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Former UK minister Phillip Hammond free to lobby for Saudis, watchdog says

Decision to approve former chancellor's lobbying job is 'toothless', says Labour, calling for extending ban on lobbying
Hammond travelled to Saudi Arabia five times as chancellor between 2017 and 2019.
Philip Hammond travelled to Saudi Arabia five times as chancellor between 2017 and 2019 (AFP/File photo)

The UK's lobbying watchdog has given former Chancellor Philip Hammond the green light to take up a role advising Saudi Arabia's finance ministry, a move described as "toothless" by the opposition Labour Party.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), the watchdog which monitors the revolving door between government and business, approved Hammond's bid to advise Riyadh on "fiscal reform" despite considering "concerns" about the role.

The committee said it had concerns "about the risks associated with a former senior minister of the Cabinet advising a foreign government", but after consulting with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, 10 Downing Street and the Treasury, it concluded that Hammond could accept the role.

One member of the watchdog's committee, however, Lord Larry Whitty from Labour, dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that the former chancellor should not take up the role at all.

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Hammond, 65, rejected any concerns over the lobbying role, stating "the assignment does not involve any contact with Her Majesty's government [HMG] and I have no plans to lobby HMG on any aspect of it".

Hammond travelled to Saudi Arabia five times as chancellor between 2017 and 2019, attending meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the kingdom's finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan.

Hammond stepped down from his role as chancellor at the 2019 election after having the Tory whip removed for rebelling on Brexit votes. He was ennobled by Boris Johnson, gaining a seat in the House of Lords - the UK parliament's upper chamber - and has since set up a private consultancy firm.

Speaking about the decision, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said "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."

The former chancellor's two-year ban on lobbying under the government's current rules is set to expire, while Labour has called for extending the minimum gap between ministers leaving office and lobbying the UK government to five years.