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Friday, Oct 15, 2021

Hancock faces fresh questions over parliamentary access for his lover

Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, is facing questions over the privileged access he gave to his lover after it emerged he had issued her with a parliamentary pass when her only declared work was as a communications chief for a private company.

Hancock eventually resigned after CCTV footage emerged of an office embrace with aide Gina Coladangelo, admitting he had broken social distancing guidelines. Legal experts said the office clinch broke Covid laws. He is understood to have left his wife.

Serious questions remain about Coladangelo’s role and the access she had to parliament well before the footage emerged. Sources have said Coladangelo began advising Hancock in an unpaid capacity in early 2020. But official documents show she had a House of Commons pass through his office from June 2019 to February 2020, before her term as an unpaid adviser began.

At the time, her only position was as the marketing and communications director at Oliver Bonas, the retailer founded by her husband, Oliver Tress. Parliamentary registers show she received the pass under her married name, Gina Tress. She did not list any other occupation in the register. Any additional job has to be listed if it “is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to parliament afforded by your pass”. Coladangelo was involved in Hancock’s leadership bid in 2019, but he pulled out of the race in mid-June 2019.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards has been asked to investigate the circumstances in which she was given the pass and what role she was carrying out. Labour has requested an investigation into why Coladangelo was not listed as a passholder after February 2020, despite a photograph emerging that suggests she had a pass that expired in April 2020. Hancock’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

It is the latest set of questions to be raised in the wake of Hancock’s resignation. Labour has also asked why Coladangelo was subsequently given a pass through the office of Lord Bethell, a health minister who donated to Hancock’s leadership campaign. Guidance around the sponsoring of parliamentary passes states that they should only be awarded to those “requiring access to the parliamentary estate to undertake work”.

“The Conservatives need to explain what Matt Hancock was up to,” said Anneliese Dodds, the Labour chair. “Why was Gina Coladangelo granted the right to enter parliament unchecked when he launched his bid to become their leader? What work did she do for him in parliament? And why did Hancock’s chum Lord Bethell dish her out a pass to the Lords after her Commons one had expired? Access to parliament is a privilege. There cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and their friends and another for everyone else.”

Coladangelo was eventually appointed as a non-executive director of the Department for Health and Social Care in September 2020, though the process by which she was appointed is unclear. Department sources have said all the proper processes were followed. The government is facing demands to formalise the appointment process for “Neds”.

The committee on standards in public life and Peter Ridell, the commissioner for public appointments, have raised concerns about the transparency around appointments. A Ned’s work is partly to scrutinise the work of ministers, but the role has been used increasingly to appoint ministerial allies.

Sources close to Michael Gove reiterated that the cabinet office minister has not broken any Covid rules over his living arrangements after it emerged that he and his wife, the journalist Sarah Vine, were divorcing. A friend of the couple said the separation was “entirely amicable” and that no third party was involved.


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