Concern over Rees-Mogg’s Conflict of interest in new Brexit Role

Corruption experts have said they have concerns about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appointment as Minister for Brexit Opportunities because of potentially “serious” conflicts of interests.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was appointed to Minister for Brexit Opportunities on Tuesday by Boris Johnson with a remit to slash EU regulations and turn Britain’s trade policy towards emerging markets.

However there are concerns that he may “stand to benefit personally” from his new role portfolio.

The MP is a major portfolio shareholder and founder of Somerset Capital, an $8 billion (£5.91 billion) investment fund which could stand to benefit financially from his new position in negotiating Brexit trade deals.

Somerset Capital specialises in the “emerging markets” investment sector, and other major economies outside Europe, which the government’s Brexit trade deals are focused on and which Mr Rees-Mogg will be steering his policies towards.

The concern comes after as series of sleaze and corruption scandals related to lobbying and business access to ministers have rocked the Tory government – including the Greensill Capital and Owen Paterson scandals.

“Rees-Mogg’s vast investment portfolio in dozens of sectors across several continents could pose a serious conflict of interest with his reported intention of axing a thousand regulations when he could stand to benefit personally from the process,” Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, told the website openDemocracy.

“Worryingly, the government’s hurried announcement of his new ministerial role fails to even spell out his specific responsibilities, and so the public will be left in the dark as to what exactly Rees-Mogg will be doing on taxpayers’ time, and whether he will stand to benefit personally from any recommendations he makes.”

Meanwhile Steve Goodrich, of Transparency International, told the same outlet: “It’s risky business when ministers hold briefs relating to their personal financial affairs, and even more so when there’s a lot of money at stake. “In theory, there are rules in place to stop them blurring the lines between their public roles and private interests, yet in practice these have proven to be no more than just words on paper.”

Mr Rees-Mogg, who is thought to be worth “well over £100 million”, is said to draw a six-figure dividend from the company and remains a major shareholder.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Policy related to the financial services sector is the sole responsibility of the Treasury, and as Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg will not be involved in decision-making in respect of financial services.

“The Ministerial Code sets out the process by which, following appointment, ministers should declare their interests, and take advice from their permanent secretary and the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, on any necessary steps to avoid or mitigate a conflict of interest.

“That process will take place as with any other ministerial appointment.”

Oliver Crawley, a Partner at Somerset Capital Management LLP, said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg no longer works at Somerset Capital and has had no role in any of the firm’s investment decisions for over a decade.

Source: openDemocracy and BBC

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