Former health secretary Matt Hancock has been stripped of the Tory whip after signing up to join I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in the Australian jungle.
Mr Hancock was a surprise extra name added to the list of contenders and allies said he would use his appearance to promote his work on dyslexia.
But it will mean being away from Parliament and the Tories suspended the whip, while campaigners for families bereaved in the Covid-19 pandemic accused him of trying to “cash in on his terrible legacy”.
The response at Westminster was swift after news that West Suffolk MP Mr Hancock would join the ITV show, which starts on Sunday.
Chief whip Simon Hart said: “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.”
In Mr Hancock’s constituency, Andy Drummond, deputy chairman (political) of West Suffolk Conservative Association, said: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me that.”
Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, said Mr Hancock has “no shame”.
“Everybody knows what he did during the Covid pandemic and he seems to want to rehabilitate himself all the time in the public eye,” Mr Houlder said.
“He’s got a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, quite frankly.”
Tory MP Tim Loughton said Mr Hancock had been an “absolute prat”.
“I’m completely disappointed and disgusted that he’s put his self and a so-called celebrity career ahead of serving his constituents,” he told Times Radio.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “unlikely” Rishi Sunak would be watching the programme.
“The PM believes that at a challenging time for the country MPs should be working hard for their constituents whether that is in the House or in their constituency,” the spokesman said.
Mr Hancock was forced to quit as health secretary in June 2021 after breaking coronavirus social distancing rules by conducting an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo.
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.
— Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK (@CovidJusticeUK) November 1, 2022
Mr Hancock was among supporters of Mr Sunak who welcomed the new leader to Conservative headquarters last week but was overlooked for a ministerial job under the new Prime Minister.
He had also reportedly been considering a run to be chair of the Treasury Select Committee but pulled out of the race on Monday.
An ally of Mr Hancock said: “There are many ways to do the job of being an MP.
“Whether he’s in camp for one day or three weeks, there are very few places people will be able to see a politician as they really are.
“Where better to show the human side of those who make these decisions than with the most watched programme on TV?
“Politicians like Matt must go to where the people are – particularly those who are politically disengaged.
“Matt’s of the view that we must embrace popular culture. Rather than looking down on reality TV, we should see it for what it is – a powerful tool to get our message heard by younger generations.”
The ally said producers of the show have agreed that Mr Hancock can communicate with constituency staff if there is an urgent matter in West Suffolk.
He will make a donation to St Nicholas Hospice in Suffolk and he will also be required to declare the amount he receives from the show to Parliament.
Mr Hancock is understood not to have sought advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) before accepting the appearance.
Lord Pickles, the Conservative chair of the anti-corruption watchdog that advises on post-ministerial jobs, is expected to write to Mr Hancock to demand clarification.
Under the rules, Mr Hancock should seek clearance from Acoba for any new employment he takes on until two years from leaving office, in his case until June next year.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said the guidance “was followed in good faith”, adding: “The Acoba website clearly states that it does not regard media appearances as an appointment or employment.”
However, the website only says that “one-off” activities are not applicable and states that any “longer term arrangement” requires a request to Acoba.
Mr Hancock initially turned down the offer to take part because of the political chaos at Westminster, but since Mr Sunak became Prime Minister the former health secretary believes “the government is stable”.
But his decision to enter the jungle drew criticism from political opponents, union chiefs and campaigners.
Lobby Akinnola, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said: “Matt Hancock isn’t a ‘celebrity’, he’s the former health secretary who oversaw the UK having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules.
“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.”
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.”
To be fair to Matt Hancock, I’d sooner eat Wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too.
— Andrew Gwynne MP 🇺🇦 (@GwynneMP) November 1, 2022
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “To be fair to Matt Hancock, I’d sooner eat wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too.”
The House of Commons is in recess from November 10-14, but celebrities could spend up to three weeks in the jungle – meaning Mr Hancock would miss significant Commons business, including the Autumn Statement on November 17 if he remains in the contest.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said: “Oh to have a job where you can decide for yourself you’re taking a month off, abandon your work and responsibilities, get paid shedloads and face little consequence.
“I’m sure he’ll be an inspiration to other public servants.”
In the jungle Mr Hancock will be joining pop star Boy George, Coronation Street’s Sue Cleaver, Hollyoaks’ Owen Warner, TV presenter and property expert Scarlette Douglas, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, Loose Women star Charlene White, radio presenter Chris Moyles, reality TV star Olivia Attwood, former footballer Jill Scott and comedian Babatunde Aleshe.