Steve Brine breached rules when lobbying ministers in pandemic, watchdog finds

More Tory rule breaking – Owl

A leading Conservative MP and former health minister did not properly declare his second job for a health recruitment firm when lobbying Matt Hancock and Michael Gove during the pandemic, the standards watchdog has found.

Rowena Mason 

Steve Brine, the chair of the Commons health committee, was found to have breached the rules twice by failing to declare in his approaches to cabinet ministers in early 2021 that he was a paid strategic adviser to Remedium Partners, a recruitment firm offering doctors for free to the NHS.

In a new judgment, the standards commissioner found Brine should have been clearer in emails to Hancock, then the health secretary, and Gove, then a Cabinet Office minister, that he was employed by Remedium.

However, Daniel Greenberg, the commissioner, cleared Brine of paid advocacy because his efforts were not seeking “financial or material benefit” for Remedium because the doctors’ services were offered pro bono.

Greenberg said the case would be dealt with under the “rectification” process, with Brine acknowledging he broke the rules, apologising and promising not to do so again in future.

In response to the report, Brine said: “This was always about responding in the national interest in an emergency so I am pleased, and not surprised, to be cleared of paid advocacy and I accept fully the commissioners advice on declarations that, even in an emergency, I should have been clearer and follow a compliant form of words to avoid any misunderstanding.”

The complaint about Brine was made after messages from Brine to Gove, forwarded to Hancock, were published as part of a leak to the Telegraph of correspondence from the former health secretary during the Covid era.

The message said: “I have been trying for months to help the NHS through a company I am connected with – called ‘Remedium’. They have 50 anaesthetists right now who can be in the country and on the ground in the NHS if someone only said let’s us help. They just want to assist and asked me how they might.

“Despite offering this to health and to [the then chief of NHS England] Simon Stevens I’ve had nothing despite SS telling the press conference last week this is an acute problem, despite the PM telling the liaison committee this is his biggest problem etc etc.”

In his findings, Greenberg said: “It is disappointing that you have not been able to provide me with a detailed breakdown of the earlier approaches that you made to ministers and NHS officials, which you reference in your message to Mr Gove.

“Members working on behalf of an external employer are well advised to keep detailed records on such matters, not least so that they can be in a position to robustly defend their actions if challenged.”

During the course of the investigation, Brine also disclosed a further email he sent to Hancock in January 2021, saying: “Earlier at the liaison committee the PM said ‘we need more doctors’. He is obviously right. See below from friends of mine who I KNOW can help. They clearly have doctors right here and now who can help but they need your help. Can you help? Let me know.”

Brine was employed by Remedium as an ad hoc consultant being paid £800 a day from September 2019 to February 2020. From July 2020 he was paid £1,600 for eight hours’ work a month, which continued until the end of December 2021.

Under parliament’s rules, MPs are not allowed to lobby for any firm that pays them if it would confer “financial or material reward” on that company. It was a breach of this ban on paid lobbying that led to the resignation of the former Tory minister Owen Paterson in 2021.

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