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PM faces new sleaze scandal after ex-minister ‘broke rules and lied’ about job

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Former health minister Stephen Brine claimed to have consulted Parliament’s revolving door watchdog before taking a £200 an hour job with a drug company. In fact, ACOBA refused to discuss the job with him because he’d already started it

Boris Johnson faces a fresh lobbying scandal after a former health minister apparently broke second jobs rules and lied about a £200-an-hour role with a drug company.

The firm was later handed a Covid-19 testing contract worth £100,000.

Winchester MP Stephen Brine started raking in £1,600 a month giving “strategic advice” to Sigma pharmaceuticals, just months after quitting as Public Health Minister in March 2019.

Mr Brine repeatedly claimed on the public Register of Members’ Interests that he’d been given the green-light to take the job from Parliament’s revolving door watchdog.

But the Sunday Mirror can reveal he broke the Ministerial Code by not consulting them until after he had brazenly started working for the multi-million pound firm.

Mr Johnson still faces party infighting and plunging poll numbers over his botched response to the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.

Mr Brine quietly quit his job at Sigma on November 22, after the Prime Minister vowed to ban MPs from “exploiting their positions” with consultancy jobs.

Former Ministers have to consult jobs watchdog the Advisory Body on Business Appointments (ACOBA) before taking any job within two years of leaving government.

Winchester MP Steve Brine
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R&A via Getty Images)

But an ACOBA spokesperson told the Sunday Mirror the body had refused to give Mr Brine advice on the job because he only approached them after he’d started working for Sigma.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner today wrote to ACOBA chair Lord Pickles, asking him to clarify the “troubling” situation.

She told the Sunday Mirror: “It takes quite the brass neck to apparently use the cover of the Business Appointments process when there has been no decision, and no approval for a lobbying job.”

Boris Johnson already faces turmoil in his party over his botched handling of the Owen Paterson scandal
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Getty Images)

She added: “Steve Brine has been making a mockery of the system whilst making over £200 an hour to advise a pharmaceutical company.

“This is why we need the clarity of a ban on second jobs for MPs, so this can’t go on any longer.”

Mr Brine told the Sunday Mirror: “I am going to look into all of this with the House authorities, at the earliest opportunity, and make sure everything is in order.

“I am grateful for your bringing it to my attention.”

Mr Brine already faced questions over a meeting he attended in February between Sigma and then-Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.

Two months later, the firm was awarded a £100,000 government contract to supply Covid-19 tests to pharmacies.

But both the firm and Mr Brine deny he acted as a lobbyist, and insist he played no role in the deal.

Approached about the meeting last month, Bharat Shah, the founder of Sigma, also said Brine was an adviser and not a lobbyist.

He said Mr Brine “was not involved with or had any knowledge of” the lateral flow test contract.

There’s no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Sigma.

The Ministerial Code states: “Former Ministers must ensure that no new appointments are announced, or taken up, before the Committee has been able to provide its advice.”

And ACOBA’s guidance for former ministers states: “A retrospective application is one where an appointment or employment has been taken up or announced before the Committee has provided its full and final advice.

“This is a breach of the government’s Rules.”

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