MATT Hancock was forced forced to resign after being warned of the "groundswell" of public anger against him, a senior minister said today.
Justice secretary Robert Buckland insisted his shamed former Cabinet colleague had made the "right" choice to fall on his sword.
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He said the ex Health Secretary's actions in breaking Covid rules with his mistress Gina Coladangelo had fatally undermined public confidence.
Mr Hancock quit on Saturday after being told by close friends and advisers that his position had become untenable.
Boris Johnson had initially tried to cling onto his trusty lieutenant and tide out the storm of controversy.
But he relented and accepted the ex Health Secretary's resignation after being told that the rest of the Cabinet was refusing to back him.
Up to 80 Tory MPs had also told party whips that they wanted to see him gone, sealing his fate.
And today Mr Buckland revealed that fellow ministers believed Mr Hancock had no alternative but to resign.
He said: "The circumstances became overwhelmingly clear that credibility was at stake.
"As the hours went by it was clear there was an understandable groundswell of concern about how important it is that those who set the rules keep to them.
"It took a day or so but the right outcome was achieved and it was correct for Matt Hancock to resign."
Mr Buckland said No 10 had initially stuck by the ex Health Secretary because they wanted him to see out the handling of the pandemic.
He said: "It's always difficult to lose somebody with such experience. We have been on this long road.
"There's an absolute logic in trying to make sure we have continuity, that the person who was involved in this from the beginning stayed to the end."
But he added: "There is a clear understanding that the rules are for all of us. Matt has paid the price – he made a terrible error."
The PM was warned by Tory whips that support for Mr Hancock had "drained away" and fellow ministers wouldn't support him in public.
Despite No 10 insisting it accepted his apology and considered the matter closed, not a single Cabinet colleague backed him on social media.
And those senior figures sent onto the airwaves to try and justify his actions could only offer a half-hearted defence.
A Cabinet source told The Mail: "To be fair to the PM his automatic reflex is to try to save people rather than throwing them to the wolves every time there's a Twitter storm.
"But I think in this case it was obvious on Friday that this couldn't end any other way.
"What's p****d people off is Matt's sheer hypocrisy. He's set the rules and not followed them. He's put his mistress on the payroll.
"And when Professor Ferguson was in a similar position, he tried to set the police on him.
"That's why no-one was prepared to break sweat to save him.
"His credibility was shot – everyone could see that apart from the PM. And no-one wanted to risk their own credibility by backing him.'
Tory MPs had also started to turn against Mr Hancock, spelling the end of his three-year tenure.
Backbencher Andrew Bridgen said the PM had made an error of judgement in trying to keep the ex Health Secretary in post.
He said: "Loyalty is normally a virtue. But it became clear within hours that Matt Hancock was losing the confidence of the public."
Mr Hancock has insisted he didn't break any rules in hiring Ms Coladangelo to her £15,000 a year part-time advisory post.
He says their relationship only started in May, meaning he didn't have to declare it at the time when she was given the job.
Mr Buckland said the Cabinet Office was likely to "ask questions" about whether there had been a conflict of interest.
He added: "If declarations weren't made clear, that is highly irregular and inappropriate."
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