Labour attacks watchdog over Lord Hammond's Saudi adviser job

Philip Hammond

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Labour has called a lobbying watchdog “toothless” after it approved former Chancellor Lord Hammond becoming an adviser to Saudi Arabia’s finance minister.

Lord Hammond, who left office in July 2019, was given the go-ahead last month by the the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).

This happened despite it raising concerns that his recent knowledge of UK government could be seen as giving Saudi Arabia an “unfair advantage” in its commercial dealings.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This is yet more evidence that the system of rules and regulations that is supposed to prevent the revolving door between government office and lobbying is completely unfit for purpose.

“The Acoba system is pointless and toothless. If anything, it causes more harm than good by giving a veil of respectability to the rampant cronyism, sleaze and dodgy lobbying that is polluting our democracy under the Tories.”

Labour has called for the minimum gap between ministers leaving office and lobbying the UK government to be extended from two years to five.

Under the current rules, Lord Hammond’s ban is due to expire on 24 July, leaving him free to take up his new role.

Acoba approved Lord Hammond’s the job despite its chairman, Lord Pickles, saying there were concerns that, having worked with the administration in Riyadh while in office, there could be a “perception you may be offered this work as a result of your time in office”.

He also said Lord Hammond’s inside knowledge of UK government could “be perceived” to put Saudi Arabia at an “unfair advantage”.

‘Mitigating factor’

Lord Hammond travelled to Saudi Arabia five times while chancellor and had “numerous meetings” with its finance minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, as well as an audience with King Salman, Acoba was told.

But the committee said it was satisfied that he would not be knowledgeable on any “live policy issues”, having been out of government for almost two years, which it called a “significant mitigating factor”.

Lord Hammond dismissed concerns over his new role, telling the Times newspaper that “the assignment does not involve any contact with Her Majesty’s government and I have no plans to lobby HMG on any aspect of it”.

He stood down as an MP at the 2019 general election after his rebellions over Brexit led to him being kicked out of the Conservative Party by Boris Johnson.

He was reinstated to the party and awarded a peerage at the end of last year.