Matt Hancock United Nations job offer withdrawn

Anti-poverty campaigners protested over his role in blocking vaccines for developing world

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 16 October 2021 18:07
Matt Hancock avoids questions from Owen Jones at Tory conference.mp4

Former health secretary Matt Hancock’s offer of an appointment as a United Nations special representative in Africa has been withdrawn.

There was no immediate explanation for the decision not to go ahead with the appointment, which appears to have been rescinded at a high level in the UN.

But Mr Hancock said he was told that he could not take up the position while remaining an MP.

The news was welcomed by anti-poverty campaigners, who said it was inappropriate for the former health secretary to work on Africa’s recovery from the Covid pandemic because of his role in blocking moves to make vaccines available to millions of people in the developing world.

Mr Hancock announced he had been offered the job on Tuesday, declaring that he was “honoured” to have been offered a role helping the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA, or Uneca) in relation to the continent’s pandemic recovery and sustainable development.

In a letter posted on Twitter by Mr Hancock, Vera Songwe, the UN’s under secretary-general, said his “success” in overseeing the UK’s vaccine rollout was a “testament” to the strengths he would bring to the role.

But eyebrows were raised at the timing of the appointment, revealed on the day that two parliamentary committees released a scathing report on the UK government’s response to the pandemic.

Now secretary-general António Guterres’s chief spokesperson has said that the appointment is not going ahead.

“Mr Hancock’s appointment by the UN Economic Commission for Africa is not being taken forward,” said spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric. “ECA has advised him of the matter.”

Mr Dujarric offered no explanation for the abrupt about-turn, sparking speculation that Mr Guterres had ordered the withdrawal of the offer in response to the negative reaction to its announcement.

But Mr Hancock released a statement, saying: “The UN have written to me to explain that a technical UN rule has subsequently come to light which states that sitting members of parliament cannot also be UN special representatives.

“Since I am committed to continuing to serve as MP for West Suffolk, this means I cannot take up the position. I look forward to supporting the UNECA in their mission in whatever way I can in my parliamentary role.”

Campaign group Global Justice Now welcomed the development, which came after it raised concerns about Mr Hancock’s role in supporting the UK government’s opposition to proposals for an intellectual property waiver on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

The waiver – first proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 – would allow poorer countries to manufacture their own doses of vaccines developed in wealthy nations, increasing overall global supplies and providing access to protection for hundreds of millions of people currently unable to get a jab.

It has the support of countries including the United States, Australia, France, and almost all low and middle-income countries, but the UK was among a group of nations that blocked its introduction at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property council last week.

Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden said: “It is right for the UN to reconsider this appointment.

“If Matt Hancock wants to help African countries recover from the pandemic, he should lobby the prime minister to back a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines. If he’d done that when he was in government, tens of millions more people could already have been vaccinated.

“The last thing the African continent needs is a failed British politician. This isn’t the 19th century.”

Mr Hancock resigned as health secretary in June, after leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing an aide in breach of social distancing rules.

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