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Monday, November 15, 2021

Groundhog Day on sleaze allegations

There is nothing new in politics, something that recent events have reinforced. The recent controversy over the Tories allegedly selling peerages to high value donors mirrored a row fifteen years ago when the police investigated Tony Blair's government for similar allegations. The difference this time is that the police have declined to launch an investigation.

And who can forget Peter Mandelson being forced to resign from the cabinet over a non-declared loan. Admittedly, the circumstances were different but now we have an allegation against the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees Mogg, that he received £6 million in cheap loans from a company he is a director of, and has not declared it in the register of interests.

The Guardian report that Labour has called for an investigation into whether Jacob Rees-Mogg broke the financial rules for MPs by failing to declare the loans:

Rees-Mogg owns Saliston, even though he gave up his directorship in 2019. It has a stake in Somerset Capital Management, an investment company, the parent firm of Somerset Capital Management (Cayman) in the Cayman Islands.

Accounts for Saliston show the £6m in loans – £2.94m in 2018, £2.3m the following year and £701,513 in 2019-2020 – attracted interest paid at the equivalent of about 0.8%, which is below market rates. The accounts list the loan as attracting interest rates of 2.5% and 3.5% in individual years, raising the prospect that he could have borrowed the money and repaid it over short periods of time.

The MPs’ code of conduct does not specifically cover directors’ loans but it states: “Members shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the house in respect of the registration of interests in the register of members’ financial interests. They shall always be open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest in any proceeding of the house or its committees, and in any communications with ministers, members, public officials or public office holders.”

Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow leader of the Commons, said: “This would appear to be yet another egregious breach of the rules. A cabinet minister failing to declare millions of pounds of additional income is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, one of Rees-Mogg’s Conservative colleagues has come under scrutiny over lobbying. The Sunday Times reported that a unit in the Department for Transport (DfT) set up by Grant Shapps, a private aviation enthusiast, had been lobbying against housebuilding on small runways. The DfT said the team was not a lobbying body and instead provided “support to general aviation on a range of matters affecting their operations”.

The interesting thing about the Rees Mogg loan, is that news of it was first published by the Daily Mail. Has the Tory Government's most reliable ally now turned on them?
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