The health secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of having an affair with a close friend acting as a taxpayer-funded adviser to his department.
The Sun published photographs of Mr Hancock embracing his departmental aide Gina Coladangelo, referring to it as a “steamy clinch”.
The security camera pictures were said to be taken on 6 May – but the pair have been seen embracing on other occasions during the pandemic, sources told the newspaper.
Mr Hancock said on Friday he is “very sorry” for breaching social distancing guidance, but made clear in a statement that he does not plan to resign.
The health secretary broke cover in a statement released by an aide, in which he appealed for privacy for his family and said he was “focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic”.
The pictures are believed to be taken inside his Whitehall department, with two-metre social distancing rules remaining in place at workplaces.
The photo evidence was also taken two weeks before the ban on hugging between people in different households was lifted.
Labour has called for Mr Hancock, with the party’s chair Anneliese Dodds arguing that a secret relationship with Ms Coladangelo would amount to “a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest”.
The Liberal Democrats also demanded that Boris Johnson dismiss his health secretary, saying: “Hypocrite Hancock must go.”
Ms Coladangelo, who met Mr Hancock when both were attending Oxford University, is a director at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon, which promises clients help to “navigate and influence complex legislation”.
In November it emerged Ms Coladangelo has given a role as non-executive director at Mr Hancock’s department, earning at least £15,000 a year. It drew criticism because there was no public record of the appointment.
She is also communications director at fashion and homeware shop Oliver Bonas. In June 2020, the store featured on a government blog hailing its efforts to reopen after the first lockdown.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps said he would not be commenting on an “entirely personal” matter after the publication of pictures showing Mr Hancock embracing his aide.
Asked if Mr Hancock’s job was now in doubt, Mr Shapps also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There has for a long time been a complete difference between what people do in their job … and what they do in their personal lives.”
Mr Shapps did suggest Ms Coladangelo’s appointment had been “rigorous”. He told Sky News: “In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government, so whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.”
The minister added: “There are no short cuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the civil service knows. There are very strict rules in place.”
Mr Hancock, 42, has been married for 15 years to Martha, and the pair have three children. Ms Coladangelo, 43, is also married with three children.