Matt Hancock Has Tory Whip Suspended For Joining "I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here"
Matt Hancock has signed up for the reality TV show I'm a Celebrity (Alamy)
Former health secretary Matt Hancock will lose the Conservative whip after signing up to appear on the ITV reality show, “I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here”.
“Following a conversation with Matt Hancock, I have considered the situation and believe this is a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect,” Chief Whip Simon Hart said in a statement.
The Sun said this morning that Hancock had been signed up to take part in the forthcoming news series of the long-running ITV show filmed in the Australian jungle, which begins airing this Sunday, and will run for two weeks.
According to The Sun, Hancock will not be included in the initial tranche of celebrities who enter the jungle, but is due to join later.
Hancock also faces a possible investigation by the Parliamentary watchdog Acoba, which governs what outside work former ministers can take up.
The rules dictate he needs to apply to the independent body for permission to sign up for roles in the two years after he left government, which he still is.
A spokesperson for Acoba told PoliticsHome they have not received an application from Hancock, and its chairman Lord Pickles will be writing to him “asking for an explanation”.
Hancock was due to run to become the next chair of the powerful Treasury select committee but dropped out this week and endorsed Harriet Baldwin instead.
He returned to the backbenches last year after he was forced to resign as health secretary after he breached coronavirus rules while conducting an affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo.
The West Suffolk MP has since sought to reinvent himself with a campaign on dyslexia screening, and has a book out next month called “Pandemic Diaries”, covering his time responding to Covid-19, but was not offered a position in Rishi Sunak's new cabinet last week.
In response to him losing the whip a political ally of Hancock's said: "I'm A Celeb is the most watched show on TV. Matt doesn’t expect to serve in government again, so it's an incredible opportunity for him to engage with the 12 million Brits who tune in every single night.
"Matt has told the whips in Parliament and he will use his time in the jungle to promote his dyslexia campaign.
"Matt has an excellent team working with him in West Suffolk, but producers have agreed that he can communicate with them if there's an urgent constituency matter.”
But Andy Drummond, deputy chairman of West Suffolk Conservative Association, did not appear wholly supportive of Hancock's foray into reality television.
"I'm looking forward to him eating a kangaroo's penis," he told the PA news agency. "Quote me. You can quote me that."
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson criticised Hancock’s decision to go on the TV show.
They said that Sunak believes "at a challenging time for the country MPs should be working hard for their constituents, whether that's in the House or indeed in their constituencies".
They added that it is “unlikely” that Sunak will watch the popular TV series, which averaged 12.14 million viewers at its peak.
Hancock was accused of a lack of humility by the group representing those who had lost family members to Covid during the pandemic, who also highlighted the former health secretary's rule-breaking and the UK's high Covid death toll.
"The fact that he is trying to cash in on his terrible legacy, rather than showing some humility or seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in Government, says it all about the sort of person he is," Lobby Akinnola, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said.
Labour’s shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: "To be fair to Matt Hancock, I'd sooner eat wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too."
Liberal Democrat treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney called for Hancock to lose his MPs' salary during his stint on the show.
"At a time when MPs should be supporting their constituents with the cost of living crisis, Matt Hancock is choosing instead to go to the jungle to feed his own ego," she said in a statement.
"Matt Hancock should declare how much he is earning from appearing on the show, and forgo his MP's salary for the duration. The taxpayer should not pay him while he refuses to do his job."
SNP MP Pete Wishart said: "It speaks volumes that Matt Hancock would rather be stranded in a remote jungle eating kangaroo testicles than spend a moment longer on the Tory benches at Westminster, as Rishi Sunak's government lurches from one crisis to another.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe