Former health secretary Matt Hancock has had the whip suspended after signing up to go on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!.
Mr Hancock will be jetting off to the jungle in Australia, reportedly as a latecomer to the reality TV show.
Chief Whip Simon Hart MP 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.”
MPs who lose the whip are effectively expelled from their parliamentary party, and must sit as independents until it is reinstated.
Mr Hancock was health secretary during the COVID pandemic, but stepped down after breaching lockdown rules by conducting an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo.
A source close to Mr Hancock said: “I’m A Celeb is the most watched show on TV.
“Matt doesn’t expect to serve in government again, so it’s an incredible opportunity for him to engage with the 12 million Brits who tune in every single night.
“Matt has told the whips in parliament, and he will use his time in the jungle to promote his dyslexia campaign.”
The news has sparked a backlash from politicians and COVID campaigners, but the source close to Mr Hancock insisted “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,” they said.
“Where better to show the human side of those who make these decisions than with the most-watched programme on TV?”.
‘Cashing in on terrible legacy’
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here! starts on ITV on 6 November and sees contestants live in extreme conditions in a jungle environment, completing trials to win meals and votes from the public.
Mr Hancock is the bookies favourite to do the most bushtucker trials, though his odds to win the competition are significantly slimmer.
The politician will appear alongside pop icon Boy George, and ex-rugby player Mike Tindall, who is married to the King’s niece Zara Tindall.
In Mr Hancock’s constituency, Andy Drummond, the deputy chairman of West Suffolk Conservative Association, told the PA news agency: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis.”
Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, said Mr Hancock has “no shame”, while 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.
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne took a pop at Mr Hancock, saying: “To be fair to Matt Hancock, I’d sooner eat wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too.”
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.”
A spokesperson for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign has also criticised Mr Hancock’s decision to go on the show, saying he is “not a celebrity” and accusing him of “trying to cash in on his terrible legacy”.
The group has set up a petition calling for the politician to be removed from the show’s line-up.
However, Andrew Smith, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, said he could see why Mr Hancock might want to appear on the show “given what’s happened to him and his personal life and his career”.
Hancock initially ‘turned down gig due to instability in government’
Mr Hancock was among supporters of Rishi 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.
The source close to Mr Hancock claimed he initially turned down the opportunity to appear on the reality TV show – despite being “flattered and curious”, because of the “instability” the government was facing at the time.
However, he now believes the administration is “stable” under Mr Sunak and views his stint on the show as an opportunity to talk about issues he cares about.
PM ‘believes MPs should be working hard for their constituents’
The House of Commons is in recess from 10-14 November, but celebrities could spend up to three weeks in the jungle – meaning Mr Hancock would miss significant Commons business, including the Autumn Statement.
Following the news, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “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 indeed in their constituencies.”
When asked whether the former health secretary consulted Mr Sunak about the decision, a spokesperson said: “Not that I’m aware of.”
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACAB) has said it will write to former health secretary asking him why he didn’t notify them about his appearance, saying the ministerial code required Mr Hancock to talk to it first.
Mr Hancock will not be the first politician to enter the jungle.
Nadine Dorries took part in I’m A Celebrity in 2012, the first sitting MP to appear on the show, but was suspended by the Conservative Party for her appearance.
Stanley Johnson, Boris Johnson’s father and a former Conservative MEP, also braved the Australian jungle as part of the show’s 17th series.