Friends of Michael Gove insisted on Saturday night that he had been living at his family home throughout the pandemic, as they accused Labour of “shameful” smear tactics for suggesting otherwise.
The comments came after the shadow home secretary said Mr Gove must “clarify” his “household” arrangements, following the announcement on Friday that he and his wife Sarah Vine are divorcing after 20 years of marriage.
Nick Thomas-Symonds said although the Cabinet Office minister, 53, was entitled to a private life, he should “clarify” whether social distancing guidelines had been breached, because he had been key to drawing up government rules on how people behaved during the pandemic.
Mr Gove and Ms Vine, 54, a prominent journalist, announced on Friday that they had “agreed to separate” and were finalising their divorce.
Friends of the pair said no one else was involved and they had simply “drifted apart”.
However, Mr Thomas-Symonds told Times Radio on Saturday that Mr Gove must respond to concerns that rules may have been broken. “There is a question here about the household. What existed in those particular circumstances and whether any of the guidance in terms of social distancing was broken.”
He added: “I think he needs to be clear about the position with regard to the rules and … everyone around the country has had to follow the guidance in their particular circumstances of their personal life.
“That applies, with an even greater imperative, to those within government, those in public life, those who are in senior positions within government.”
Labour accused of ‘baseless innuendo’
On Saturday night, a friend of Mr Gove and Ms Vine refuted any suggestion Mr Gove had breached guidelines.
“Michael has lived at home with Sarah and the children throughout the pandemic and indeed since they moved to that address,” they said. “No one else was involved in Michael and Sarah’s separation. They have simply drifted apart after 20 years of marriage.
“The shadow home secretary’s completely baseless innuendo is shameful, especially while a family is going through a difficult time. It is a sad reflection of the depths to which the Labour Party has sunk.”
On Friday, Mr Gove and Ms Vine were seen by neighbours leaving the house at different times before their announcement was made.
When they announced their split, a source close to Mr Gove dismissed rumours about his private life as “utter nonsense” and “made up”.
Mr Gove became the second senior Cabinet minister in a week to split from his wife after it emerged Matt Hancock was having an affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo.
Some blamed the fallout from that revelation as the reason why the Conservatives lost the Batley and Spen by-election, a seat the Tories had been expected to win.
Speculation surrounding Mr Gove’s marriage was fuelled last week when Ms Vine wrote a column in a Sunday newspaper in which she spoke of the difficulties of sustaining a political marriage.
She wrote in the Mail on Sunday that Mr Hancock’s “behaviour may be shocking, but given the context it is entirely predictable”.
She said Westminster “changes a person”, adding how spouses of politicians remained the same person as when they married. “But their politician men are not,” she continued. ”Climbing that far up Westminster’s greasy pole changes a person. And when someone changes, they require something new from a partner.
“Namely, someone who is as much a courtesan as a companion, one who understands their brilliance and, crucially, is personally invested in it.
“The problem with the wife who has known you since way before you were king of the world is that she sees through your facade.”
Mr Gove, one of Mr Johnson’s most influential ministers, who has supported stricter lockdown measures, has been married to Ms Vine since October 2001.