Matt Hancock’s new job as UN envoy in Africa ‘sickening’, say campaigners

Ex-health secretary criticised over failure to support Covid vaccine production in developing world

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 12 October 2021 20:18 BST
<p>Former health secretary Matt Hancock</p>

Former health secretary Matt Hancock

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has been handed a new role with the United Nations as a special representative to Africa.

Mr Hancock said he was “honoured” to have been named by the UN as an envoy tasked with helping Africa’s economy recover from the Covid crisis.

But campaigners at Global Justice Now said the appointment was “sickening” – condemning Hancock and others in the UK government for “blocking” Covid vaccine production in the developing world.

“Matt Hancock helped to block international efforts to allow low and middle-income countries to produce their own Covid-19 vaccines, leading to millions of deaths in the global south,” said Nick Dearden, director of the campaign group.

Dearden added: “The audacity of this man claiming to help African nations and promote sustainable development is sickening.”

The UK and US were among the wealthy nations which blocked proposals to help developing nations boost their vaccine manufacturing capabilities, leaked documents revealed in March.

Hancock resigned as health secretary four months ago after he was caught breaking social distancing rules by kissing an aide in his office.

“Honoured to be appointed United Nations Special Representative,” the Tory MP tweeted on his new job. “I’ll be working with the UN and UN Economic Commission for Africa to help African economic recovery from the pandemic and promote sustainable development.”

Vera Songwe, the UN’s under secretary general, praised Mr Hancock’s “success” in helping shape Britain’s vaccine rollout.

She said the “acceleration of vaccines that has led the UK move faster towards economic recovery is one testament to the strengths that you will bring to this role”.

It follows Tuesday’s damning report by MPs on parliament’s science and health select committees, which found that the delay in imposing lockdown was among the UK’s worst-ever public health failures.

The report offered some vindication Hancock, however – describing his April 2020 target to have 100,000 Covid tests a day as “an appropriate one to galvanise the rapid change the system needed”.

But former Downing Street strategist Dominic Cummings rejected the idea that Hancock had been the one who galvanised the system.

“There already was a [testing] target before Hancock blurted it out on TV,” Cummings told Sky News. “The problem with the target was not having a target; the problem is it should have been more than 100,000.”

Johnson’s former senior adviser added: “The way [Hancock] announced it caused a lot of problems – it wasn’t the fact of having a target of 100,000, which was already in place.”

In his acceptance letter for the UN job, posted on Twitter, Hancock wrote: “As we recover from the pandemic so we must take this moment to ensure Africa can prosper.”

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee said Hancock’s new job was a “fascinating and important”, adding: “Boosting the economies of Africa is one of the most essential tasks of this generation.”

Hancock and his girlfriend Gina Coladangelo were spotted in the Swiss Alps on their first holiday as a couple. He stepped down as health secretary in June, several days after the couple’s affair during the pandemic was exposed to the press.

The MP recently drew comparisons to Alan Partridge over a Twitter video of him meeting people in his West Suffolk constituency. “It’s been good to see you,” one woman said while touching his arm. “You’ve been brilliant.”

“Well, you know – we’ve got through it haven’t we? And now coming out the other side,” Hancock replied.

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