Matt Hancock defends joining I’m A Celebrity cast in Australia so he can ‘go to where the people are’

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The former Health Secretary has been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party for his decision to appear on the reality TV show

Matt Hancock has defended joining the cast of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, saying his decision was driven by a need to “deliver important messages to the masses”.

The former Health Secretary insisted “I haven’t lost my marbles” by deciding to appear on the popular ITV reality show and said it will allow him to “go to where the people are”.

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His decision to join the cast has meant his whip has been removed, effectively expelling him from the parliamentary Conservative Party and forcing him to sit as an independent until it is reinstated.

The West Suffolk MP said his “first priority” is to his constituents as he flew more than 10,000 miles to join the show in Australia, which starts on Sunday (6 November).

Hancock said in an article for The Sun that the show is “a great opportunity to talk directly to people who aren’t always interested in politics”, adding that reality TV is an “honest and unfiltered” way to communicate with voters.

He wrote: “It’s our job as politicians to go to where the people are — not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster. There are many ways to do the job of being an MP. Whether I’m 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.”

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He added: “So, the truth is, I haven’t lost my marbles or had one too many pina coladas. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to.”

The former Health Secretary has been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party for joining the ITV show (Photo: Getty Images)The former Health Secretary has been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party for joining the ITV show (Photo: Getty Images)
The former Health Secretary has been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party for joining the ITV show (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Hancock said he wants to use the “incredible platform” to raise awareness of dyslexia. He said he turned down the programme “twice this summer” but had a “change of heart” after he was asked for a third time last week.

The MP said it was not the money that changed his mind, saying he will make “a donation” to St Nicholas Hospice Care in Suffolk, although he does not say he will give up the full amount.

He added that he feels able to go to the jungle now that the “government is stable”, and said he can be reached on “any urgent constituency matters”.

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‘An absolute prat’

The MP has been widely mocked on social media for his decision to appear on the show, with on Tory MP describing him as an “absolute prat” while campaigners for families bereaved in the Covid pandemic accused him of trying to “cash in on his terrible legacy”.

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.”

In Hancock’s constituency, Andy Drummond, deputy chairman (political) of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, said: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me on that.”

Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, added that Hancock has “no shame”, stating: “Everybody knows what he did during the Covid pandemic and he seems to want to rehabilitate himself all the time in the public eye. He’s got a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, quite frankly.”

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Meanwhile, Hancock is facing questions over whether he broke rules on seeking permission over jobs taken within two years of leaving office. He did not seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) before agreeing to the appearance, according to the PA news agency.

Lord Pickles, the Conservative chairman of the anti-corruption watchdog, which advises on post-ministerial jobs, is expected to write to Hancock to demand clarification. Under the rules, he should seek clearance from Acoba for any new employment or appointments he takes on until next June.

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

However, the website only says that “one-off” activities are not applicable, with any “longer-term arrangement” requiring a request to Acoba. Depending on how he fairs during public votes, Hancock could remain in the jungle for weeks.

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In April, Tory MP and former housing minister Esther McVey was found to have broken the rules for failing to seek Acoba’s advice over her “regular engagement” as a GB News presenter.

Conservative backbencher Tim Loughton said Hancock has been an “absolute prat” and told Times Radio: “I’m completely disappointed and disgusted that he’s put his self and a so-called celebrity career ahead of serving his constituents.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it is “unlikely” Rishi Sunak will be watching the programme. He said: “The PM believes that at a challenging time for the country MPs should be working hard for their constituents whether that is in the House or in their constituency.”

Hancock was forced to quit as health secretary in June 2021 after breaking coronavirus social distancing rules by having an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo.

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Lobby Akinnola, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice campaign, said: “Matt Hancock isn’t a ‘celebrity’, he’s the former health secretary who oversaw the UK having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules.

“The fact that he is trying to cash in on his terrible legacy, rather than showing some humility or seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in Government, says it all about the sort of person he is.”

The House of Commons is in recess from 10 to 14 November but celebrities could spend up to three weeks in the jungle, meaning Hancock would miss significant Commons business, including the Autumn Statement on 17 November, if he remains in the contest.

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