Today’s daily politics briefing
Labour has accused Matt Hancock of appearing to breach the ministerial code, after it emerged that the health secretary was given a 20 per cent share in a company owned by his sister shortly before it won a lucrative NHS contract.
Topwood Ltd of Wrexham, a document-shredding firm, was awarded a three-year contract – reportedly worth £300,000 – by NHS Wales. A government spokesperson said Mr Hancock had “acted entirely properly in these circumstances”, adding that there was “no conflict of interest”.
Meanwhile, the government’s lobbying scandal is showing no signs of abating, after it was revealed that a second Cabinet Office adviser also worked for the now-collapsed lender Greensill, which went on to employ David Cameron as a lobbyist.
And Whitehall’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, announced on Friday that it was investigating Greensill Capital’s involvement in the government’s Covid-19 support schemes – including the accreditation process by which the now-defunct firm was authorised to issue vast government-backed loans.
This comes after Eric Pickles, head of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, said on Thursday that there were no “boundaries” between Whitehall and the private sector, as Labour’s shadow minister Rachel Reeves accused the government of not doing enough to keep cronyism “in check”.
DUP rejects ‘obstructing’ north-south relations
Arlene Foster has rejected the suggestion that she deliberately “obstructed” a meeting of a north-south institution by not sending a unionist minister.
Northern Ireland’s first minister said on Friday that the meeting was cancelled due to a problem with dates.
She told the BBC that “the agenda wasn’t agreed, nothing was agreed for the meeting today between the different parties”, adding that it would take place in the future.
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 13:51
Ousted Myanmar ambassador faces eviction from London residence
The ousted Myanmar ambassador to the UK has said his passport has been made “invalid” and that he could be evicted from his residence in north London.
Kyaw Zwar Minn was told to leave the accommodation by Friday, after he was locked out of his country’s embassy on 7 April for calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The former general, who until recently had close ties to the junta, did not give any details about the support he is currently receiving from the British government.
After a coup on 1 February, hundreds of peaceful protesters, many of them children, have been killed by security forces in Myanmar.
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 13:32
DUP accused of ‘obstructing’ north-south institutions
Politicians have accused the DUP of “obstructing” North-South institutions, after a meeting had to be cancelled because the party did not send a unionist representative.
Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon, of the SDLP, said this meant Arlene Foster had “failed to fulfil her ministerial requirement”.
“Today the DUP have once again blocked the proceeding of an important north-south ministerial meeting. Irish Government Minister Eamon Ryan and I were waiting to join our meeting which was blocked from proceeding because no accompanying unionist minister would make themselves available,” she said.
The North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting was supposed to cover transport. The next one, scheduled for 28 April, will be on agriculture.
The cancellation comes after the DUP said in February that relations between north and south would be “impacted” by its opposition to post-Brexit arrangements.
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 13:13
Labour accuses Matt Hancock of breaching ministerial code
Labour has accused Matt Hancock of appearing to breach the ministerial code, as pressure grows on the health secretary to explain how the firm TopWood Limited was awarded a three-year £150,000 contract from NHS Wales days after he took on shares in the company, of which his sister is declared a director.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The health secretary needs to explain in a public statement today how a company owned by his family members which he holds shares in came to win a place on a business services framework to provide services to the NHS, as well as explaining why he did not declare that the company is owned by his family members.”
Ms Rayner added: “It appears that the health secretary has breached the ministerial code, and the public deserve answers”.
Andy Gregory16 April 2021 12:42
Whitehall spending watchdog to investigate Greensill
The National Audit Office has announced that it is investigating Greensill Capital’s “involvement in the government’s Covid-19 support schemes”.
The probe will cover the accreditation process – by which the now-defunct financial firm was allowed to grant vast government-backed loans – and any post-accreditation monitoring of Greensill Capital’s activities, the watchdog said.
Our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn has the details on this breaking story here:
Andy Gregory16 April 2021 12:35
Banks and insurers move £1 trillion of assets out of UK due to Brexit
Roughly £1 trillion in assets has been moved out of the UK as a result of Brexit, new research has suggested.
A study by the New Financial think-tank found that banks had shifted around £900bn in assets, while insurance firms and asset managers had moved £100bn.
If accurate, this indicates that the City of London has been hit harder by Brexit than previously thought.
“The worse news is that this analysis is almost certainly a significant underestimate of the real picture. We are only at the end of the beginning of Brexit,” the authors of the report warned.
My colleague Ben Chapman reports:
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 12:20
Former civil service boss ‘baffled’ by Greensill scandal
A former civil service boss has said he is “baffled” by how a top government adviser could work for Greensill Capital during his time in Whitehall.
Lord Kerslake said he could see “no circumstances” in which Bill Crothers’ appointment was acceptable.
The peer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “He led on procurement – an area of absolutely intense scrutiny and where integrity is vital. The effect of what he did, if not the intent, was to bypass the Acoba rules.
“The situation was that Greensill were active in government even if they didn’t have a contract. So I am personally baffled as to how this got approved.”
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 12:00
PM urged to support families out of pocket from medical cannabis
More than 100 politicians have written to the prime minister asking him to provide “compassionate funding” for families who are having to fork out thousands of pounds on medical cannabis.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Medical Cannabis under Prescription noted that despite the legalisation of medical cannabis in November 2018, only three types of NHS prescriptions are currently available.
This means that some families, whose loved ones are suffering from conditions such as severe epilepsy, are having to pay privately for treatment.
The letter said: “Dozens of other families have been forced to pay privately for the medicine, having to fundraise up to £2,000 a month.
“In any circumstance, this is a severe financial burden for families already having to cope with very sick children, and Covid restrictions have rendered most fundraising impossible.”
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 11:40
Majority of Labour supporters across UK support Scottish independence referendum
A majority of Labour supporters believe their party should back a second Scottish independence referendum, a new study has revealed.
The YouGov study found that 56 per cent of 1,073 respondents said the party should not stand in the way of another vote on the issue, while 60 per cent of them supported an independence referendum “in principle”.
This comes after Labour’s Scottish leader Anas Sarwar said the Covid-19 recovery should be the key focus of the next Holyrood parliament.
In response to the poll, Keith Brown, the deputy leader of the SNP, said: “Keir Starmer is completely out of touch with Scotland and his own party members, who overwhelmingly support Scotland’s right to choose our own future in a post-pandemic independence referendum.”
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 11:20
Second adviser worked for Greensill alongside civil service job
As mentioned earlier, a second Whitehall adviser has become embroiled in the Greensill lobbying scandal, after it emerged he worked for the bank during his time as a civil servant.
Here’s our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn with the details:
Rory Sullivan16 April 2021 11:00