Matt Hancock has announced he will not be standing as an MP at the next election after discovering a “whole new world of possibilities” following his I’m A Celebrity stint.
The former health secretary said he had been told he would get the Conservative whip back following his controversial and lucrative stay in the Australian jungle for the reality TV show.
But the West Suffolk MP wrote to Rishi Sunak saying he will not be running at the next general election as he looks to “influence the public debate” from outside Parliament.
His decision came after a senior figure in his local Tory association wrote to Conservative Chief Whip Simon Hart arguing that Mr Hancock is “not fit” to represent the area.
Mr Hancock was stripped of the Conservative whip, meaning he was forced to sit as an independent MP in the Commons, for going on the ITV show while the House was sitting.
His spokesman as recently as last week insisted that he had “no intention of standing down” despite speculation he had plans to find fame elsewhere.
But writing to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, Mr Hancock said he wants to “play my part in the debate about the future of our country and engage with the public in new ways”.
He said Mr Hart had told him he would get the Tory whip back “in due course” as the party seeks to confirm its candidates for the next general election in around two years.
However, Mr Hancock told the PM that will be “now not necessary” and that he wants to “do things differently” as he urged the party to “reconnect” with the public.
“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 said.
“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.”
In a separate video on TikTok Mr Hancock said he would be using “new and innovative ways” to communicate with the public.
Anger continued to simmer in Mr Hancock’s local Conservative association, with West Suffolk Tory councillor Ian Houlder telling the PA news agency the MP had been “up the creek without a paddle”.
His exit strategy announcement came after constituency president Terry Wood wrote to Mr Hart saying the MP is “not fit to represent this constituency”.
In the letter dated December 1 and posted on the West Suffolk Conservatives’ website, Mr Wood said he had been instructed by the group’s officers to advise they had ruled they have “no confidence” in Mr Hancock and do not want him to get the whip back.
But fellow association member Lance Stanbury accused Mr Wood of acting without authority in sending the letter to the chief whip.
Mr Stanbury said: “I’m a member of the executive of the West Suffolk association and no-one has approached any executive council members for their opinion.
“I also believe that this letter has not been produced with the agreement of the senior officers of the party and therefore I believe Mr Wood has no authority to send such a letter.”
A political ally of Mr Hancock called the letter “irrelevant” and said that Mr Hancock “had already decided not to stand again when it came to light”.
Mr Hancock joins a string of high-profile Tories, including former Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid and Chloe Smith, in announcing their intention to step down.
The party has been struggling to recover from a plummet in its standing in opinion polls, with Labour around 20 percentage points higher.
Mr Hancock came a surprise third in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! after enduring several bushtucker trials and grillings over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
He pledged to donate a portion of his reported £400,000 fee for his 18 days in the jungle and has received a further £45,000 to appear on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
In June last year, he resigned for breaking social distancing guidance by kissing and embracing an aide in his office while health secretary.
His decision to the show was controversial and his decision prompted criticism from Mr Sunak and other top Tories, as well as mockery from some fellow MPs.
The recent publication of his Pandemic Diaries has also offered fresh insights into the workings of Government as the Covid-19 virus hit the UK in 2020.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting was among quick to welcome Mr Hancock’s impending departure from Parliament.
“He’s not a celebrity! Get him out of here!” he tweeted.
Mr Hancock has represented the safe Conservative seat of West Suffolk since 2010.