Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and Matt Hancock, the ex-Health Secretary, asked to be paid £10,000 a day for consultancy work during an interview with a phoney overseas company, with other Tory MPs also caught out by the sting. During a sting operation undertaken by the campaign group Led By Donkeys, the two ex-cabinet ministers were asked what they would expect to be paid to advise a firm in South Korea, which did not in fact exist.
Neither is accused of actual wrongdoing, with no rules barring MPs from seeking employment outside of Parliament, and a spokesman for Mr Hancock, who came third in I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here last year, later insisted he had acted “entirely properly” and criticised the “illegal publication of a private conversation”.
However, the revelation nevertheless prompted stinging criticism from Labour, with Thangam Debbonaire, Labour’s shadow Commons leader, calling on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to strip the Tories caught up in the sting of the whip.
During the course of the “interview”, conducted via webcam, Mr Hancock is asked whether he had a daily rate during an online “interview”, replying: “I do, yes. It is 10,000 sterling.”
The Conservative former health secretary, who was stripped of the party whip following his appearance in I’m a Celebrity…, later said he had an hourly rate of “around £1,500”.
Former Tory chancellor Mr Kwarteng, when asked the same question, said: “I would say as an MP, obviously I don’t need to earn a king’s ransom. 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.
Told by a fake employee of the company they were considering offering between £8,000 and £12,000 per day, with the intention for him to attend six board meetings a year, Mr Kwarteng said: “OK yes, we’re not a million miles off. We can work with the numbers.”
Led By Donkeys, an anti-Brexit group, said it created a sham company called Hanseong Consulting, setting up a website and paying for a so-called “fake virtual office” in the South Korean capital Seoul.
It said, after consulting the register of MPs’ interests, it approached 20 MPs from different parties asking if they would join the phoney firm’s international advisory board.
The group sold the “company” as one with aims to expand into the UK and Europe, asking any would-be advisers to attend pretend board meetings held in a mix of locations, including allegedly in South Korea.
According to its preview video posted on social media, Led By Donkeys said 16 of the MPs approached were Tory, two Labour, one a Liberal Democrat and the other an independent.
Out of those contacted, five are understood to have progressed to an online interview stage, including Mr Hancock and four Tories: Mr Kwarteng, former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson, former minister Stephen Hammond and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, an influential backbench body.
Sir Graham, according to the video, said he was “thinking something like £60,000 as an annual rate” for assisting the firm.
In a statement issued later, the senior Tory said he made clear to those behind the hoax that any work would have to fall “within the terms of 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.
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Led By Donkeys said Sir Gavin had turned down the opportunity to take discussions any further.
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.
A statement issued to Express.co.uk by the office of Mr Hancock, whose WhatsApp messages were recently leaked to The Daily Telegraph, said: “
A spokesperson for Matt Hancock said: “The accusation appears to be that Matt acted entirely properly and within the rules, which had just been unanimously adopted by Parliament.
“It’s completely untrue to suggest any wrongdoing and therefore absurd to bring Mr Hancock into this story through the illegal publication of a private conversation. All the video shows is Matt acting completely properly.
“Matt acted within the letter and the spirit of the rules, making it crystal clear from the outset that his parliamentary and constituency duties are his primary responsibility for now.”
Sir Graham said: “Having decided to leave the Commons at the next election, I have received a number of approaches regarding future opportunities.
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“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.”
Express.co.uk has also approached Mr Kwarteng and Mr Hammond for comment.
Ms Debbonaire 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.”