Former health secretary Matt Hancock has had the whip suspended after a source close to him said he will be going 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.
Politics live: COVID campaigners call for Matt Hancock to be kicked off reality TV show
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.
The source 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 MPs and COVID campaigners, with the Lib Dems calling for Mr Hancock to lose his MPs salary while he is in the jungle.
But the source close to him 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 program 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.
Members of Mr Hancock’s local Tory Party are less than pleased about his decision to fly to Australia to appear on the show.
Andy Drummond, the deputy chairman of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, told the PA news agency: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis.”
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 criticized 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”.
However, Andrew Smith, a Conservative councilor 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”.
He added: “It’s not a show I would watch or indeed I would personally do – I don’t like eating things that I don’t know where they’ve come from, if you get my drift.”
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’
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.”
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.
She later apologized to the House of Commons over the fee she was paid for appearing in the popular programme, which saw her become the first contestant voted out of the jungle by the public.
Responding to Mr Hancock’s news, she joked that at least “he doesn’t have to worry about George Osborne in No10 waiting to remove his whip when he gets back”.
Stanley Johnson, Boris Johnson’s father and a former Conservative MEP, also braved the Australian jungle as part of the show’s 17th series.