Matt Hancock: What is losing the whip and how can MPs be removed?

Matt Hancock‘s decision to go into the jungle means he will be removed from the party  (John Walton/PA)
Matt Hancock‘s decision to go into the jungle means he will be removed from the party (John Walton/PA)

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has had the Tory whip suspended after it emerged he will enter the jungle for I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

This means that the West Suffolk MP is effectively expelled from his party and must sit as an independent until, or if, the whip is restored.

The politician will be the 12th contestant to enter this year’s show, which features celebrities performing gruelling tasks, such as being covered in insects or having to eat a kangaroo penis.

The former cabinet minister faced a backlash from Tory whips and his constituency party over his decision to take part and will now sit as an independent MP. The show overlaps with the time when the Commons is sitting.

Conservative 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.”

Hancock was also criticised by the deputy chair of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, Andy Drummond, who said: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. You can quote me on that.”

Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson criticised Hancock’s decision: “The Prime Minister believes that, at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for their constituents, whether that’s in the house or in their constituency.”

But what are whips, and what does losing the whip mean?

What are whips?

Whips are members of the House of Commons or members of the House of Lords appointed by their parties. It is their job to “help organise their party’s contribution to parliamentary business”, including “making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants”, according to Parliament.

Whips ensure that their members vote along their party’s agenda. They are especially important when the Government has a small majority and could be more likely to lose in votes.

What is a chief whip?

The chief whip is responsible for carrying out the whipping system. It is his or her job to make sure that MPs of their party attend and vote in Parliament, and that they vote following the party’s agenda.

The current chief whip is Wendy Morton, replacing Chris Heaton-Harris, who had the role until September 6, when Liz Truss became prime minister.

What is the whip?

The whip refers to either the person responsible for the system, or a message.

The Whip is a weekly message about the upcoming parliamentary business that the whips send out to their MPs or Lords. It tells politicians how they should vote or will tell them that they have to vote.

The importance of the vote is designated by the number of underlines – with three underlines being the most serious. This is called a three-line whip, and defying it is very serious.

But the whip can also be lost.

What does it mean to lose the whip?

MPs can “lose the whip” when they defy their party. It means that they are expelled from the parliamentary party. However, they do not lose their position as MP, but sit as independent members until the whip is restored.

In 2019, 21 Tory MPs voted to block a no-deal Brexit, going against the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson. Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames and Ken Clarke – who had been a Tory MP for 49 years – were among those who had the whip removed.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lost the whip in 2020 over his response to the equalities watchdog’s report into antisemitism in the party.

How can MPs be removed?

MPs can be removed in a recall election, which was introduced in the UK in 2015 in response to the MPs’ expenses scandal in the run-up to the 2010 general election.

There are three circumstances in which MPs can be recalled:

  • If they have been convicted of any offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained. (MPs sentenced to more than 12 months in jail are automatically disqualified.)

  • If they are suspended from the House following a report and the Committee on Standards recommends a sanction for at least 10 sitting days.

  • If they are convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which means making false or misleading parliamentary allowances claims.

The recall election involves a petition, which will be open to constituents for six weeks. If 10 per cent of eligible registered voters sign the petition, the MP loses their seat and a by-election will be called.