Politics

Matt Hancock United Nations job offer withdrawn

Former health secretary Matt Hancock’s appointment as a United Nations special representative in Africa has been withdrawn, the UN has confirmed.

The news was welcomed by anti-poverty campaigners who said it was inappropriate for Mr Hancock 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.

And eyebrows were raised at the timing of the appointment, which was 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’ 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,” spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told the PassBlue website. “ECA has advised him of the matter.”

Approached by The Independent, a UN spokesperson later confirmed that the quote was accurate, but declined to provide an explanation for the about-turn.

Mr Hancock announced his appointment in a tweet on 12 October, saying he was “honoured” to have been offered a role helping UNECA assist economic recovery in Africa and promote sustainable development following the pandemic.

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

But it is understood that the appointment hit the buffers after it was pointed out that special representatives are not allowed to be sitting members of their home country’s parliament.

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 the rich world, increasing overall global supplies and providing access to protection for hundreds of millions of people currently unable to get a jab.

It has the 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 states which blocked its introduction at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property council TRIPs 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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