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Hands in their pocket

SOLOMON HUGHES introduces Greg Hands, the MP for Fulham and Chelsea who is moonlighting for France's largest bank

TORY MP Greg Hands has walked out of government and into a job with a giant French bank. From this month he will be a “political consultant” to BNP Paribas UK, the British arm of France’s largest bank.

After the financial crisis, even the Tories were promising to rein in the banks. Their 2010 manifesto talked about reform to “create a safer banking system that serves the needs of the economy” and cracking down on big bonuses, risky trades and the lack of credit for regular businesses, but the reforms were superficial and by their 2017 manifesto the “reform the banks” message had disappeared.

It’s hardly a surprise ministers didn’t get tougher with banking when ex- ministers can look forward to jobs with the banks. Hands was a trade minister from 2016-2018, under Liam Fox. Before that he was a treasury minister. This month he starts as “political consultant/adviser” to BNP Paribas for “two-three days a month.” He is going to work for the bank at the same time as being MP for Chelsea and Fulham. He hasn’t, as far as I can see, told his constituents he is going to be moonlighting for the bank.

BNP Paribas has been involved in similar scandals to the other big banks. In 2014 they agreed to pay an $8.9 billion fine to the US for “illegally processing financial transactions” to sanctioned countries like Iran and Sudan. According to US authorities, “BNP Paribas went to elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions, cover its tracks and deceive US authorities.”

Hands hasn’t registered the salary yet with the House of Commons, but a regular City advisory job can often pay MPs over £50k/year. His job was approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) which is supposed to regulate the way ministers and top civil servants move into big business jobs.

ACOBA said Greg Hands could start his job straight away, because he hadn’t been a minister since June 2018. They said he should not use any “privileged information available “ to him from his “time in ministerial office” and should not “become personally involved in lobbying the government on behalf of BNP Paribas” for two years. There is no mechanism to enforce these judgements. ACOBA doesn’t monitor ex-ministers or have any penalties if they break their conditions. Hands told ACOBA he would “provide advice/consultancy on UK and European Politics to BNP Paribas UK and its clients , including speaking at events run by the bank for its clients.”

BNP Paribas is very interested in using Brexit to take business from British banks. According to the Financial Times, the firm “aims to capitalise on the disruption of Brexit to gain market share in UK corporate and investment banking.” BNP Paribas is already the eighth largest bank in the world. Most commentators think French financial firms also want to use Brexit to attract business away from the City of London and towards Paris. ACOBA said Greg Hands “would have been privy to political information that could be important to trade , such as future UK trade agreement priorities and some of the individual country nuances and challenges.” But, since he left office four months ago, the Department for Trade “said it was unlikely the information would be sufficiently up to date to give BNP Paribas an advantage over its competitors.”

HAYES

Another former Tory Minister has taken up a part -time job helping a Saudi education company, showing the Conservative’s continued enthusiasm for doing business with the repressive but oil-rich kingdom. John Hayes, who stood down as a transport minister in January 2018 has since May 2018 been “president of Highbury Burton Saudi Arabia.” He gets £20,000 a year for this part-time job. According to his entry on the Register of Members Interests Hayes is “president of HBSA, which provides technical and vocational education.” Hayes made this declaration in June, but the worthy-sounding job attracted no press attention. However, this month, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments published its correspondence approving the job, showing that HBSA is actually Highbury Burton Saudi Arabia, an educational business that is “registered in Saudi Arabia.”

Highbury Burton Saudi Arabia is a business launched by a consortium of UK Further Education Colleges running the “International Technical Female College in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.” This college is “a women-only vocational training institute, which offers courses in a range of specialisms , including business management , information technology and graphic design.”

The Saudi Sheikhs want to use their oil money to expand their economy through educational investment, in this case with their “Colleges of Excellence Programme.” Saudi money is very attractive to UK educational institutions. However, the education takes place within Saudi Arabia’s repressive political and social system — most obviously in the way this adult education college is women-only.

Hayes said his role as president is “an ambassadorial role” as “the figurehead of the company when engaging with stakeholders such as employers and colleges of excellence , and the Saudi Arabian authorities” and to advise the company on “international relations and the likely future direction of public policy.” Hayes has had a long government career, holding five ministerial posts, including time at the Department for Education.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments noted Hayes had been an education minister and had visited Saudi Arabia in his ministerial roles, but they told him the likelihood this would give his new employer unfair advantages or that the job could be seen as a “reward for decisions you made or actions taken whilst in ministerial office” is low.

Hayes has two other part-time jobs. He is also “strategic adviser to BB Energy Trading Ltd,” an oil trading company founded in Lebanon, and an adviser to the Chartered Institution for Further Education. He gets £85k from his three “moonlighting” jobs, which is more than his £77,379 MP’s salary.

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