Former health secretary Matt Hancock is facing further pressure this week after Labour called for an investigation into his alleged use of personal email to conduct official government business.
Hancock was forced to resign after CCTV footage leaked last week showed the married Tory MP in a romantic embrace with an advisor in his Whitehall office, breaking social distancing guidelines.
Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has now called on the cabinet secretary to launch an inquiry into whether private emails were used to discuss the awarding of government contracts during the pandemic.
“We need to know how much government business is being conducted in secret by ministers using private email accounts to avoid scrutiny, hide information from the public inquiry into COVID and do dodgy deals for government contracts with their mates,” she tweeted today.
There have previously been accusations of cronyism in the government’s awarding of large contracts for protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-related items.
Last year, the Guardian revealed that a former publican whose pub was located close to Hancock’s constituency home in Suffolk won a £50 million contract for test-and-trace supplies despite running a company that had no experience producing such equipment.
The two are said to have communicated over WhatsApp and email, although it’s unclear if Hancock’s personal email was used on this occasion.
According to Cabinet Office guidelines a copy of any personal email used for government business should be sent to the minister’s departmental email address.
Security experts have warned that Hancock’s alleged favoring of private email communications may have exposed the government to cyber-risk.
“Personal accounts are less secured and are not monitored by the government’s cybersecurity team. They are also cracked more easily than the encrypted accounts issued to ministers,” argued Mark Rodbert, Founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm IDAX Software.
“If a cyber-criminal can access a personal email, which is easier than you may think if the password is a combination of English words, they can control the email account.”
Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer who has litigated the government on unfairly awarding contracts during the pandemic, said it is not technically illegal for ministers to use personal emails.
However, he added: “It’s a bit like walking into a bank on a hot summer’s day wearing a balaclava, it’s not wrong in itself, but it is a strong sign that you are up to no good.”
Maugham claimed on Friday he has evidence, now with the Serious Fraud Office, of government corruption in the awarding of COVID-related contracts.