Former health minister Steve Brine cleared of lobbying breach for second time in a year because no VAT was paid

·3-min read
Former health minister Steve Brine cleared of lobbying breach for second time in a year because no VAT was paid
  • Former minister Steve Brine has been cleared of breaching lobbying rules because no VAT was paid.

  • Brine told then-health secretary Matt Hancock Remedium Partners was "very worth a call".

  • He received £1,600 a month, but is not deemed a consultant lobbyist as he is not VAT-registered.

A former health minister has been cleared of breaching lobbying rules for a second time in less than a year, because in both cases no VAT was paid.

Steve Brine, who served in Theresa May's government until March 2019, messaged then-health secretary Matt Hancock about Remedium Partners. He was being paid £1,600 a month, his register of interests shows.

According to The Times, Brine told Hancock the medical recruitment agency was "very worth a call from your team" about staffing of Nightingale hospitals set up during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former ministers are banned from lobbying ministers for two years after their last day in office. The message was sent in March 2020, meaning his approach fell within the restricted period.

However, an investigation by the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, an independent statutory office sponsored by the Cabinet Office, found that Brine had not breached lobbying rules because no VAT was paid.

"Payments to Mr Brine from Remedium Partners were not paid to a VAT registered entity," a summary of the decision said.

"Under the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 ("the Act"), registration under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 is one of three conditions that define consultant lobbying."

This is the second time an investigation into Brine has concluded he was not lobbying. In November 2021, the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists came to the same conclusion about his work for Sigma Pharmaceuticals.

Separately, a source told Insider that Brine was likely to be cleared of breaching the rules by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) on the basis that he did not make use of his former government role. The source was granted anonymity to speak freely.

Letters confirming that decision are due to be published confirming this in the coming days, the source said.

Neither Brine's office nor Remedium responded to requests for comment.

An ACOBA spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics, but said: "We have sought further assurances from Mr Brine following the Times story and will be publishing correspondence shortly."

But Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations and Communications Association, attacked the "loophole" that allowed Brine to be cleared.

"We have said all the way through the Lobbying Act is fully of loopholes and unfit for purpose and needs to be reviewed," he told Insider.

As well as calling for a new act to be brought forward, he urged ORCL to be "tougher" on such cases, saying: "They appear to be taking quite a liberal interpretation of the current act."

Ingham said it was "woefully wrong for a legislator to be a lobbyist", adding: "To the man in the street it stinks - if it walks like a lobbyist and talks like a lobbyist, it's a lobbyist."

Read the original article on Business Insider