Hancock and Kwarteng 'tell fake firm they will advise for £10,000 per day'

Credit: Twitter / @ByDonkeys

Former cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng told a fake overseas company looking for advisers their daily rate for consultancy would be £10,000, a video posted by a campaign group appears to show.

In a sting operation set up by campaign group Led By Donkeys, the former health secretary and former chancellor negotiated what they would expect to be paid for advising the fake South Korean firm, The Observer reports.

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

Led By Donkeys, which was set up in 2018 to protest Brexit, released a seven and a half minute trailer for their "undercover investigation" to Twitter on Saturday.

The group created a sham South Korea-based company called Hanseong Consulting and contacted a selection of MPs, mostly Conservative, to ask if they were interested in joining the fake company's international advisory board.

In an email sent to MPs, any would-be advisers were asked to attend six board meetings a year in the UK, Europe and South Korea, according to The Observer.

In the video, Mr Hancock was asked whether he had a daily rate during an online “interview”, said: “I do, yes. It is 10,000 sterling.”

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock told PA the West Suffolk MP had “acted entirely properly and within the rules”.

Asked what his rates are, Mr Kwarteng said he would not expect a "King's ransom", adding: “But I wouldn’t do anything less than for about 10,000 dollars a month.”

Mr Kwarteng, whose mini-budget in September sent the value of the pound tumbling and mortgage rates soaring, went on to clarify that he would prefer the rate to be in pound sterling.

ITV News has contacted Mr Kwarteng for comment.

Some 20 MPs were contacted by the group after examining the outside earnings of MPs on the parliamentary register of interests, the Observer reports.

Speaking in the video, journalist Antony Barnett said 16 Tory MPs, two Labour MPs, one Lib Dem, and one independent were contacted. Of the 20, five MPs attended Zoom calls, Barnett said.

ITV News has not seen the full footage of the video calls.

1922 Committee Chair Sir Graham Brady, former health minister Stephen Hammond, and former education secretary Gavin Williamson also appear in the video.

In the clip, Sir Graham is heard saying he "was thinking something like £60,000" annually for assisting the firm, jokingly adding: "If you think that's far too cheap let me know".

In a statement published by PA, Sir Graham said he made it clear that "any arrangement would have to be completely transparent" and in step with the code of conduct.

Mr Hammond is seen in the video published on Saturday, but no details of what was said has been aired as yet.

He told The Observer he thought it was nothing more than a preliminary discussion with a company based in a country that is "close to [his] heart" as he has a substantial Korean community in his Wimbledon constituency and South Korea is an "important ally" to the UK.

Sir Gavin "turned [them] down during the job interview", Mr Barnett says in the video, "but the four other MPs had all been happy to go forward to the next stage".

ITV News has contacted Sir Gavin for comment.

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MPs are permitted to have second jobs on top of their role representing constituents.

But external employment opportunities for those in Westminster has come under the spotlight in recent years, following former Tory cabinet minister Owen Paterson’s suspension from the Commons for breaching lobbying rules in 2021.

He later quit Parliament following a furore after Boris Johnson’s administration attempted to rip up the standards body that dished out the punishment.

On Sunday morning, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove defended MPs taking on work outside of Parliament as long as it was transparently noted in the register of MPs’ interests, the publicly available document where politicians declare any earnings on top of their £84,144 Commons salary.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Gove said of the Led By Donkeys video: “On this occasion, I think it is pretty clear that things that were offered and considered were within the rules.

“But inevitably all of us will reflect on this and think the first duty of a Member of Parliament is towards their constituents.

“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?”

Michael Gove said the MPs in question were acting 'within the rules' Credit: PA

Thangam Debbonaire, Labour’s shadow Commons leader, called on Mr Sunak to strip the Tories caught up in the sting of the whip.

She said: “Being an MP is a full-time job.

“Tory MPs should not be using their taxpayer funded offices to line their own pockets.

“This is shameful at any time but particularly during the cost-of-living crisis.”

She added: “Labour will put an end to MPs raking in thousands of pounds on the side and act to restore trust in politics.”

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock is quoted in The Observer as saying: “The accusation appears to be that Matt acted entirely properly and within the rules, which had just been unanimously adopted by Parliament."

Sir Graham told PA: “Having decided to leave the Commons at the next election, I have received a number of approaches regarding future opportunities.

“I did have an exploratory discussion with someone purporting to be recruiting an international advisory board for a South Korean investment house.

“I made it clear that any arrangement would have to be completely transparent and that whilst a Member of Parliament, I would only act within the terms of the Code of Conduct.

“I also made it clear that whilst I could be flexible in attending international meetings in person, this would be subject to some important votes or commitments in Westminster.”

In a statement to The Observer, Mr Hammond said: “This was nothing other than what I thought to be a preliminary discussion with a South Korean company – a country that is close to my heart as I have a substantial Korean community in my constituency, and which is an important ally to the UK.

"It turns out this company was fake, with a fake website. The remuneration amount was suggested by the actor purporting to be an employee of the company, not by me.

"Scamming is an unpleasant activity undertaken with malicious intent. I believe it is a great honour to be an MP.

"I have always put my constituents first and will always try to act in their best interests.”

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