Matt Hancock will end his political career by appearing on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, furious Conservative MPs predicted, as the former health secretary faced accusations he was trying to cash in on Covid misery.
The MP was suspended by the Conservative Party after it emerged he will spend what could be weeks in the Australian jungle instead of in parliament.
Families of those who died during the pandemic have launched a petition demanding ITV remove him from the reality TV show.
The deputy chair of his local association also angrily attacked the MP’s decision, saying, in reference to the programme’s notorious “bushtucker trials”: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me that.”
Mr Hancock has spent months trying to rehabilitate his reputation after he was forced to resign when it emerged he had broken his own social distancing rules to carry on an extramarital affair with his aide.
But he is now facing an extraordinary backlash over his decision to jet halfway around the world.
One former minister told The Independent that, in the wake of the controversy, he assumed Mr Hancock would not seek re-election.
Another accused him of “burning bridges behind him… I very much doubt he intends to stand [again].”
Tory MP and former children’s minister Tim Loughton went further and suggested his local party should deselect the “absolute prat”.
He said he was “disgusted” that Mr Hancock had “put himself and a so-called celebrity career” ahead of serving his constituents.
“The least he deserves is having the whip withdrawn from him, and if his local constituency have got any sense they might deselect him as well,” he added.
It was particularly wrong for Mr Hancock to be abroad at a time when MPs were working hard to help constituents through the cost of living crisis, he told Times Radio.
In a statement Mr Hancock’s local Tory association agreed, accusing him of a “serious error of judgement”.
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.”
A spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, who declined to give Mr Hancock a ministerial role last week, said the prime minister “believes that at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for their constituents in the House or in their constituencies.”
Mr Sunak is unlikely to watch the programme, they added.
Allies of Mr Hancock said he would use his appearance to promote his work on dyslexia.
One said there were many ways to do the job of an MP and appearing on the most-watched programme on TV would “show the human side of those who make [political] decisions”.
He added that the show’s producers had agreed that Mr Hancock can communicate with his staff if there is an urgent matter in his constituency.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said: “It speaks volumes that Matt Hancock would rather be stranded in a remote jungle eating kangaroo testicles than spend a moment longer on the Tory benches at Westminster, as Rishi Sunak’s government lurches from one crisis to another.”
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “To be fair to Matt Hancock, I’d sooner eat wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too.”
I’m A Celebrity... is not the only television show Mr Hancock is due to appear on in the next few months. He has also been signed up for Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins, which is due to air on Channel 4 next year.
Tory MP David Simmonds: “I wish him luck, I hope it’s OK. But I don’t think it’s the best use of his time when his constituents in the UK have need of an MP to represent them.”
Mr Hancock has been approached for comment.