Politics latest news: Matt Hancock failed to declare family connection to company awarded NHS contracts

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Matt Hancock has 'serious questions to answer', says Labour - PA
Matt Hancock has ‘serious questions to answer’, says Labour – PA
  • Cabinet Office adviser hired by Greensill while in civil service

  • Ministry of Justice dragged into lobbying scandal

  • ​Calls for ‘urgent reform’ of Whitehall second job rules

  • Covid latest: Previous infection does not protect young from reinfection​

​Matt Hancock is facing fresh challenges of cronyism this morning, after it emerged that he and his sister have shares in a company that was awarded a contract with the NHS.

Topwood, which specialises in the secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents, won a competitive tender in early 2019.

Last month the Health Secretary declared in the MPs’ register of interests that he had acquired more than 15 per cent of the shares, but did not mention that his sister Emily Gilruth owned a larger portion of the shares and is a director of the firm, according to the Health Service Journal and Guido Fawkes.

A Government spokesman said: “Mr Hancock has acted entirely properly in these circumstances. All declarations of interest have been made in accordance with the ministerial code. Ministers have no involvement in the awarding of these contracts, and no conflict of interest arises.”

But Labour has seized on this as further proof of Tory sleaze, following several days of revelations about the party’s involvement with Greensill.

Justin Madders, shadow health minister, said: “It is now clear this Conservative Government has been infected with widespread cronyism and is unable to identify where the line is drawn between personal and departmental interests. It’s one rule for them, another for everybody else.

“There are serious questions to answer from Matt Hancock and there needs to be a full inquiry.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News “it feels like we are back to 1990s levels of Tory sleaze”, following days of revelations about the influence of Greensill Capital within Whitehall.

Follow the latest updates below.

08:53 AM

New poll puts Tories ahead of Labour by 14 per cent

Commentators are making much of a new poll which shows that the Conservatives have gained a 14 per cent lead against Labour, suggesting the opposition’s claims of “Tory sleaze” are failing to cut through.

The YouGov poll, conducted for the Times this week, shows Boris Johnson’s party has actually climbed two percentage points to 43 per cent, while Labour has fallen five points to 29 per cent. Greens and the Liberal Democrats have also edged up two points to eight per cent apiece.

Many people have noted this would put Sir Keir Starmer in a worse position than the 2019 result.

James Meadway, former adviser to John McDonnell and director of the Progressive Economy Forum tweeted: “Not only a vaccine bounce.

“Since autumn last year, the Tories have adapted to a world where Covid is semi-permanent feature, notably in politicising all economic questions. They are using the opportunity to build a new Tory hegemony of which the green turn is most obvious element.”

08:32 AM

People urged to get vaccine as ‘immunity not guaranteed’ from past infection

Previous coronavirus infection does not fully protect young people against reinfection, research suggests.

Researchers said that despite previous infection and the presence of antibodies, vaccination is still necessary to boost immune responses, prevent reinfection and reduce transmission.

Professor Stuart Sealfon, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and senior author of the study, said: “As vaccine rollouts continue to gain momentum it is important to remember that, despite a prior Covid-19 infection, young people can catch the virus again and may still transmit it to others.

“Immunity is not guaranteed by past infection, and vaccinations that provide additional protection are still needed for those who have had Covid-19.”

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

08:20 AM

MPs should not be earning six-figure salaries on second jobs, says Labour frontbencher

A Labour frontbencher has called for greater transparency on second jobs and MPs’ interests, saying parliamentarians should not have second jobs with substantial salaries.

“It feels like we’re back to 1990s levels of Tory sleaze”, shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News.

“Being an MP is a job – it’s a difficult job and an important job and it should be your main focus,” he added, noting there were exceptions for writing books or columns on the side.

“If you’re earning £200, £300,000 on top of being a member of parliament. Dedicate that time to being a member of parliament.”

08:06 AM

Ministry of Justice dragged into lobbying scandal

G4S hired Paul Kempster, the civil servant in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons, to run its then-troubled detention services division. - PA
G4S hired Paul Kempster, the civil servant in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons, to run its then-troubled detention services division. – PA

The Ministry of Justice has been dragged into the lobbying scandal as it is revealed a former prisons procurement chief took a job with G4S to take charge of its private sector jail contracts.

G4S hired Paul Kempster, the civil servant in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons, to run its then-troubled detention services division.

Mr Kempster joined the outsourcing firm from the MoJ and oversaw the five prisons that G4S managed for the Government, as well as two immigration removal centres and a secure training centre for young people.

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said: “As the Greensill scandal shows, the Conservative Party’s contracting and cronyism has brought sleaze back into the heart of government.

“The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland must now urgently provide answers to reassure the public that all necessary safeguards and checks were undertaken and no rules were broken in the case of Paul Kempster.”

My colleague Charles Hymas has the full story here.

07:56 AM

Boris Johnson urged to provide funding for medical cannabis

The Prime Minister is being urged to provide funding for families who are left thousands of pounds out of pocket in trying to get medical cannabis.

More than 100 politicians from cross-party groups have signed a letter to Boris Johnson, claiming that only three NHS prescriptions have been issued for medical cannabis despite it being legalised in November 2018.

The law change was made possible after several high-profile cases, including that of young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Medical Cannabis under Prescription said the law change “raised the hopes” of families with children suffering from similarly extreme forms of epilepsy, but just three prescriptions have been issued since the law changed.

The APPG noted that the medicine cost up to £2,000 a month, saying: “In any circumstance, this is a severe financial burden for families already having to cope with very sick children, and Covid restrictions have rendered most fundraising impossible.”

07:44 AM

Compare and contrast: Frost-Sefcovic meeting ‘constructive’, say UK

Lord Frost: Meeting was 'constructive' - PA
Lord Frost: Meeting was ‘constructive’ – PA

The UK Government has issued a statement about last night’s meeting in Brussels between Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic with a markedly different tone.

While the EU’s version of events appeared to take a hard line, Westminster’s was more conciliatory, highlighting the “constructive atmosphere” in which the two men discussed the issues in Northern Ireland.

“Lord Frost said that the intensive discussions between the Co-Chairs of the Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland in recent weeks had begun to clarify the outstanding issues, and some positive momentum had been established,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“But a number of difficult issues remained and it was important to continue to discuss them. He agreed there should be intensified contacts at all levels in the coming weeks.”

Once again, fish was on the menu: Lord Frost was served asparagus soup with scallops, followed by grilled sea bass and mascarpone and vanilla ice cream, after arriving at the Berlaymont building at 7.30pm local time.

07:39 AM

EU warns Britain further unilateral action on Northern Ireland is unacceptable

European Commission's vice president Maros Sefcovic - Reuters
European Commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic – Reuters

The European Commission warned Britain that any further unilateral action over the Northern Ireland Protocol was unacceptable at a meeting last night.

Maros Sefcovic, the commission vice-president, told David Frost that “solutions can only be found through joint actions and through joint bodies”.

Rather than the unilateral extension of grace periods on some customs checks in the Protocol, which Brussels says is a violation of international law, “mutually agreed paths towards compliance are key”, the commission said.

The Protocol prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit by introducing a customs border in the Irish Sea. It means that Northern Ireland must continue following some EU rules in order to prevent extra checks.

“The Vice-President stated clearly that the implementation of the Protocol is a joint endeavour, which leaves no space for unilateral action,” a commission statement said.

“Only joint solutions, agreed in the joint bodies established by the Withdrawal Agreement, can provide the stability and predictability that is needed in Northern Ireland,” the commission said.

Mr Sefcovic said that EU legal action against the UK for breaching the Protocol would continue but Brussels has granted a British request for an extension on a deadline to respond to a letter triggering the lawsuit.

07:34 AM

George Osborne’s failure to wait for approval on Standard job ‘tells you everything you need to know’

George Osborne became known as 'six jobs' thanks to his portfolio of roles which crossed over with his time as an MP - Bloomberg
George Osborne became known as ‘six jobs’ thanks to his portfolio of roles which crossed over with his time as an MP – Bloomberg

George Osborne announcing his role as editor of London newspaper the Evening Standard without informing the appointments watchdog “tells you everything you need to know about the process,” Lord Kerslake has said.

The former chancellor, who became known as ‘six jobs’ when he accrued a portfolio of roles before stepping down as an MP, did not wait for the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), which assesses the appointments of former ministers and senior civil servants, to give its advice.

At the time a committee of MPs said it proved that Acoba was “toothless”, and said Mr Osborne had been disrespectful of MPs’ rules and set an “unhelpful example”.

Lord Kerslake, who was head of the civil service during the coalition government, told Radio 4’s Today programme; “The fact George Osborne was announced as editor of the Standard without having gone through Aoba tells you everything you need to know about process.

“I do think it needs to be statutory.”

07:22 AM

Attacks on Lord Heywood unfair, say allies

Former top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood has been blamed for presiding over a 'wild west' - Andrew Parsons/ I-Images
Former top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood has been blamed for presiding over a ‘wild west’ – Andrew Parsons/ I-Images

Allies of Lord Heywood, the former civil service chief who died in 2018, have claimed he had been unfairly impugned for his role in the Greensill scandal.

Concerns have been raised over Lord Heywood’s alleged desire to push Greensill’s proposal for Government departments to use supply chain finance to speed payments to suppliers. One senior government source told the Sun “it seems it was a bit of a wild west under Heywood.”

However, sources who worked with Lord Heywood argued that he had been committed to the integrity of the civil service.

One told this newspaper: “Jeremy was constantly on the lookout, rightly so, for innovations that would support the public service. But he was also very careful about the ethics of the civil service. He pursued reform while respecting the fundamental basis of civil service ethics.”

Read the full story here.

07:14 AM

Former head of civil service has ‘lost confidence’ in PM-led inquiries

Boris Johnson 'sat on' the report into Priti Patel - AP Pool
Boris Johnson ‘sat on’ the report into Priti Patel – AP Pool

A former head of the civil service has said he does not have confidence in the inquiry Boris Johnson has ordered into Greensill, because of how the Prime Minister handled the bullying inquiry into Priti Patel.

Lord Kerslake, who was the UK’s most senior civil servant between 2011 and 2014, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the row which saw report author Sir Alex Allan quit as an adviser on ministerial standards had undermined his faith in the process.

“I have slightly lost confidence in prime ministerial-led inquiries because of how the inquiry into Priti Patel was handled,” he said. “The Prime Minister sat on report, issued a bowdlerised version and took no action.”

However he noted there were three parliamentary committees which will be considering Greensill and lobbying, saying “the combination should get to the bottom of this and improve how we do things”.

He added that Acoba boss Lord Pickles will also “get to the bottom of this” and improve the oversight body, which currently “isn’t strong enough on roles where there is conflict”.

07:07 AM

Lord Kerslake ‘baffled’ by officials’ Greensill second job

Lord Bob Kerslake - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Lord Bob Kerslake – Paul Grover for the Telegraph

A former head of the civil service has said he is “baffled” as to how a former head of government procurement was able to take a job with Greensill Capital while still working in Whitehall.

Lord Kerslake said he had “real concerns” about the case of Bill Crothers.

“I can see no circumstances in which his appointment was acceptable,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“He led on procurement – an area of absolutely intense scrutiny and where integrity is vital. The effect of what he did, if not the intent, was to bypass the Acoba rules.

“The situation was that Greensill were active in government even if they didn’t have a contract. So I am personally baffled as to how this got approved.”

07:04 AM

Former Conservative leader attacks officials for ‘having foot in both camps’ on Greensill

A former Conservative leader has said senior civil servants should never “have a foot in both camps” as it emerged another senior civil servant had a job at Greensill.

David Brierwood, a former banker at Morgan Stanley, appears to have joined the firm as a director two months after he joined the department as a crown representative in 2014.

Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News: “For those working in Parliament and the House of Commons, there are very strict rules. For those who leave, there needs to be a tighter concept for how they work. Everything has to be absolutely above board.”

He stressed there was “nothing wrong with trying to promote an industry which may benefit the UK but it has to be done in an open way”, saying that ministers should not be “influenced by a relationship with someone” but the strength of the idea.

“There is no way that someone should be working both in a department as a civil servant and company outside at the same time – you can’t have a foot in both camps.”

06:50 AM

Cabinet Office adviser hired by Greensill while in civil service

Downing Street was under mounting pressure on Thursday night over the Greensill scandal after it was reported that a second official in the Cabinet Office had been hired for the firm while working for the civil service.

David Brierwood, a former banker at Morgan Stanley, appears to have joined the firm as a director two months after he joined the department as a crown representative in 2014.

It comes just days after it emerged that Bill Crothers, the former Government’s former chief commercial officer, had also taken on a role advising Greensill two months before he left the civil service in 2015.

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