Former UK Chancellor Philip Hammond criticized for lobbying watchdog – POLITICO
LONDON – Former British Chancellor Philip Hammond was reprimanded by the Westminster lobbyists’ watchdog for contacting senior Treasury officials on behalf of his new employer, OakNorth, a London-based moneylender.
In a letter published Wednesday, the Business Appointments Advisory Committee (ACOBA) said Hammond’s attempt to offer OakNorth services to Treasury officials, including non-profit as far as the bank is concerned, was inappropriate.
Hammond’s messages “were not consistent” with the rules and “were not acceptable” due to the “privileged access it obtained for OakNorth,” the watchdog said. The former foreign minister, in turn, accused ACOBA of trying to demonstrate its own relevance and challenged it to point out a specific breach of the rules governing the employment of former ministers.
The dispute comes amid heightened scrutiny from lobbying in the UK after revelations that former Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied for access to a Treasury loan scheme on behalf of the now-defunct Greensill Capital.
ACOBA’s mandate does not allow it to apply any sanction to Hammond for contact with the Treasury, although it has referred the case to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, who can decide whether to take action or not.
In its letter to GoveEric Pickles, president of ACOBA, said that while “no doubt Lord Hammond sincerely believed that his contact with his former department was appropriate,” there was “a reasonable concern that direct engagement with HMT’s Second Permanent Secretary[reasury] It was only made available to OakNorth Bank as a direct result of his time as Chancellor. “
And he said it was not “in accordance with the letter or spirit of the Government Rules for the former chancellor to contact HMT on behalf of a bank that pays for his advice.”
Hammond, who clarified his appointment to OakNorth with ACOBA, hit back at the watchdog’s findings in his own correspondence with Pickles, saying that he was “perplexed by your letter and the conclusion it reaches”.
He wrote: “I realize that ACOBA is under a lot of pressure to show that it is not ‘ineffective’, but rather a public body, subject to the requirement to act reasonably when drawing conclusions after an investigation of an alleged violation.”
The former chancellor urged the watchdog to “withdraw the draft of the letter and rewrite it to specifically focus on the only question that is relevant here: whether the ACOBA restrictions, imposed on me regarding my commitment to OakNorth, were violated by my submission. the email from July 24, 2020? “
Hammond is just one of the current and former senior officials OakNorth is rubbing shoulders with.
A FT report from July said the head of the bank It also hosted a regularly held “elite conservative donors” meeting attended by Prime Minister or current Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The watchdog’s verdict is likely to revive the Westminster debate on how post-government work by former ministers is controlled.
Francis Ingham, CEO of the Public Relations and Communications Association, which represents UK lobbyists, said many in the industry were “exasperated” with another story about former ministers, describing the Hammond dispute as “a repeat David Cameron’s Slightly Low Market Saga “which exposed loopholes in Britain’s transparency setup.
Ingham, whose body is among those pushing for reform of Britain’s lobbying regulations to cover a much wider range of influencers, said Hammond’s dispute with ACOBA showed the need to “slow down the revolving doors.” Westminster, with a five-year ban on former ministers taking up lobbying appointments.
“Second, it shows that ACOBA is a really weak organization because it’s taking a hit on the knuckles,” Ingham said of Hammond. He added: “The government should amend the lobbying law, it should address the revolving door problem and it should make ACOBA a much more powerful organization than it is today.”