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From creepy crawlies to the Commons: What’s next for West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock?

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock survived more than two weeks in the jungle, coming face-to-face with countless critters, including one particularly feisty scorpion, and enduring some truly stomach-churning challenges.

The former health secretary surpassed expectations to reach the final of ITV’s I’m A Celebrity and came third in a public vote.

But the political future of the controversial MP who lost the Tory whip over his trip to Australia is on a looser footing.

Mr Hancock will have to face trials of a different kind when he returns to Westminster.

So, what will the next few weeks hold for the man who was only last year leading the UK’s response to the Covid pandemic?

Here are some options that could be in store for Mr Hancock.

Matt Hancock lost the Tory whip (James Manning/PA) (60931617)
Matt Hancock lost the Tory whip (James Manning/PA) (60931617)

– Hasty exit

It is possible Mr Hancock could choose to step down as an MP although this appears unlikely as he is under no obligation to do so.

There is a process by which constituents can “recall” their elected representative before the end of their term.

But this can only be triggered by three circumstances: a criminal conviction, a suspension from the House following a sanction from the Standards Committee, or an offence relating to false or misleading allowance claims.

This means it is up to Mr Hancock whether he continues serving as the MP for West Suffolk until the next election.

Should he wish to represent the seat again, he will need to convince the voters in the constituency to support him.

This may be tricky given he caused some upset by parking his parliamentary responsibilities to feature in the reality show thousands of miles from home.

– Frozen out

Even if he thinks he can win over the electorate, there is every chance Mr Hancock may be denied the opportunity to stand as a Tory MP again.

The former health secretary is currently sitting as an Independent MP, having had the Conservative whip suspended over his decision to join the show at a time when Parliament was sitting.

If this is not restored by the deadline for Tory candidates to declare their intention to stand again, on December 5, he remains officially unaffiliated.

At this stage, the party will have to begin the process of choosing a new candidate for his seat.

If he does get the whip back by December 5, Mr Hancock could still be frozen out of the next general election by his local association.

Should he wish to run again, he will need to make a written application to their executive council, which will hold a secret ballot.

If he does not get their support, he will have the right to request a postal vote of the full membership of the association.

Alternatively, he can have his name automatically added to the final list of candidates to be considered at a general meeting of the local party.

His prospects in this regard have been called into question, as his jungle jaunt was met with some hostility by Andy Drummond, deputy chairman (political) of West Suffolk’s Tory association.

“I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me (on) that,” he said.

– Change of direction

Helpfully, there is precedent on whether an MP can have the whip restored after appearing on I’m A Celeb.

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries was briefly kicked out of the parliamentary party when she decided to make the trip to Australia in 2012.

Six months later, in May 2013, she got the whip back.

It is not clear whether Mr Hancock will fight to return to the Tory ranks or settle down for the rest of his term as an Independent MP.

In an indication of his political ambitions going forward – or lack thereof – an ally has said the former health secretary “doesn’t expect to serve in government again”.

– Disciplinary risk

Mr Hancock has also landed himself in hot water with Parliament’s anti-corruption watchdog, as he was found to have broken Government rules by not consulting the body before appearing on the reality show.

Lord Pickles, the Tory chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) which advises on post-ministerial jobs, has alerted Cabinet Officer minister Oliver Dowden to the breach.

He has said it is up to Mr Dowden to decide on any potential punishment.

But Lord Pickles personally believes further action would be “disproportionate”.

– Covid questions

Mr Hancock’s stint down under has proved hugely controversial partly because it clashes with the UK’s highly anticipated Covid inquiry.

His decision to join the reality show has drawn ire from campaigners, with some going so far as to fly a plane over the jungle bearing the message: “Covid bereaved say get out of here!.”

The 38 Degrees group, who are working with Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said a noise complaint to the pilot suggested the stunt did not go unheard.

Chief executive Matthew McGregor said Mr Hancock should be giving bereaved families “the answers they deserve”, rather than “playing games for dingo dollars and plastic stars”.

But a spokesperson for the former health secretary insisted he “continues to support the Covid inquiry”, which is so wide-ranging that it has been split into three modules, with more to be announced.

The inquiry is expected to last at least a year, with the first evidence sessions starting in May 2023.