LONDON (AFP): A senior British minister on Sunday defended former cabinet colleagues after they were shown negotiating top-dollar rates to work on the side for a fake South Korean consultancy.
The sting operation by the anti-Brexit group Led By Donkeys, which targeted former finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng among others, exposed nothing illegal.
But the issue of Conservative MPs taking lucrative second jobs with companies has been provoking fresh controversy as Britons endure the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.
Kwarteng’s involvement in particular focussed anger, after he and short-lived prime minister Liz Truss triggered a crash on financial markets that drove up borrowing costs for millions last year.
He and former health secretary Matt Hancock were shown separately negotiating a daily rate of £10,000 ($12,000) to advise a sham consultancy purportedly based in Seoul that was set up by Led By Donkeys.
“On this occasion, I think it is pretty clear that things that were offered and considered were within the rules,” cabinet member Michael Gove told Sky News.
Gove said it was “absolutely vital that we know who is paying” MPs for second jobs, “and that is what the register (of MPs’ interests) is there for”.
“And ultimately, the really important thing is, is an MP delivering for their constituents, is a member of parliament doing everything they can to put public service first?”
Led By Donkeys showed a clip on social media in which Kwarteng said he “wouldn’t do anything less than for about 10,000 dollars a month.”
Prompted by a recruiter representing the fictitious “Hanseong Consulting”, he switched the currency to pounds, which are worth more than dollars, and the rate to daily.
Hancock had already drawn controversy for taking an unauthorised break from his work as an MP to take part in a reality television show, in which he ate animal genitalia among other challenges.
He was forced to resign as health secretary for breaking his own pandemic rules on social distancing, when it was exposed that he was having an extra-marital affair with a senior advisor.
A spokesman said Hancock had “acted entirely properly and within the rules” regarding the apparent job offer from South Korea.
Kwarteng has yet to comment.
The sting threatens embarrassment for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who replaced Truss in October with a vow to restore “integrity, professionalism and accountability” after her term and that of her predecessor Boris Johnson.
Senior opposition Labour member Lucy Powell told Sky News that she was “pretty appalled and sickened”, reiterating her party’s call to ban MPs from holding second jobs.