Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

Lord Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Three former Conservative Cabinet ministers have been secretly filmed and exposed trying to sell information on Britain’s exit from the European Union. The former cabinet ministers have denied any wrongdoing despite being caught on camera offering to receive money in exchange for advising a fictitious Chinese company. 

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Mitchell were caught trying to profit from providing “intelligence” on Brexit negotiations to a Chinese companyaccording to a joint investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

The Sunday Times was tipped off by sources within Whitehall that Brexit had triggered a “lobbying frenzy,” as businesses are eager to get information about the negotiations. Undercover reporters then invited a number of former ministers to interviews for a job on the advisory board of ‘Tianfen’, a fake Chinese company.

Lansley, who served as health secretary when David Cameron was prime minister, was filmed being offered tens of thousands of pounds for information and “intelligence” on Brexit. He also said the deal could be kept secret from authorities if he was employed through his wife’s PR company, Low Europe, to avoid scrutiny.

He said: “If you have a contract with Low then basically I come with Low. So if you had a contract separately with me it would have to appear separately on the transparency register as a contract with you. But if it’s with Low then its covered by the Low contract.” 

Low says it’s core strategy “is to attract business primarily from clients who have pan-national projects in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.” Lansley is employed by the company, which has recently moved from the UK to Brussels.

On their site, Low say of Lansley: “He has extensive experience of managing reputational issues by communicating through the media; a wide knowledge of how the media works; and a large network of media contacts at the most senior levels.” However, he was clearly complacent regarding the risk of exposure via investigative journalists. 

Peter Lilley, who was the Tory party’s deputy leader between 1998 and 1999, also expressed interest in approaching key ministers for Tianfen. He told the undercover reporters that he sits on two advisory groups with influence over the Brexit process.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who was the international development secretary in Cameron’s government, was willing to give paid advice to the company for £6,000 a day and said he would work up to 10 weeks a year. The Times reported he already gets paid nearly £75,000 for his job as an MP. “My constituents don’t mind what I’m paid,” he said while being filmed.

Lansley said he was already making €5,000 a day (around £4384) by giving Brexit advice to his pharmaceutical clients. He spoke about his connections at the top of government, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

However, he appeared to draw the line at lobbying the Government directly, saying conversations had to “follow the rules”. However,  he did offer introductions to senior Brexit figures.

Lansley said in a statement that he always kept his outside interests separate to his Lord’s duties. 

Lilley revealed his “good relationships” with Liam Fox and David Davis, and said he was happy to have chats with them on behalf of Tianfen. Last week, he denied being asked or agreeing to have private conversations with any ministers on behalf of Tianfen, and any suggestion the company would get insider information was “wholly misplaced.”

Mitchell said he could advise the owner of the company on Brexit, by drawing on his business experience and inner knowledge of government. He said last week that all of his outside interests were fully declared on the Commons register.

In total, the Times has discovered that more than 20 politicians are making money out of Brexit.

The Channel 4 documentary was initially pulled from transmission last week amid a string of complaints from the three men, prompting an emergency review involving Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, and the director of television, Ian Katz.

Lilley accused Channel 4 of a “tawdry attempt at entrapment” and insisted he had done nothing wrong. Mitchell said he was “totally innocent” and suggested that he had launched his own investigation and alerted MI5 after suspecting the approach was fake.

The final decision to delay transmission, by Channel 4 and the Sunday Times, had been taken because of warnings about the potential impact of airing the programme on the health of Lansley, who is currently being treated for cancer.

However, by this time, the former ministers had also briefed their version of events to  the Mail on Sunday last week. That front page account outlined how the three former ministers were asked to come to the Mayfair property and were greeted by a woman named Fei Liu, who claimed she represented “Chinese millionaires.”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the committee on standards in public life, said the behaviour displayed in the footage was unacceptable. “To take advantage of this difficult time and confusion to make extra money doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of concern for the public interest,” he said.

The first of the Nolan principles of public life is that “holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest” and the second is that “holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”

“To take advantage of this difficult time and confusion to make extra money doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of concern for the public interest,” said Sir Alistair Graham,  after seeing the footage.

Lansley has said: “I made it clear in these meetings, which took place while I was undergoing cancer treatment, that I would apply the terms of the House of Lords code in any business relationship; and that this would be written into any contract that I entered into.

“No privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services were offered,” he claimed.

The code of conduct for MPs clearly states that “information which members receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties. Such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain”.

However, Lilley insists that he was not referring to any confidential information – and does not possess any. “That I am a member of groups with experts who express views on Brexit was relevant only to show that I am engaging in the many ways that Brexit can benefit Britain,” he told Channel 4.

He insisted: “I have not undertaken any venture which would involve me breaking the codes of conduct referenced nor the Nolan principles. I repeatedly made it crystal clear I would not use confidential information. I possess no such information. If I did I wouldn’t make it available to anyone.”

A Channel 4 spokesman said: This investigation raises important questions about transparency and accountability in public life. We are continuing to work on the film [Politicians for hire: cashing in on Brexit], which will be broadcast soon.”

Meanwhile, outraged Peter Lilley has refered Channel 4 to Ofcom, making a lengthy complaint about the planned Dispatches documentary, which you can read here.


Related 

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

 


 

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