Tory MPs set to revolt against Boris Johnson over ban on lobbying and second jobs

Boris Johnson faces a confrontation with his backbenchers today as he pushes for MPs to be banned from taking on second jobs as consultants.

Steven Swinford,Henry Zeffman, www.thetimes.co.uk

The prime minister gave in yesterday to pressure over sleaze by proposing that MPs be barred from acting as paid political consultants. He also called for a limit on the amount of time MPs can spend on outside interests.

He will push his plans to a vote in the Commons today in an attempt to outflank Labour. The move represents a significant shift in Johnson’s position a fortnight after his botched attempt to block the suspension of Owen Paterson, a former cabinet minister.

There was a backlash yesterday from Tory MPs with outside interests, who accused him of “capitulation”. One said: “It’s pouring petrol on to the flames. He’s caved to the left. Now if you have a consultancy it will be assumed you’re evil.”

Another MP said that Johnson announced the plans because he was concerned about being embarrassed during an appearance before the liaison committee of MPs this afternoon. “There’s a lot of unease. It’s the lurching, the U-turning, the lack of consultation.”

However, the proposals do not bar MPs from taking paid directorships or acting as consultants in non-political roles. Many of the 29 Tory MPs who act as consultants believe that they will be able to continue working because their second jobs are unrelated to parliament.

There was more concern on the back benches about plans to place “reasonable limits” on outside work by MPs to ensure they are focused on their constituents. “It looks very odd,” one senior Tory MP said. “How do you determine how much time people should be spending on something? How do you arbitrate on that? How do you define parliamentary consultancy?”

In a letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, Johnson identified two recommendations from a 2018 report by the committee on standards in public life for inclusion in an updated code of conduct for MPs. One of the new provisions would be that “any outside activity undertaken by an MP, whether remunerated or unremunerated, should be within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from fully carrying out their range of duties”.

The move follows criticism of Sir Geoffrey Cox, a former attorney-general, who voted in parliament from the Caribbean while advising the government of the British Virgin Islands in a case brought by the British government.

The other would state that “MPs should not accept any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on parliamentary affairs or on how to influence parliament and its members”.

Johnson published his letter moments before Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, began a speech about his proposals to ban most outside earnings for MPs.

The government’s amendment calls for “cross-party work” to “bring forward recommendations” on changes in line with Johnson’s ideas by the end of January. Unlike Labour’s motion, it does not specify that that work must be completed by the standards committee.

Labour accused the government of “dirty tricks” last night because its amendment does not guarantee parliamentary time for a vote on changing the standards rules next year.

There are 25 politicians who spend the equivalent of at least one working day a week on outside work for which they are paid. Almost one in four Tory MPs spend at least 100 hours a year on their second job.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP and chairman of the standards committee, which is already looking into the code of conduct, accused Downing Street of “flapping about like a demented chicken”.

Johnson held a Downing Street reception last night for Tory MPs from the 2019 intake during which he apologised for “driving the golf ball into the sandpit” over his handling of the Paterson vote and sleaze allegations.

Sidmouth and Ottery councillors clash over Four Elms Hill roadworks at meeting

Cllr. Stuart Hughes acting as high handed as ever – Owl

Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporter sidmouth.nub.news

Roadworks at a notorious accident blackspot near Sidmouth are expected to be completed in the next day or two, but a Devon County Council highways chief has been criticised for the “undemocratic” way he’s handled the concerns raised about the road.

Councillor Stuart Hughes (Conservative, Sidmouth), cabinet member for highway management at Devon County Council (DCC), says the roadworks on the A3052 Four Elms Hill near Sidmouth which started on Monday should be completed by Wednesday. The works involve new double-white lines indicating ‘no overtaking’, signs urging motorists to slow down and a skid-resistant surface on parts of the road.

The news will come as a relief to some residents who have been urging the council to improve safety on the stretch of the A3052 by reducing speeding and dangerous overtaking. Councillor Jess Bailey (Independent, Otter Valley) said she will be happy when “the long-overdue works” are done but has criticised the way Cllr Hughes handled the issue at DCC.

Following a request by Cllr Bailey, an update on the works at Four Elms was provided recently by county council officers to members of its East Devon Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC). Cllr Hughes, who chaired the meeting, did not allow committee members to comment on the update despite a request made by Cllr Bailey.

Cllr Hughes did not allow Councillor Bailey to speak on the issue because she had called for the update and, as it had been given by an officer, “therefore there was nothing to discuss.”

She said she was “gobsmacked” she was denied the right to speak, adding: “I was left, literally, speechless. Cllr Hughes also prevented Cllr Hayward, who is a member of the committee and clerk for Newton Poppleford Parish Councillor, from speaking, too.

“In not allowing me to speak, Cllr Hughes, from the position of chair of the meeting, blocked me from doing my job on behalf of residents.

“It is very disappointing to be treated in such a dismissive way by Cllr Hughes who, as the portfolio holder for highways, sets the tone for his entire department.

Cllr Bailey added: “I think it’s very undemocratic to silence your ward member. If they’ve got a question they should be able to ask it.”

And now to the House of Lords

“The Lords is as central as the Commons to the latest outbreak of “sleaze” headlines, something also highlighted by a prime ministerial spokesperson’s initial refusal to rule out smoothing the exit from the Commons of the disgraced MP Owen Paterson by making him a peer. The Lords element of the story, moreover, has an even clearer underlying plotline: the survival of a part of the British state that has long been absurd and corrupt – and the sense that, as our established institutions are constantly disrupted and disgraced, the public might at last be persuaded to support the idea of doing something about it.”

Fifteen of the last 16 Tory treasurers have been appointed to the Lords, all of whom have donated at least £3m to their party.

Read more here:

The Lords is a scandal in plain sight. If we won’t abolish it now, then when?

John Harris www.theguardian.com 

Michael Gove backer won £164m in PPE contracts after ‘VIP lane’ referral

A Conservative party donor who supported Michael Gove’s Tory leadership bid won £164m in Covid contracts after the minister referred his firm to a “VIP lane” that awarded almost £5bn to companies with political connections, new analysis reveals.

David Conn www.theguardian.com 

The disclosure draws Gove into a furore over alleged cronyism that has led critics to accuse the government of running a “chumocracy” where MPs’ friends, contacts or acquaintances have won huge contracts without proper process or transparency.

Meller Designs, based in Bedford, was awarded six personal protective equipment (PPE) supply contracts worth £164m from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) during the coronavirus pandemic.

Until January this year it was co-owned by David Meller, who has donated nearly £60,000 to the Tory party since 2009. This included £3,250 to support Gove’s party leadership bid in 2016, a campaign on which Meller worked as chair of finance.

When the contracts were awarded, Gove was a minister at the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for government procurement, and in charge of the office of the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which referred Meller Designs for PPE supply.

The company was among 47 awarded contracts for PPE totalling £4.7bn after referrals from politicians and officials, according to a Guardian analysis. Several were linked to MPs, all of them Conservative. Due to the health emergency, many contracts were awarded without competitive tender.

The list of 47 companies awarded contracts via the VIP lane was published by Politico on Tuesday before its official planned release by the DHSC after a freedom of information request by the Good Law Project, which is challenging the propriety of some contracts.

The VIP or “high-priority” route was a fast-track process set up by DHSC procurement teams for offers to supply PPE from companies referred by ministers, MPs, NHS officials or other people with political connections. A report by the National Audit Office last year found that firms referred to the VIP lane had a 10 times greater success rate for securing contracts than companies whose bids were processed via normal channels.

Labour has repeatedly accused the government of favouring people with Tory party connections in the awards of multimillion-pound contracts during the pandemic.

The list of companies includes 18 whose contracts were processed through the fast track after being referred by a Conservative MP, minister or peer. When questions were first asked about the process last year, the government responded that referrals were a way of filtering credible offers that came to MPs and ministers. However, only companies referred by Conservative politicians are on the list of those awarded contracts.

The then health secretary, Matt Hancock, referred four firms subsequently awarded contracts; Andrew Feldman, a health department adviser at the time, referred three of the companies; Theodore Agnew, a Cabinet Office minister, referred three; and the Tory backbenchers Julian Lewis, Andrew Percy, Steve Brine and Esther McVey referred one each.

Another Tory peer, the lingerie businesswoman Michelle Mone, is stated to have referred one company, PPE Medpro, which was awarded two contracts worth £200m via the VIP lane. Corporate services including accounting and directorships were provided to the company by Knox House Trust (KHT), an Isle of Man firm run by Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman.

Mone, who made her career and fortune with her Ultimo lingerie company, last year denied to the Guardian via her lawyers that she had “any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro”. Mone’s lawyers told the Guardian she maintains her denial of involvement.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and the shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, said in relation to Gove: “It shows just how engulfed in corruption this government is that the minister in charge of procurement and ensuring that contracts are awarded to the best bidder and represent value for money for the taxpayer was helping his own donor to get VIP fast-track access to contracts.

“It is time this … government published the full details of every PPE and testing contract awarded to companies with links to the Conservative party, Conservative ministers and Conservative MPs.”

A spokesperson for Gove denied that the referral involved any impropriety, saying he passed on offers to supply PPE. “The former minister for the Cabinet Office played no role in the decision to award any PPE contract, and all ministerial interests were properly declared to officials,” they said.

A spokesperson for David Meller said he had nothing to add to a previous statement provided by Meller Designs, which said it had approached the government offering to supply equipment and was “extremely proud” of the role it played in supplying “more than 100m items of PPE”.

The Cabinet Office has refused Freedom of Information Act requests from the Guardian to release correspondence between Meller and Gove during the pandemic.

A lawyer for Mone and Barrowman said: “Baroness Mone is neither an investor, director or shareholder in any way associated with PPE Medpro. She has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro.” They added that she did not accept that PPE Medpro was “referred in as alleged” or “that our clients misled anyone”.

The DHSC has stressed that ministers were not involved in decisions to award contracts, and that all company offers referred were subjected to a due diligence process. A government spokesperson said: “At the height of the pandemic there was a desperate need for PPE to protect health and social care staff and the government rightly took swift and decisive action to secure it. Ministers were not involved in awarding contracts.”

Lord Feldman said the companies were referred to him by third parties and he passed them on to officials. He was “neither responsible for nor played any part in the decision to award these contracts … never had any commercial relationship with them or their owners” and “did not request, or indeed know, that these offers has been assigned to the high-priority lane”.

The Cabinet Office said Lord Agnew had been referring on companies that had approached his office. Uniserve said the DHSC had approached it directly and that it had no connections with Agnew.

McVey and Lewis said the companies they referred were local to their constituencies. All other MPs and peers have been contacted for comment.

Farmer Parish spent yesterday dealing with pigs.

Without a division we will never know whether Neil changed his mind, he may not have even been in the chamber for the U-Turn debate. So he may have escaped cleaning out the stables.

Yesterday Neil Parish was at the Commons environment committee where George Eustice, the environment secretary, was giving evidence.

“ The hearing opened with some highly critical questions from Neil Parish, a Conservative, who complained that the visa systems offered by the government were not doing enough to address the serious problems facing farmers. He went on:

All we are doing at the moment is staggering on, as far as I can see. The pig sector is not profitable. Pig prices are on the floor …

A lot of pig farmers will stop keeping pigs, bluntly. Poultry is being reduced. All of these visas are very time limited, and half the time people don’t want to come for a short period.

What gets me so cross is we put in place a system that’s not working. And when the industry doesn’t take it up, you’ll say the industry didn’t take it up, so it’s all the industry’s fault. No, it’s not the industry’s fault.

We’ve got a very good industry which, as far as I can see, we are not actually destroying, but we are actually making it very difficult.

Eustice said he thought the visa scheme should be working for the pig and poultry sector. He also said that pig production had increased by about 7% or 8% this year, and that was part of the reason for the problem of over-supply.”

Boris Johnson proposes ban on MPs working as paid consultants

Is he sincere? Too little, too late! – Owl

Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com 

Boris Johnson has bowed to pressure from Labour to take tougher action against MPs with second jobs, as he sought to avoid haemorrhaging further public support in the wake of sleaze scandals that have engulfed the Conservative party in recent weeks.

The prime minister said MPs who prioritise outside financial interests over their job representing constituents should be investigated and “appropriately punished”, and all MPs should be banned from acting as paid political lobbyists.

The move came at the end of a humiliating episode for Johnson, when, after two weeks, the government finally U-turned on its plan to save the Tory ex-cabinet minister Owen Paterson from suspension by approving a report that found he committed an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules, which it had initially blocked.

MPs’ second jobs have also been in the spotlight recently after it was revealed that the former attorney general Geoffrey Cox had earned hundreds of thousands of pounds for legal work, appeared to use his parliamentary office to attend a hearing remotely, and voted by proxy from the Caribbean.

Johnson wrote to the Commons Speaker on Tuesday, just as the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, was due to give a speech challenging ministers to support a tougher approach to MPs’ outside financial interests.

The prime minister said the MPs’ code of conduct should be updated so their work “continues to command the confidence of the public”, and added that any elected legislator’s “primary role” should be “to serve their constituents”.

Johnson said he supported two recommendations made in a 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The first said MPs should not undertake any extra employment that would “prevent them from carrying out their range of duties”.

The second said MPs should not receive “any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”, for example by advising on “how to influence parliament and its members”.

Johnson said adopting these suggestions would “form the basis of viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public”.

He added it was “a matter of regret” the suggestions made a year before he won the keys to Downing Street had not been implemented already, and voiced his support for them being “adopted as a matter of urgency”.

The move represents an about-turn for Johnson, who has resisted backing calls over the past few weeks for tougher action against MPs’ second jobs.

It is also likely to rile some of the more traditional members of his party, whom Johnson has previously defended and said that their expertise in fields outside politics was actually a positive.

The announcement came as Starmer was preparing to announce an opposition day motion to be put forward in the Commons on Wednesday that called for all of the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to be implemented.

When he was told of Johnson’s intervention at a press conference on Tuesday, Starmer said: “So we’ve won the vote tomorrow already.”