Matt Hancock has insisted he “hasn’t lost his marbles” as he heads to Australia to join I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! despite widespread criticism.
The West Suffolk MP claimed his “first priority” is to his constituents as he flew more than 10,000 miles to join the ITV show, which starts on Sunday.
The former health secretary, who has been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party, claims he wants to “go to where the people are – not sit in ivory towers in Westminster”.
Mr Hancock defended his decision in an article for The Sunarguing it is “a great opportunity to talk directly to people who aren’t always interested in politics”.
He said reality TV is an “honest and unfiltered” way to communicate with voters.
“It’s our job as politicians to go to where the people are – not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster,” Mr Hancock wrote.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Hancock said he wants to use the “incredible platform” to raise awareness of dyslexia.
He claimed he turned down the programme “twice this summer” but had a “change of heart” after programme producers asked him 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, though he does not say he will give up the full amount.
He said he feels able to go to the jungle now the “government is stable” and claimed he can be reached on “any urgent constituency matters”.
Meanwhile, he is facing questions over whether he broke rules on seeking permission over jobs taken within two years of leaving office.
Mr Hancock did not seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) before agreeing to the appearance, the PA news agency understands.
Lord Pickles, the Conservative chairman of the anti-corruption watchdog, which advises on post-ministerial jobs, is expected to write to Mr Hancock to demand clarification.
Under the rules, Mr Hancock should seek clearance from Acoba for any new employment or appointments he takes on until next June.
A spokesman for Mr 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 fares during public votes, Mr Hancock could remain in the jungle for up to three weeks.
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 Mr Hancock has been an “absolute prat”.
“I’m completely disappointed and disgusted that he’s put himself and a so-called celebrity career ahead of serving his constituents,” he told Times Radio.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said it is “unlikely” Rishi Sunak will be watching the programme.
“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,” the spokesman said.
Mr 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.
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 November 10-14 but celebrities could spend up to three weeks in the jungle – meaning Mr Hancock would miss significant Commons business, including the autumn statement on November 17, if he remains in the contest.
In Mr 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.”