Matt Hancock’s UN posting withdrawn after only four days amid African backlash

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

Caroline Wheeler, Will Pavia www.thetimes.co.uk 

Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, has had a job offer from the United Nations withdrawn only four days after celebrating his appointment on Twitter.

In a tweet on October 12 Hancock, 43, said he was “honoured to be appointed United Nations special representative” on financial innovation and climate change. In a letter also posted on Twitter by Hancock, Vera Songwe, UN undersecretary-general, said his “success” in overseeing the UK’s vaccine rollout was “testament to the strengths” he could offer.

However, it is understood that the UN decided not to go ahead after it was pointed out that special representatives were not allowed to be sitting members of parliament.

Hancock, who is the Tory MP for West Suffolk, resigned as health secretary in June after being caught on CCTV kissing an aide, Gina Coladangelo, in breach of lockdown rules.

A UN spokesman said that his appointment had not been “taken forward”.

Hancock was already facing a backlash over the role, with leading figures from across Africa branding it “jaw-dropping”.

After initial reports Dr Ayoade Alakija, who co-chairs the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance for Covid-19 jabs, said: “This is so tone deaf, beyond arrogant that they think we in Africa need Matt Hancock to help 1.3 billion people recover from the pandemic, when he couldn’t manage the one in the UK! The definition of a colonial hangover. Decolonise aid — no, here’s Matty!”

Sagal Bihi, an MP in Somalia, said: “Africa is seen by the West as [the] dumping ground for their locally unemployable shady characters.”

The campaign group Global Justice Now welcomed the decision not to go ahead with the appointment. It had raised concerns about 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 a year ago, would allow poorer countries to manufacture their own doses of the vaccines developed by richer countries, providing protection for hundreds of millions of people currently unable to get a jab.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, 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.”

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