LONDON – Former U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who led Britain's response to COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic, was suspended by the Conservative Party on Tuesday after signing up to a reality TV show.
Hancock, who is no longer in government but remains a member of Parliament, is to compete on “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here.” The show sends a group of famous people, often C-list celebrities, to the Australian rainforest, subjects them to trials involving spiders and snakes, and allows the public to vote them out one by one.
Other contestants this year include Culture Club singer Boy George and former rugby player Mike Tindall, whose wife, Zara, is the niece of King Charles III.
Conservative Chief Whip Simon Hart called Hancock's participation in the program “a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect.” That means Hancock will not be part of the Conservative caucus in Parliament but will sit as an independent.
Hancock quit as health secretary in June 2021 after breaching coronavirus lockdown rules by having an affair with an aide in his office – violating a ban on different households mixing.
Hancock said he planned to use the show to raise awareness about dyslexia.
A group that campaigns for relatives of people who died during the pandemic said Hancock should be “seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in government.” The U.K. has recorded almost 178,000 coronavirus deaths.
“My family was ripped apart by Matt Hancock’s actions, and turning on the TV to see him being paraded around as a joke is sickening,” Lobby Akinnola, a member of the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants, also was unimpressed.
“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,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be an inspiration to other public servants.”
Max Blain, the spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said “the prime minister believes that at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for their constituents.” Blain said it was “unlikely” Sunak would watch “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here.”
Still, a political comeback for Hancock is not out of the question. Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries was suspended in 2012 for appearing on the same show. Nine years later, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed her to his Cabinet.
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