Matt Hancock has announced that he will stand down at the next election, with the head of his local Tory association saying he is “not fit” to be the West Suffolk MP.
Mr Hancock, a former health secretary, sparked outrage and was stripped of the Conservative whip for appearing on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!.
He revealed his plan to step aside in a letter to Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, after weeks of allies insisting that he would contest his West Suffolk seat.
Mr Hancock told the Prime Minister that he had “discovered a whole new world of possibilities” following his stint on the TV show. He said he wanted to “do things differently” and explore “new ways for me to communicate with people of all ages and from all backgrounds”.
Moments later, remarks emerged from his constituency association chief expressing “no confidence” in him as the sitting MP.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Hancock insisted he had been told he would have the Tory whip restored “in due course”.
He said he would “play my part in the debate about the future of our country and engage with the public in new ways” outside the Commons.
“There was a time when I thought the only way to influence the public debate was in Parliament, but I’ve realised there’s far more to it than that,” he wrote.
“I have increasingly come to believe that for a healthy democracy we must find new ways to reach people – especially those who are disengaged with politics.
“The revival of modern conservatism over the next decade will I suspect take place as much outside Parliament as in it.
“I have discovered a whole new world of possibilities which I am excited to explore – new ways for me to communicate with people of all ages and from all backgrounds.”
A political ally of the former health secretary said he “won’t be doing any more reality TV” despite viewing his time in the Australian jungle as “a success”.
“There are lots of irons in the fire, but Matt will now look to use his public profile to highlight the serious issues he cares about, such as dyslexia,” said the ally.
Mr Hancock reportedly received a £400,000 fee for appearing on I’m A Celebrity and has said he will give at least part of that to a local hospice and other charities.
He has also taken part in another reality show, SAS: Who Dares Wins, for which he pocketed £45,000, according to his register of financial interests.
Terry Wood, the president of the West Suffolk Conservatives, said the officers of the association passed a no confidence vote in their MP on Nov 30.
He told Simon Hart, the Chief Whip, in a letter that they had concluded he was “not fit to represent this constituency” and should not be reinstated.
Ian Houlder, a local Tory councillor, said Mr Hancock was “up the creek without a paddle as far as not being the MP for West Suffolk was concerned”.
He said Mr Hancock “was looking at his options, quite rightly as anybody would, and he’s gone for the money”, adding: “He’s going to linger on until the next general election whenever that’s called, probably a couple of years if Rishi lasts that long, and that’s it.
“He’ll take his goodbye money, his pension and his salary up to that date. Then he’ll go off and do what he says he wants to do in his letter.”
Lance Stanbury, another Tory councillor, added it was “inevitable… because clearly he was heavily criticised by local party members and indeed lost the whip”.
He said: “Given there was no likelihood of him being back in the Government, I believe that he’s made a decision that’s right for him.”
But he disputed the claim that the association had expressed no confidence in Mr Hancock and said the remarks by Cllr Wood were unauthorised.
An ally of the former health secretary said the letter was “irrelevant” and that “Matt had already decided not to stand again when it came to light”.
Mr Hancock was first elected MP for the ultra-safe seat in 2010 and has served in government for 10 of his 12 years in Parliament.
He was health secretary during the Covid pandemic but was forced to resign after his rule-breaking affair with aide Gina Colangelo was exposed.