Matt Hancock returns to Westminster after jungle stint as diaries reveal COVID row over prisoners

Matt Hancock has returned to Westminster as he gets back to the day job after his stint on I'm A Celeb.

The former health secretary was kicked out of the Conservative parliamentary party after he revealed he was taking part in the reality TV show and it is not yet clear if he will get the whip back.

He now sits as the independent MP for West Suffolk and is back in Parliament as he prepares to present a bill calling for dyslexia screening in every primary school and improved teacher training.

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Posting a short video on Instagram ahead of the second reading of his bill, which is expected to be debated later, he also invited his followers to ask him "anything", promising to get back to as many of them as possible.

Mr Hancock, who finished third in the show after being voted to take part in a raft of bushtucker trials, claimed raising awareness of dyslexia was one of the main reasons he entered the Australian jungle, as well as to show the human side of politicians.

When in the camp with 10 other celebrities, he also said he was hoping for "forgiveness".

He has faced fierce criticism from fellow MPs and the wider public for doing the show while parliament is sitting, and over whether it was appropriate after the significant role he played in the government's handling of COVID.

It was also revealed this week that the MP had been paid £45,000 to appear on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins shortly before going to Australia.

Mr Hancock's return to work coincides with the first excerpt of his pandemic diaries being published in the Daily Mail.

In it, the ex-minister claims the Ministry of Justice put forward a plan to release "thousands" of prisoners days before the country went into lockdown because of concerns about the spread of the virus.

In a diary entry on 17 March 2020, he wrote: "A bonkers proposal from the Ministry of Justice to let prisoners out, as they'd be easier to manage if they're not in prison.

"Yes, really: they actually thought this might be a goer. I was emphasising [my opposition] so hard that all of a sudden my chair could take the strain no longer and ripped, tipping me unceremoniously on to the floor.'"

He later claimed that Sir Robert Buckland, the justice secretary at the time, had been told by the justice department it was Mr Hancock pushing for the releases.

"Unfortunately, this still wasn't the end of the matter," he wrote. "Clearly someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) moved to protect the NHS during the pandemic through the limited release of a very small number of low-level, tagged and risk-assessed prisoners just weeks before they were due to leave prison anyway.

"This was successful in avoiding the thousands of prison deaths predicted by Public Health England."

The newspaper also published the prologue to Mr Hancock's diaries, where he wrote: "I am proud of what we achieved, especially on the vaccine.

"But there is much to learn for the next public health crisis of this kind, which I am sure will happen in my lifetime."

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