UK ministers may face five-year lobbying ban if they break rules

Anti-corruption watchdog demands overhaul in wake of David Cameron Greensill scandal

Last modified on Mon 14 Jun 2021 04.52 EDT

Ministers could be banned from lobbying for up to five years after leaving office and face possible penalties if they break the rules, the anti-corruption watchdog has said.

Lord Evans, the chairman of the committee on standards in public life, made the proposal in an emergency review published on Monday in the wake of the Greensill scandal.

The intervention by Evans, a former head of MI5, is a response to claims the rules are continuing to be flouted by former ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants once they leave office. His report will demand an overhaul of the rules in an attempt to stop the revolving door in Whitehall that allows them to use their contacts and expertise for private gain.

It names David Cameron, the former prime minister under whom Evans served for three years as head of MI5, in concluding that the current rules are inadequate, and says ministers should disclose informal lobbying over WhatsApp and text messages in future.

Cameron texted Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, on behalf of Greensill Capital, a finance firm that employed him as a lobbyist and the collapse of which has put thousands of jobs at risk. He asked the government to change the rules to allow it to receive Covid corporate financing facility loans.

It has since emerged that he subjected Matt Hancock, the health secretary, and other ministers to a deluge of WhatsApp messages and texts, including 56 messages over a single Covid loan scheme.

Lex Greensill, an Australian financier, was given access to 11 Whitehall departments, having previously been appointed as an official government adviser without any transparency.

The report forms part of the committee’s “landscape review of standards”.

The committee also proposes: introducing anti-lobbying clauses into the employment contracts of ministers, special advisers and civil servants; designing a system of possible civil penalties for rule-breakers; banning ministers from taking jobs for two years in sectors over which they had direct responsibility in office; giving the appointments watchdog the power to apply tailored restrictions, including banning ex-ministers from taking certain jobs for up to five years “where appropriate”.

It also calls for new rules so that the government releases details of lobbying every four weeks, rather than quarterly; and regulating the appointment of non-executive directors to Whitehall departments amid fears politicians are appointing “cronies”.

In a foreword to the report, Evans says: “We have found that four areas of standards regulation require significant reform: the ministerial code and the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, the business appointment rules and the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), transparency around lobbying, and the regulation of public appointments.

“Though it is unusual for the committee to publish findings in advance of a final report, our system of standards regulation is currently under sustained public scrutiny, and the upholding and enforcement of the seven principles of public life is the subject of a number of parliamentary and government inquiries. The committee is releasing these findings now to contribute to that debate in a timely manner.”

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