Former UK health minister Hancock to quit at next election

FILE PHOTO: G7 Health Ministers meeting in Oxford

By Farouq Suleiman

LONDON (Reuters) -Former British health minister Matt Hancock, who was forced to resign in 2021 for breaching his own social distancing rules during the pandemic, said on Wednesday he would not run again for parliament at the next general election.

Hancock was at the centre of the British government's fight against COVID-19 and was heavily criticised for the response to the early stages of the pandemic. He was later forced to step down after being caught by a security camera kissing an aide in violation of his own social distancing regulations.

In November, Hancock was suspended by the ruling Conservative Party after taking part in a jungle-based reality television show, but he remained an elected lawmaker and has since returned to participate in parliament.

Hancock said in his resignation letter that the party had made it clear he would be re-admitted "in due course", but he said that would now not be necessary.

"There was a time when I thought the only way to influence the public debate was in parliament, but I've realised there's far more to it than that," he said in the letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, which he also posted on Twitter.

Hancock is the latest Conservative lawmaker to announce that they will be standing down at the country's next election, expected in 2024, with the deeply divided and scandal-tinged party trailing opposition Labour by around 20% in opinion polls.

"I want to do things differently," he said. "I have discovered a whole new world of possibilities which I am excited to explore - new ways for me to communicate with people of all ages and from all backgrounds."

Hancock finished third in the "I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here" reality show after more than two weeks in the Australian jungle where he ate camel penis and cow's anus, and was stung by ants and a scorpion.

In his resignation letter, Hancock said he was proud of his achievements during his nine years in government, including the response to the pandemic.

(Reporting by Farouq Suleiman; editing by William James and Mark Heinrich)