‘Extremely unedifying’: Minister slams Tory colleagues caught in sting

A minister has described videos of Conservative MPs caught in a sting asking to be paid up to £10,000 a day to work for a fake consulting firm as “extremely unedifying”.

Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock were among a group of MPs caught up in a hoax organised by campaign group Led By Donkeys in which they were approached about providing political advice to a bogus company in South Korea.

On Monday morning, Led By Donkeys released their latest video which showed influential Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, setting out his terms to work for the firm at £60,000-a-year or £6,000-a-day.

Responding to the latest storm to hit Parliament over MPs’ second jobs, Home Office minister Chris Philp joked he wouldn’t pay either Mr Kwarteng or Mr Hancock £10,000-a-day.

He added on BBC Breakfast that it “represented an extremely unedifying spectacle”.

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Philp said: “It’s important we have transparency over these things. Had [this been real] then any agreement they would have entered into would have been completely disclosed to the public. Parliament has also recently strengthened the ban on paid lobbying.”

Asked if he would have fallen for the hoax, he replied: “Well, I hope not.”

The sting by anti-Brexit group Led By Donkeys involved the creation of a company called Hanseong Consulting, including setting up a website which contained made-up testimonials and paying for a so-called “fake virtual office” in the South Korean capital Seoul.

It then approached 20 MPs from across the political divide about serving on its non-existent international advisory board.

Five of those were said to have progressed to an online interview stage, including Mr Hancock, who currently sits in the Commons as an independent after losing the Conservative whip, and four Tories: Mr Kwarteng, former defence secretary Sir Gavin Williamson, former minister Stephen Hammond and Sir Graham.

In the short film released on social media on Monday, Sir Graham is seen discussing the sort of advice and services he would be able to offer to the firm.

While he makes it clear that he will have to be careful not to fall foul of lobbying rules which govern MPs’ work outside Parliament, he then goes on to discuss the sort of fees he would command.

He explains how he recently carried out some work by the consultancy Grant Thornton in Dublin, which involved working for one and a half hours, for which he was paid £6,500.

Having initially suggested an annual fee of £60,000, Sir Graham then proposes £6,000-a-day or £500 an hour when pushed by the undercover reporter on hourly or daily fees.

In a statement given to Led By Donkeys and published on social media, Sir Graham said he did have an “exploratory discussion with someone purporting to be recruiting an international advisory board for a South Korean investment house”.

He added: “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 clear that whilst I could be flexible in attending international meetings in person, this would be subject to some important voters or commitments in Westminster.”

In a video released over the weekend Mr Kwarteng is seen offering to facilitate setting up a meeting between the fake foreign firm and former prime minister Boris Johnson.

During the phoney interview the Conservative MP looked to “sell” himself by highlighting his experience serving “briefly” as chancellor and also as business secretary and energy minister.

Mr Kwarteng described Mr Johnson as the “best campaigner you will ever see” during the conversation with the hoax company.

Told by the fake employee they hoped to meet the former Conservative Party leader during a future visit to the UK, the Spelthorne MP said: “I’m sure you will.

“I mean, let’s talk. I’m sure we can try and arrange that.”

He added: “I’m not promising anything but he is someone I know. He’s a great guy.”

Mr Kwarteng indicated he would take on external consultancy work for the firm for a rate of £10,000 per day.

Meanwhile Mr Hancock, in a separate interview, said his daily rate was the same five-figure sum.

There is no accusation of wrongdoing, with MPs permitted to seek employment outside of Parliament as long as they abide by transparency and lobbying rules.