Conservative MP George Freeman is under fresh investigation for potential breaches of the Ministerial Code following a row with the UK’s anti-corruption watchdog.
Last month, Freeman was found to have broken the Ministerial Code after failing to seek advice by the appointments watchdog before accepting a position with a company producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) said Freeman had not informed them of his decision to work for Aerosol Shield, which was founded by a former UK government employee who the MP had worked alongside as a minister.
Following a report by Business Insider, Freeman wrote to ACOBA’s chair and former Tory minister Eric Pickles demanding an apology for their findings, which he claimed triggered “a wave of media attacks on my probity and integrity”.
Freeman told Pickles that he had been “condemned as ‘guilty’ of being in breech (sic.) of the Ministerial Code – which I take as a very serious finding – in a way which is neither fair nor reasonable”.
The MP told Pickles and a local paper that ACOBA had apologised.
However, in a strongly-worded reply to Freeman published on Monday, Pickles denied any such apology took place and added that the MP was under investigation for further unspecified potential breaches.
“I am disappointed to read in a quote attributed to you in the Eastern Daily Press (27 January 2021) that ACOBA had issued an ‘apology’ on how your application was dealt with,” Pickles wrote to Freeman.
“After close examination, I can find no evidence of an apology being made, nor with respect, can I find any circumstances to justify issuing an apology.”
He added that Freeman had been in “clear” breach of the code last months and that the body was now investigating other potential breaches.
“We are currently examining other possible breaches of the government’s Business Rules by you, and I will write to you again when our investigations are concluded.”
Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Fleur Anderson, told Insider: “This letter confirms a breach of government rules, and it is now urgent the investigation is concluded and appropriate action taken.
“This adds yet another page to the government’s catalogue of cronyism, which they must take real and urgent steps to address. Most urgently, the government must publish details of companies winning work through the ‘VIP’ fast lane for procurement to restore some public trust.”
Freeman told the outlet in a statement on Monday: “The ACOBA Rules requiring all commercial appointments to approved in advance are rightly designed to prevent ex ministers commercialising information gained as a result of holding office: to prevent for example a defence minister taking an appointment with a defence supplier.
He added: “In my case since leaving Department of Transport I’ve been working pro-bono to help a number of charitable or start-up projects in science and regeneration try and raise funding. I didn’t think I needed permission for that. Having received Lord Pickles letter I am working closely with his officials to go through each project in line with their guidance.”