The Prime Minister’s pledge to bring in a new era of transparency, integrity and accountability now looks irretrievably broken, reports Adam Bienkov
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After weeks of headlines about the Prime Minister’s failure to publicly declare his wife’s shares in a childcare company which his own Government has handed subsidies to, Downing Street has now finally published an update to its register of ministerial interests.
The update is quite spectacularly unrevealing. While details of Rishi Sunak’s involvement with his local rotary club, brass band and community pub are included on the register, significant details of his own personal financial investments, and those of his wife, are not.
Asked on Wednesday by Byline Times why such potentially massive conflicts of interests had been excluded, a spokesperson for Sunak insisted that only such declarations judged to be “relevant” had been added to the list.
This means that while, according to Sunak, the fact the he is a patron of his local brass band is judged to be a “relevant” interest relating to his role as Prime Minister, the fact that his wife is now set to potentially massively financially benefit from a Government policy, is not.
Also not included in the new register are any of the Prime Minister’s own personal financial interests, save from the fact that they are now contained within what Downing Street refer to as a “blind management trust”.
This arrangement is ostensibly designed to prevent the Prime Minister from personally being involved in any future investment decisions that may be affected by his own policies.
However, by placing his existing investments within this “blind” arrangement, the public are prevented from ever knowing which Government policies are directly enriching the Prime Minister and his family.
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It is hard to think of a reasonable justification for this continued refusal to be fully open about his own financial interests and those of his wife.
Questioned by Byline Times today, Sunak’s spokespeople insisted that all of his relevant interests had been fully “declared” to his own advisor of ministerial interests, who they claimed had “independently” decided that those relating to his wife should not be made public.
There are two major problems with this. The first is that the Prime Minister’s so-called “independent” advisor on ministerial interests is in fact not independent at all. Far from being an impartial authority on these matters, Laurie Magnus is in reality a direct appointment of the Prime Minister himself.
The second major problem is that the Prime Minister’s supposed “declaration” is not in fact a declaration in any commonly-understood meaning of the term. If the only person to have been told about Sunak’s wife’s shares, was an advisor working for the Prime Minister himself, and if that declaration was never at any point put on the public record, then how can Downing Street possibly continue to label it as a “declaration” at all?
It is within this Kafkaesque world of undeclared “declarations” and entirely dependent “independent” advisors, that Sunak and his team now choose to reside. Even now as Parliament’s Standards Commissioner opens an investigation into Sunak’s failure to declare to MPs about his wife’s financial interest in his own policy, the Prime Minister’s spokespeople continue to insist that he has followed the rules “to the letter”.
It is unclear which letter they are referring to, although it is difficult to spot it within the MP’s code of conduct, which clearly states that members must always be “open and frank in declaring any relevant interest” publicly.
But whatever the parliamentary investigation into Sunak decides, the Prime Minister’s pledge outside Downing Street, to bring transparency, integrity and “accountability” back into Government, now looks irretrievably broken.
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