Former cabinet minister Matt Hancock has put the Tory whip on hold after it emerged he was headed to the jungle for I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
The politician will be the 12th contestant to participate in the show, which features famous faces performing grueling tasks like choking on bugs or eating a kangaroo’s penis.
But the former health secretary faced backlash from the Conservatives and his constituency party for his decision to run and will now sit as an independent MP. The show overlaps with the moment the Commons are sitting down.
Conservative Chief Whip Simon Hart said: “After a discussion with Matt Hancock I have considered the situation and believe this is a matter of sufficient gravity to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect.”
Hancock was also criticized by West Suffolk Conservative Association deputy chairman Andy Drummond, who said: “I hope he eats a kangaroo’s penis. You can quote me on that.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesman criticized Hancock’s decision: “The PM believes that at a difficult time for the country, MPs should work hard for their constituents, whether in the House or in their constituency.”
Hancock this week dropped out of the race to chair the Treasury Select Committee and announced a new book, Pandemic Diaries, about her experiences as health secretary during the Covid crisis.
Hancock has filmed another reality show this year, The Guardian understands. She will compete in the upcoming series of Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Hancock resigned as health secretary last year after CCTV footage leaked showing him kissing his closest aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his ministerial office, in breach of his own Covid rules on social distancing.
A source close to Hancock said the show’s producers had agreed that his constituents would be able to communicate with him about pressing issues while he was in the jungle.
They said that Hancock did not expect to serve in the cabinet again. “I’m A Celeb is the most watched show on television. Matt doesn’t expect to serve in government again, so it’s an amazing opportunity for him to interact with the 12 million Brits who tune in every night,” they said.
The source said there were “many ways to do a parliamentarian’s job… Whether you’re in camp for a day or three weeks, there are very few places where people can see a politician for who they really are.”
Hancock reportedly initially turned down an offer to appear on the show, but reconsidered after Liz Truss’s demise from the premiership, in which the government regained a semblance of stability. Hancock supported Rishi Sunak in the leadership contest, but was not asked to return to the Cabinet.
“When first approached to participate, while flattered and naturally curious, it didn’t take long for him to turn down the opportunity due to the instability facing the government at the time,” Hancock’s allies said.
“Now, however, the government is stable. Rishi Sunak is off to a good start and the entire Conservative Party is behind him. Rishi has a large majority so that he can pass his agenda in Parliament”.
They said Hancock had spoken to the whips “in the same way that any MP would when he went abroad on a visit, which happens all the time.”
The source said that politicians “need to go where the people are, especially those who are not politically engaged… Matt is of the opinion that we should embrace popular culture. Instead of disparaging reality shows, we should look at them for what they are: a powerful tool for younger generations to hear our message.”
Hancock will make a donation to St. Nicholas hospice in Suffolk, but not the full fee, which will be published in the members’ register of interests.
Ten celebrities will join the show this Sunday when the new series begins, and Hancock will be one of the latest “bombshell” arrivals along with comedian Seann Walsh, The Sun reported.
The West Suffolk MP is the latest figure from the political sphere to appear on the show, following Nadine Dorries, Stanley Johnson and Lembit Öpik.
Dorries was suspended by the Conservative Party in 2012 after it emerged that she had to be absent from parliament to take part in the programme. At the time, she tried to justify the decision by saying that the show would serve as a platform to reach the public and raise awareness of important issues.
She later apologized to the House of Commons for not disclosing her fee for appearing on the show, after being censured by the parliamentary standards watchdog.
But Dorries returned to front-line politics, serving as culture secretary in the Boris Johnson government.
Other celebrities in this year’s lineup include singer Boy George, rugby star Mike Tindall, English footballer Jill Scott, Loose Women’s Charlene White, TV presenter Scarlette Douglas, comedian Babatunde Aléshé and radio host Chris Moyles.
There will also be a host of soap opera and reality stars, including Coronation Street actress Sue Cleaver, Hollyoaks’ Owen Warner and Love Island’s Olivia Attwood.