Matt Hancock broke rules with I'm A Celeb appearance, says watchdog

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Matt Hancock dressed for the I'm a Celebrity jungleImage source, ITV
Image caption,
Matt Hancock has said he wanted to go into the jungle to raise awareness of his dyslexia campaign

Matt Hancock broke government rules on post-ministerial jobs by not consulting the anti-corruption watchdog before joining I'm A Celebrity, the body's chairman has said.

However, Lord Pickles advised ministers that taking action against the MP would be disproportionate.

Ex-ministers must seek advice from the Acoba watchdog on jobs they accept within two years of leaving office.

Mr Hancock had argued he did not need to get clearance for the TV show.

In a letter to Lord Pickles, sent earlier this month, the former health secretary defended his appearance on both ITV's I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! and Channel 4's SAS Who Dares Wins by arguing that "one-off media appearances such as these do not count as an appointment or employment".

However, Lord Pickles - who heads the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) - replied: "The rules are clear that an application is required where individuals plan a series of media activities and it is for Acoba to assess the associated risks.

"As such, failing to seek and await advice before these roles were announced or taken up in this case is a breach of the government's rules and the requirements set out in the ministerial code."

Writing to Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden to inform him of the breach, Lord Pickles said: "It is a matter for you to decide what appropriate action to take.

"However, given the transparent nature of Mr Hancock's role which is limited to appearing on these shows... I believe it would be disproportionate to take any further action in this case."

He concluded his letter by stressing that media and broadcast appointments were at the "low risk end of the spectrum" and suggested the government may want to simplify the process to "allow the system to focus on more complicated roles which overlap with an applicant's responsibility in government service".

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: "The Acoba website clearly states that it does not regard media appearances as an appointment or employment. The guidance on the website was followed in good faith."

The Acoba website says the committee "does not regard 'one-off' activities such as speeches, broadcasts, or newspaper articles as 'appointments or employment' under the government's rules".

The West Suffolk MP was suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party after joining the I'm A Celebrity cast.

He has also been criticised by Conservative colleagues and his local Conservative association who said it was "disappointed" and accused Mr Hancock of a "serious error of judgement".

However, he has defended his decision arguing that the programme is "a powerful tool to get our message heard by younger generations".

He said he would donate some of his fee for the programme to a hospice in his constituency and dyslexia charities.

He remains in the programme having survived the fourth elimination round which saw singer Boy George voted off the show.