Matt Hancock broke government rules over I’m A Celebrity appearance, Parliament watchdog rules

The West Suffolk MP did not consult Parliament’s anti-corruption watchdog before appearing on the ITV show

Matt Hancock broke government rules on post-ministerial jobs by not consulting the anti-corruption watchdog before appearing on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, the body’s chairman has ruled.

Lord Pickles, the Tory chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) – which advises on post-ministerial jobs - informed Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden of the breach in a letter on Tuesday.

Rules state that former ministers must seek clearance from Acoba for any new employment or appointments he takes on within two years of leaving office.

In a letter to Dowden, Eric Pickles wrote: “I am writing to you in my capacity as chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to bring to your attention a breach of the government’s business appointment rules. Mr Hancock did not seek Acoba’s advice before signing up to two television series, ITV’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins.”

Any disciplinary action would be decided by the Cabinet Office, but Lord Pickles said he believed further action would be “disproportionate”.

Matt Hancock broke government rules on post-ministerial jobs by not consulting the anti-corruption watchdog (Photo: ITV)

‘The rules are clear’

In a letter to Lord Pickles earlier this month, Hancock argued he did not need to ask the body’s permission for either show “as the guidelines state that one-off media appearances such as these do not count as an appointment or employment”.

However, writing to Hancock, Lord Pickles countered: “The rules are clear that an application is required where individuals plan a series of media activities and it is for Acoba to assess the associated risks.

“As such, failing to seek and await advice before these roles were announced or taken up in this case is a breach of the Government’s rules and the requirements set out in the ministerial code.”

On a potential punishment, Lord Pickles told Mr Dowden: “It is a matter for you to decide what appropriate action to take. However, given the transparent nature of Mr Hancock’s role which is limited to appearing on these shows… I believe it would be disproportionate to take any further action in this case.”

The Acoba website says the committee "does not regard ‘one-off’ activities such as speeches, broadcasts, or newspaper articles as ‘appointments or employment’ under the government’s rules".

Lord Pickles concluded his letter by stressing that media and broadcast appointments were at the "low risk end of the spectrum" and suggested the government simplify the process to "allow the system to focus on more complicated roles which overlap with an applicant’s responsibility in government service".

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “The Acoba website clearly states that it does not regard media appearances as an appointment or employment. The guidance on the website was followed in good faith.”

It comes after Hancock had his Conservative whip suspended for appearing on the ITV reality show, meaning he is effectively expelled from the Tory Party and must sit as an independent until the whip is reinstated.

Despite the suspension, Hancock has defended his decision to enter the jungle saying it was driven by a need to “deliver important messages to the masses”. He said it is his job as a politician to “go where the people are” rather than “sit in ivory towers in Westminster”.