Labour demands proof that Boris Johnson wasn’t ‘taking taxpayers for a ride’ by taking a government jet to the Hartlepool by-election

Boris Johnson clutches his hair as he is questioned by Robert Peston on an airstrip. There is an RAF jet behind him.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

  • Labour is demanding proof the Conservatives paid for the PM’s flight to campaign in Hartlepool.
  • No. 10 insists Johnson broke no rules, as they permit journeys by road for party purposes.
  • Labour’s Anneliese Dodds says this is irrelevant, unless Johnson taxied the jet up the motorway.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Labour Party is demanding to see proof supporting Downing Street’s claim that Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not breach the Ministerial Code by flying in a government jet to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election earlier this year.

Anneliese Dodds MP, chair of the Labour Party, has written to Amanda Milling MP, co-chair of the Conservative Party, asking for proof that the Conservative Party did not break the Ministerial Code or electoral spending law.

In the letter, which was sent Tuesday, Dodds said Johnson appeared to be “taking taxpayers for a ride.” The letter can be seen in full below.

It came in response to Insider’s Monday report that the Conservative Party’s spending return for the by-election showed “nil” spending on transport.

Johnson flew from Stansted to Teesside International Airport on April 1, first for an official visit at a DIY store in Middlesbrough, and then for what Downing Street described as a “short political visit” to Hartlepool with the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, who went on to win the by-election.

The Ministerial Code says that “where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the department and the Party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost.”

Election-finance rules specify that transport costs must include the cost of transporting “party members, including staff members … to and from the electoral area … where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate.”

But the Conservatives’ spending return suggested the party did not pay for the journey.

‘Unless the Prime Minister taxied his plane up the M1 …’

Downing Street has defended Johnson, citing another section of the Ministerial Code, which says the prime minister “may use their official cars for all journeys by road, including those for private or Party purposes.”

In the letter to Milling, seen by Insider, Dodds said she was unconvinced by Downing Street’s defence using this section of the Ministerial Code.

“That is interesting, but unless the Prime Minister taxied his plane up the M1 in order to reach Hartlepool – and I am perfectly happy to be corrected if it transpires that was the case – then I fail to see the relevance,” she said.

Dodds also questioned the spending return’s claim of “nil” expenditure, suggesting that one quote for a return flight in a “light jet” from Stansted to Teesside would cost around £7,000.

Johnson’s flight was in an Airbus A321neo. One quote for the aircraft from Stansted to Teesside suggests a cost of £120,000, according to the charter website PrivateFly. The spending limit in a by-election is £100,000.

Quote from PrivateFly for an A321 costing £119,157
A quote for a return flight from Stansted to Teesside from PrivateFly.

‘Taking taxpayers for a ride’

Dodds told Insider: “Not for the first time, it looks like Boris Johnson has been taking taxpayers for a ride.

“Even by his standards, declaring that travel costs were ‘nil’ for a trip that saw him fly hundreds of miles in a Government plane and hit the campaign trail is outrageously brazen.

“The Conservative Party needs to publish the documents that show they weren’t using public money for party political ends. There can’t be one rule for them and another for everyone else.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson previously told Insider: “Tours and associated costs […] were all declared in accordance with the rules and feature on the return under ‘Staff Costs.'”

Dodds has asked the Conservative Party for a breakdown of these staff costs, which totalled £24,154.02. The Conservative Party spent around £33,000 on staff costs in each of two other by-elections held this year, and Johnson did not fly to those by-elections.

Conservative Campaign Headquarters did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Read Anneliese Dodds’ letter to Amanda Milling here:

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Downing Street-linked BBC director attempting to block editorial appointment on political grounds did not declare role at top Conservative lobbying forum

Sir Robbie Gibb on Downing Street
Sir Robbie Gibb

  • Sir Robbie Gibb, a member of the BBC’s board, is attempting to block a senior editorial appointment.
  • Concerns have been raised over the impartiality of the BBC if the appointment were to go ahead.
  • Gibb himself made no mention in his declaration of personal interests of his role with a top Tory lobbying forum.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sir Robbie Gibb, a member of the BBC’s governing board and a former Director of Communications to ex-Prime Minister Theresa May, was on the board of a top Conservative lobbying forum but did not declare it in his declaration of personal interests, Insider can disclose.

Gibb is behind attempts to block the appointment of former Huffington Post UK editor Jess Brammar to a senior editorial role at the BBC. Gibb told the BBC’s director for news and current affairs Fran Unsworth she “cannot make this appointment” and that the government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered” if the appointment went ahead, the Financial Times reported. A source close to Gibb denied using those words, the Financial Times reported.

A government source suggested to the Mail on Sunday that the appointment would raise questions about the commitment of the BBC’s Director-General, Tim Davie, to impartiality at the broadcaster.

But Gibb’s own record amid the concerns over impartiality raises questions.

In March 2020, before Gibb was appointed to the BBC Board, Gibb joined the board of the Enterprise Forum, which gives businesses access to senior Conservatives to lobby them on policy.

Gibb was appointed to the BBC Board in May 2021 and made a declaration of personal interests on May 18. There is no mention of his role with the Enterprise Forum.

The BBC’s rules on declarations of interests say individuals must declare “involvement in an organization which could influence Government policies or industry standards.”

According to its website, The Enterprise Forum says it is for “business and organizations that want to engage on policy with the Government and other politicians,” established “through a desire to ensure business involvement in the Conservative Party’s policy development.”

In a promotional video for The Enterprise Forum’s 20th anniversary, the organization’s deputy chairman said “I hope that over those years Conservative ministers and shadow ministers have actually adjusted their promises because of the work of the Enterprise Forum.”

The Enterprise Forum insists they themselves do not take particular stances but merely facilitate discussions.

When Insider approached The Enterprise Forum as to Gibb’s role on their board, a spokesperson for the Forum told Insider that Gibb “is no longer on the Enterprise Forum Board.”

The Enterprise Forum’s website was then edited to scrub all references to Gibb, including the deletion of their post announcing the news. That post has not been moved to the site’s news archive.

Composite of screengrab showing Sir Robbie Gibb's role with the Enterprise Forum
Composite of screengrab showing Sir Robbie Gibb’s role with the Enterprise Forum’s management board

Updated Enterprise Forum page with Robbie Gibb removed
The Enterprise Forum’s list of directors after Insider approached them for comment

Repeated requests as to when Gibb left the Enterprise Forum Board were not answered.

The BBC claim Gibb’s declaration of personal interests is up to date and confirmed he was no longer on the Enterprise Forum’s Board.

The BBC declined to comment when asked by Insider to specify when he left, or to rule out the possibility he held both posts at the same time. They also declined to comment on the suggestion that while his declaration of personal interests may now be up to date, there may have been a point at which it was misleading and a breach of the BBC’s rules.

Gibb did not respond to a request for comment.

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Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was ‘imbecilic’ says former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair

Tony Blair
  • Tony Blair was the Prime Minister who ordered the UK invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
  • He has described Biden’s withdrawal from the country as “imbecilic.”
  • “We did it with every jihadist group around the world cheering,” he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister when the USA and UK invaded Afghanistan in 2001, called Joe Biden‘s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan “imbecilic.”

Writing an article on his charity website – the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change – Blair said: “We didn’t need to [withdraw]. We chose to do it. We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars.'”

“We did it with every jihadist group around the world cheering.” He added.

Blair describes the “abandonment” of Afghans as “tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours.”

Blair, the UK prime minister from 1997 to 2007, also wrote of the urgent need to attend to “those to whom we have a responsibility” – which included the Afghan people and our country’s own citizens.

His comments come as seven people are killed within the mass crowds trapped in the Kabul airport by the Taliban.

Fears that Afghanistan will become an oppressive state as reports emerge of journalists are being threatened by the Taliban, whilst concern for women’s rights – their right to work, study, leave the house – heighten.

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Boris Johnson sets his watch 12 minutes fast, photos show

Boris Johnson pauses for a minute's silence at 11am to mark the victims of the Plymouth shootings. A clock behind him says 11am, while his wristwatch shows 11.14am.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson observing a minute’s silence for the victims of the Plymouth shootings.

  • A photo of the UK PM observing a minute’s silence at 11 a.m. showed his watch set to 11:14 a.m.
  • Analyses of other photos of Johnson show his watch is consistently running fast.
  • He had a habit of arriving at the last minute to events, one report said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson consistently has his watch set at least 12 minutes fast, according to analyses of his photographs.

Questions over his timekeeping arose after he was photographed on Monday observing a minute’s silence for the victims of the Plymouth shootings at 11 a.m.

The clock on the mantelpiece behind Johnson showed a little after 11 a.m., but his watch said 11:14 a.m.:

Boris Johnson pauses for a minute's silence at 11am to mark the victims of the Plymouth shootings. A clock behind him says 11am, while his wristwatch shows 11.14am.
A zoomed-in photo of Johnson’s watch.

Analysis of the photo’s EXIF data, which contains details about when and how the photograph was taken, reveals it was taken at 11:01 a.m. This analysis has been verified by Insider.

Another photo of Johnson from early July showed him on his way to watch England’s national football team play Denmark in the Euro 2020 competition.

The back of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is wearing a football t-shirt numbered 10 saying "Boris" on the back.
Boris Johnson going to watch England v Denmark

The time on his watch read 6:58 p.m., but the EXIF data has the time of the photograph as being at 6:46 p.m.

Questions over Johnson’s watch were previously raised on social media that a January 2021 broadcast by the prime minister was not live, with viewers pointing to his watch as evidence for their claims that it had been pre-recorded earlier that day.

FullFact, a British independent fact-checking service, verified that the broadcast was live and that social media users were merely looking at the watch upside down.

Jeremy Vine, a British broadcaster and journalist, also wrote about the prime minister’s timekeeping for The Spectator in June 2019.

Vine told two separate incidents in which Johnson arrived very shortly before he was due to deliver a speech at an event, with concerns from the guests that he was running late.

“Suddenly – BOOM. A rush of wind from an opened door, a golden mop, a heave of body and dinner jacket onto the chair next to mine, and the breathless question, at 9.28pm: ‘JEREMY. Where exactly AM I?'” he wrote.

“I actually had that stress feeling – a kind of sunburn, creeping across my arms and back. So he was late and he had not prepared a speech. And he was due onstage in ninety seconds.”

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A prominent Conservative Party group is still working for a disgraced MP who was suspended for sexual harassment

Rob Roberts' official Parliamentary photograph
Rob Roberts MP.

  • Rob Roberts MP breached Parliament’s sexual-harassment policy and lost the Conservative whip.
  • He was suspended for six weeks from the House of Commons and now sits as an Independent.
  • But his letters are still being prepared by a taxpayer-funded research group for Tory MPs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

An MP who lost the Conservative whip after receiving a six-week suspension from the House of Commons for sexually harassing a member of his staff is continuing to receive support from a prominent Conservative research group, Insider can disclose.

Rob Roberts, the MP for Delyn, now sits as an Independent, with his membership of the Conservative Party under review, BBC Wales reported. Government ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Robert Jenrick, as well as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, have all called for Roberts to resign from the Commons.

Insider has seen correspondence from Roberts to a constituent regarding calls for a public inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Insider is withholding the name of the constituent and the date of the letter. You can see a partially-redacted version of the letter here:

A partially redacted copy of a letter sent by Rob Roberts to a constituent regarding calls for a public inquiry into the UK government's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
A partially-redacted letter that Roberts sent to a constituent in August 2021.

The wording and structure of Roberts’ letter closely matches correspondence sent by two Conservative MPs to their constituents, which Insider has reviewed.

Roberts opens his letter to the constituent by writing: “The Covid-19 outbreak has been one of the most significant and consequential periods of our lifetimes. It has led to a tragic loss of life in this country and around the world and gave rise to previously unthinkable restrictions to our way of life.”

This precise wording is also used in correspondence shared on social media by constituents of Felicity Buchan, Conservative MP for Kensington, and Craig Mackinlay, Conservative MP for South Thanet.

A Parliamentary aide confirmed to Insider that these letters follow the format of correspondence prepared by the taxpayer-funded Policy Research Unit (PRU), a research and writing group for Tory MPs on Parliamentary matters.

The PRU prepares non-party political research briefings, daily updates on what’s going on in Parliament, and correspondence for Tory MPs to send their constituents on national matters. MPs and their staff may tweak the wording of letters before sending replies to queries from constituents.

On its website, the PRU says it is “independent of any political party and does not engage in, or assist with, party political activities.”

But of the PRU’s six directors registered on Companies House, three are Tory MPs, and one is a Conservative peer.

Tory MPs subscribe to the PRU through their taxpayer-funded Parliamentary expense accounts, paying the group £3,049 a year.

Roberts, Buchan, and Mackinlay all claimed expenses for an annual subscription to the PRU in May 2020, according to figures published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Figures from 2021 have not yet been published.

A former MP who lost the Conservative whip after rebelling told Insider that they continued to receive research and correspondence from the PRU despite losing the whip, due to the contractual arrangement between the MP and the PRU. This person asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, but their identity is known to Insider.

Robert and the PRU did not respond to Insider’s request for comment by time of publication.

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Former UK PM Theresa May earned £1.86 million in her 2 years since leaving Downing Street, figures show

Letters begin to fall off the backdrop, “BUILDING A COUNTRY THAT WORKS OR EVERYON” as British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her keynote speech to delegates and party members on the last day of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 4, 2017 in Manchester, England.
Theresa May delivers her keynote speech at the 2017 Conservative Party conference as letters begin to fall off the backdrop.

  • Former UK PM Theresa May has earned £1,861,776 for speeches since leaving Downing Street.
  • The income is from 27 speeches since December 2019, paid at an average of £8,130 per hour.
  • Saturday marks two years since May left office, leaving her free to begin lobbying the government.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May earned £1,861,776 for speeches since leaving Downing Street in July 2019, research by Insider found.

Since joined the Washington Speakers Bureau in December 2019, for which she received a £190,000 signing bonus, and since then has registered 27 engagements at an average of £77,574 per speech.

As an MP, May is required to declare earnings from outside parliament, as well as the hours for each piece of work.

May has declared 229 hours of work for the preparation, delivery, and travel around the speeches, creating an average hourly rate of £8,130.03.

Among May’s audiences have been JP Morgan Chase, which paid £160,370 for two talks in April 2020; Brown University and Trinity University, Texas, which both paid £115,000 for speeches in March 2020; and the French asset management company Amundi, which paid £39,900 for an address in January 2021.

Travel restrictions meant at least 13 of May’s speeches since September 2020 were held virtually. These virtual speeches brought in an average of £41,749. In-person speeches brought in an average of £112,904.

May’s earnings are not paid to her directly, but to the Office of Theresa May.

That money is used to “pay employees, maintain my ongoing involvement in public life and support my charitable work”, according to her entry on Parliament’s register of members’ interests.

She also says she takes an £85,000 salary from the company for 24 hours a month.

May stepped down as Prime Minister on 24 July 2019 after failing to secure backing for her deal to remove the UK from the European Union. Boris Johnson won the Conservative leadership contest to succeed her.

This Saturday, 24 July, will mark two years since May left office. It is also the point at which Westminster’s lobbying rules will no longer apply to many of the ministers who served under her.

Ex-ministers who lost their jobs when Boris Johnson took over will be free to lobby the government and take up jobs without consulting the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, the lobbying watchdog.

After Philip Hammond, who served as May’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, was given particularly stringent lobbying restrictions for two years from the point he left the government, he told the Daily Mail: “I found this quite a strange decision to understand. I haven’t sought to challenge it because the Acoba control period for me ends on July 24.”

Insider asked May’s office to comment on her speaking income but did not receive a response by time of publication.

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Labour spent £897.60 on flyers marked with the English flag for the Hartlepool by-election, which it lost

Keir Starmer and Paul Williams wave as they walk down the street.
Sir Keir Starmer and Dr Paul Williams in Hartlepool.

  • Exclusive: Official spending returns show Labour spent £897.60 on flyers for St George’s Day.
  • The flyers cost it more than its more traditional push to encourage sign-ups for postal voting.
  • Labour lost the by-election, despite spending £8,000 more than the Conservatives.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Labour Party spent nearly £900 on St George’s Day flyers emblazoned with the English flag as part of its unsuccessful campaign in the Hartlepool by-election, Insider can disclose.

The electoral spending return, signed by the party’s candidate Paul Williams, includes details on the expenditure in the constituency, which was previously held by Labour.

Jill Mortimer, a Conservative, went on to win the seat in a 16% swing from Labour. It was only the second time since the 1980s that an opposition party lost a seat to the governing party.

This tweet from Williams shows one of the leaflets. St George’s day was April 23, two weeks before polling day on May 6.

Despite losing the by-election, the Labour Party spent more than its rivals, declaring £95,139.05 out of a limit of £100,000. The Conservatives said they spent only £86,991.77.

The Conservatives’ largest expenditure was on £21,950.57 in direct mail to voters, followed by £21,600 on “research.”

The Labour Party’s expenditure on the St George’s Day leaflet is noted as being more than the £312 the party spent on an A5 leaflet for polling week; the £567 spent on “postal vote cards”; or the £46.50 spent on early vote sign-up cards. Other receipts for £1,060 from the same firm were for a quantity of 40,000 “pledge leaflets”.

The A5 flyers featured St George’s cross on one side and on the other wished voters “Happy St George’s Day from Dr Paul Williams and the Labour team.”

It encouraged recipients to “display this poster with pride in your window. Please enjoy St George’s Day in a Covid-secure way, helping us all defeat the virus together,” the Telegraph reported.

The flyers came months after a leak to the Guardian of an internal Labour party presentation, which said there needed to be stronger communication of “Labour’s respect and commitment for the country.”

It suggested that “the use of the flag, veterans, dressing smartly at the war memorial etc give voters a sense of authentic values alignment”.

Previous attempts by the Labour Party to discuss St George’s Cross saw the resignation of a shadow cabinet minister, Emily Thornberry, over a photograph of a house with three English flags and a white van.

Another shadow cabinet minister suggested that the party must “wrap itself in the St George’s flag” following their defeat in the 2015 general election, the Independent reported.

A Labour spokesperson told the Telegraph in April: “Paul and the campaign team were proud to celebrate St George’s Day and enjoyed a sunny day having lots of positive conversations with voters.”

The Labour Party is currently in a poor financial state, according to comments made by the party’s general secretary, David Evans, reported by LabourList.

Its problems were said to stem from lower of income due to declining membership, and the cost of dealing with antisemitism cases.

Insider has contacted Labour for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Boris Johnson will isolate after public backlash following announcement that he will dodge quarantine rules

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

  • Boris Johnson was exposed to COVID-19 in a meeting with Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
  • NHS policy means that he should isolate for 10 days – but Johnson was part of a pilot study, meaning he can continue to work.
  • National outrage has meant he has had to perform a sharp U-Turn and remove himself from the pilot study
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a speedy U-turn in response to public backlash, the British Prime Minister will be isolating after being exposed to COVID-19.

On Friday, July 16th, Johnson had an in-person meeting with Sajid Javid, the newly-appointed UK health secretary.

The following day, Javid took to Twitter to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

On the morning of 18 July, Johnson was then “pinged” by the NHS COVID-19 app – a contact tracing app used to identify those exposed to Covid and therefore must isolate to stop the spread.

In contrast to common practice, 10 Downing Street announced that the Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak – Chancellor of the Exchequer – would not be isolating, and would instead be participating in a pilot scheme and going into his office to continue “essential Government business.”

However, mass public backlash caused this announcement to be reversed in less than two hours.

Sunak took to Twitter to announce that “I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong. To that end I’ll be self isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.”

When first announced on Saturday morning, Number 10 stated that the two Politicians would be participating in a pilot study to take daily COVID-19 tests rather than self isolate.

The announcement caused a significant fury on social media, with the topic of self-isolation already a sore subject with the British public as more than 500,000 people told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace in the last week alone.

In reaction to the news, #oneruleforthem was trending on Twitter, with people furious that the Prime Minister can bypass regulations that impact the public.

One teacher tweeted that her school class had to miss 10 days of school due to isolation following a COVID exposure.

Several workplaces – including 10 Downing Street – are reportedly participating in this pilot to see how the UK workforce can operate whilst the virus continues to circulate. However, the politicians will not be doing so.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Insider:

“The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid.

“He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.

“He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The Chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot.”

This is the latest case in a string of Covid-related controversies involving the most senior of the UK Government.

On June 26, then-Health Secretary Matt Hancockstepped down from his positionafter leaked footage showed him kissing his aide in his office whilst Covid restrictions banned such intimate contact.

Last year, the senior advisor to Boris Johnson – Dominic Cummings – sparked national fury when it was revealed that he drove over 200 miles in a national lockdown whilst being positive for COVID-19.

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Chair of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog under investigation for alleged breach of transparency rules

Lord Eric Pickles
Lord Eric Pickles, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

  • The chair of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog is under investigation for alleged breaches of transparency rules.
  • Eric Pickles, a Tory peer, declared he is the director of Oakworth Services, a consultancy firm.
  • House of Lords rules require peers to describe the company’s business, which Pickles did not.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The chairman of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog is under investigation over an allegation he breached transparency rules when disclosing ties to a consultancy firm he runs.

Eric Pickles, a member of the House of Lords and a former Tory minister, is the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA).

ACOBA is responsible for applying rules that forbid former ministers, senior civil servants and senior special advisers from lobbying after they leave the government.

Pickles, along with his wife, is a director of Oakworth Services Ltd. The firm’s entry on Companies House describes Pickles’s occupation as a “Consultant”.

Pickles’s entry on the House of Lords register of interests says only that Oakworth Services Ltd is a “consultancy”, providing no further details on its work, openDemocracy reported on Thursday.

On Friday, the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards announced that Pickles’s registration of an interest was the subject of an inquiry.

The rules of the House of Lords require peers to “give a broad indication of the company’s business, where this is not self-evident from its name”.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP and former chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee told openDemocracy: “There is a problematic lack of transparency in the Lords”.

Pickles told Insider that the company had not received any income since he became chair of ACOBA.

He also said that he had given up all paid outside interests since becoming chair and that all previous clients were declared separately.

Pickles, along with the other peer on ACOBA, also gives notably less forthcoming disclosures as part of his work on the committee.

In ACOBA’s register of interests, both Pickles and Labour peer Larry Whitty, refer to their entries on the House of Lords register of interests, which deal only with their personal affairs.

Meanwhile the seven other members of ACOBA also disclose the interests of close family members, such as the jobs of their spouses and children, as well as their past paid work.

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A UK Cabinet minister endorsed a telecoms firm that gave £21,500 to Conservative MPs

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party MP for Hertsmere, leaves 10 Downing Street in London.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

  • EXCLUSIVE: A firm that gave £21,500 to Tory MPs received support from a senior minister.
  • Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, spoke at the virtual launch of IX Wireless’s network.
  • James Wharton, a Conservative peer and donor, is a director of the firm’s controlling company.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A telecoms company that gave more than £20,000 to Conservative MPs benefitted from the ringing endorsement of a senior UK Cabinet minister, Insider can reveal.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), appeared at a virtual launch event for IX Wireless’s broadband network in Blackburn, England, in early June.

Dowden’s department is responsible for the UK communications regulator, Ofcom.

On Wednesday, seven Conservative backbench MPs declared a total of £21,500 in donations from IX Wireless between January and July 2021. Dowden was not one of them.

Here are two entries Wednesday showing the donations:

IX Wireless donation record Matt Vickers
A parliamentary record of a donation from IX Wireless to Conservative MP Matt Vickers.

IX Wireless donation record Simon Fell
A parliamentary record of donations from IX Wireless to Conservative MP Simon Fell.

In a promotional video released by IX Wireless, Dowden can be seen in his ministerial office speaking with IX Wireless executives:

IX Wireless Blackburn Launch from on Vimeo.

They include its founder, the businessman Tahir Mohsan, and CFO Philip Walker.

Dowden praised the firm and its Blackburn network, saying: “I am delighted to join you for the virtual opening of your Blackburn gigabit network, which is really going to provide some of the fastest broadband on the planet to tens of thousands of people across the North West.

He describes its work as “part of this government’s once-in-a-lifetime upgrade to the digital infrastructure.”

“I would like to really pay tribute to you and other alternative network providers in that mission, particularly in the North West. The Blackburn network has been built in only nine months and I know you have got very exciting ambitions to reach another 250,000 premises this year and to reach 4 million premises by 2025.”

Dowden’s claim the network had only been built in only nine months is at odds with previous releases from the firm, which first announced the network in mid-2019, ISPreview reported.

Dowden tied the company’s work in with the government’s wider “leveling up” agenda, saying: “I think this is some of the most important work that we are doing in government, particularly in our bid to level up the north and the rest of the UK.”

Dowden said he hopes to support the company in the future “through many many more moments just like this.”

Companies House records show IX Wireless is controlled by Cohiba Communications. One of Cohiba’s three directors is James Wharton, a former Conservative MP who now sits in the House of Lords as a Tory peer.

Wharton’s entry on the House of Lords’s register of interests says he is providing consultancy services to IX Wireless.

Another of his clients is the firm Aquind, which has similarly made donations to Conservative MPs and gained the support of government ministers, as well as lobbying them, The Times of London reported.

Wharton is also the chair of the Office for Students and has made political donations to the Conservative party while claiming furlough support from the government, Insider has previously reported.

Most of the MPs who received funds from IX Wireless represent constituencies near the area the firm are planning to build their network in northwestern England.

But one MP, Matt Vickers, holds a constituency on the other side of the country – Wharton’s former seat of Stockton South.

Anneliese Dodds MP, chair of the opposition Labour Party, told Insider: “Boris Johnson’s decision to reward James Wharton with a peerage continues to pay off for the Conservatives.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about companies with links to Johnson’s chum dishing out cash to Tory MPs.

“Day after day we hear of new cases of Tory sleaze. The Conservatives have to clean up their act and put an end to this grubby cronyism.”

Steve Goodrich, Head of Research and Investigations at Transparency International UK told Insider: “When elected to Parliament, it is critical our representatives scrupulously avoid any activity that could give the perception of being in the pocket of vested interests.

“Donations from companies and wealthy individuals have the potential to create conflicts of interest if the concerns of MPs’ financial backers are at odds with those of their constituents.

“Voters need to be able to trust that decisions are always being taken in the public interest and not on the basis of a commercial relationship.”

A DCMS spokesperson told Insider: “We work closely with the telecoms sector to boost digital connectivity and level up the country and Ministers regularly support industry announcements.

“This event was handled by the department in the usual way and the Secretary of State has no personal connection to the company in question.”

Insider asked DCMS if Dowden was aware of the links to Conservative Party figures or donations when he launched the network, but the department did not respond to this question.

Insider contacted Wharton and IX Wireless but did not receive a comment by time of publication.

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