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Current rules ‘strike right balance', says No 10, after MPs duped by fake firm

Matt Hancock (Steve Parsons/PA)
Dominic McGrath, PA

The current rules on MPs’ second jobs “strike the right balance”, Downing Street has said, after videos showed Kwasi Kwarteng and Matt Hancock offering to advise a fake Korean company for up to £10,000 a day.

One minister acknowledged the footage was “pretty unedifying” even if no rules were broken, after a sting by the campaign group Led By Donkeys duped the former chancellor and former health secretary into an interview with a bogus company.

In the video Mr Hancock said that his daily rate for external consultancy was £10,000, while Mr Kwarteng indicated to a fake employee of the pretend outfit that his monthly rate for such an advisory position would be no less than five figures.

Mr Kwarteng went on to suggest he could “work with” the firm’s offer of paying him between £8,000 and £12,000 for each of the six annual meetings of its non-existent international advisory board.

Kwais Kwarteng resignation
Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng (Victoria Jones/PA)

The fake company set up by Led By Donkeys was asking MPs to supposedly give it political advice on how to expand into the UK and European markets, with some of the sessions allegedly due to be held in South Korea.

Downing Street on Monday said it was unlikely that the Prime Minister had seen the videos, but signalled that the clips – widely shared on social media – would not prompt a rethink of the rules governing MPs’ second jobs.

“The Prime Minister thinks that an MP’s primary job is and must be to support their constituents and represent their interests in Parliament,” his official spokesman said.

“That is why we agreed with the recommendation made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2018 that members should be banned from accepting any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant and why we brought forward an amendment to support the introduction of limits on members undertaking outside work.

“It is right that MPs’ financial interests are transparently and publicly declared online… MPs having second jobs can contribute to their work in Parliament, so we think this strikes the right balance.”

He said that the “rules are very clear and all MPs should abide by them”.

Led By Donkeys, an anti-Brexit group, said it created a company called Hanseong Consulting, setting up a website which included made-up testimonials and paying for a so-called “fake virtual office” in the South Korean capital Seoul.

It said, after consulting the register of interests, that it approached 20 MPs from different parties asking if they would join the phoney firm’s international advisory board.

According to its preview video posted on social media on Saturday, campaigners said 16 of the MPs contacted were Tory, two were Labour, one was a Liberal Democrat and the other was an independent.

Five of those were said to have progressed to an online interview stage, including Mr Hancock and four Tories: Mr Kwarteng, former defence secretary Sir Gavin Williamson, former minister Stephen Hammond and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, an influential backbench body.

There is no accusation of wrongdoing, with MPs permitted to seek employment outside of Parliament.

Earlier, policing minister Chris Philp said it was a “pretty unedifying spectacle”.

He said: “It is very important that we have transparency over these things. Had that thing we saw been real, then any agreement they would have entered into would have been completely disclosed to the public.”

Asked if Mr Hancock was worth £10,000 a day, Mr Philp replied: “I wouldn’t pay him £10,000.”

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