given to Coladangelo’s brother’s company properly awarded?
It took a photograph of an embrace on the front page of the Sun to give these questions the prominence they deserve. There is now a risk that, following Hancock’s resignation, interest in the answers has already died down.