Matt Hancock has reportedly cancelled a visit to a coronavirus vaccination centre after he was accused of cheating on his wife with a close friend who is a taxpayer-funded adviser to his department.
The scheduled visit to Newmarket, in his West Suffolk constituency, would have been his first public appearance since The Sun's overnight story showing photographs of the health secretary kissing Gina Coladangelo.
The security camera pictures were reportedly taken on 6 May. The pair have been seen in public on other occasions.
Hancock, 42, has been married for 15 years to wife Martha, and the pair have three children. Coladangelo, 43, is also married with three children.
Watch: Matt Hancock accused of affair with adviser to his department
Hancock had been scheduled to visit the Pharmacy2U vaccine site at Newmarket Racecourse at 10am on Friday. But Sky News reported an organiser as saying: "He won't be coming."
Had the health secretary gone ahead with the visit, he would have faced serious questions about his future in the government.
Labour: 'This needs to be looked into'
Coladangelo was given her role as non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care last September, with a salary believed to be at least £15,000 a year and having scrutiny over its running.
Labour said the government needs to answer whether Hancock had broken any rules or there had been “conflicts of interest” in the appointment of his closest adviser.
A 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.”
Lib Dems: 'Hancock should resign, but not because of private life'
The Sun story has capped off a miserable few weeks for Hancock, whose ability as health secretary has been the subject of repeated and brutal attacks by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's former chief adviser.
Cummings also leaked text messages, apparently from Johnson himself, in which the PM called Hancock “totally f***ing hopeless”.
Even the Queen has been talking about Hancock. In her first in-person audience with Johnson since the pandemic began, she told the PM: “I’ve just been talking to your secretary of state for health – poor man."
Hancock has been attacked over alleged failings surrounding his handling of the pandemic, including testing, care home policy and personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement.
And Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, commenting on The Sun story, said: “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.”
What has the government said about the story?
Transport secretary Grant Shapps had the unenviable task of being Downing Street's representative on Friday morning's TV and radio breakfast shows.
He insisted former lobbyist Coladangelo, who Hancock met at university, would have gone through an “incredibly rigorous” process to get her role at the Department of Health.
Shapps told Sky News: "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 shortcuts 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.”
Asked about the photos on LBC, he said: "I have seen the photo but, as ever with private matters, I always try to avoid commenting on other people’s personal lives and I think I’ll stick with that tradition here.”
Watch: ‘We’re all human' – Shapps on Hancock