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MANDRAKE: Saudi connection pays out for Philip Hammond

Former chancellor Phillip Hammond - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Philip Hammond‘s association with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be controversial, but it’s proving to be highly remunerative for the former chancellor all the same.

Mandrake hears “Spreadsheet Phil” has just pocketed £320,000 from Matrix Partners – the consultancy firm he set up after leaving the Treasury – with a further £40,000 due to his wife Susan thanks to her 10% stake in the business.

Hammond, pictured, records the Saudis as his company’s client in the House of Lords register of interests. His last days at the Treasury saw him in communication with them – one newspaper described it as a “charm offensive” – but they are not his only Middle Eastern client. His disclosures in the Lords also report roles for Kuwait and Bahrain. Despite its proposed six figure dividend, Matrix hasn’t much left in the kitty, with just £39,614 retained in shareholders funds as at March 31, 2021.

Saudi Arabia has long had a special place in Hammond’s affections. In 2015, when he was foreign secretary, he accepted a watch worth £2,000 from a Saudi businessman, even though ministers were not supposed to accept expensive gifts. Later, on a visit to the kingdom on a taxpayer-funded trip as chancellor, he met the then finance minister who later offered him a job.

Fall of Hall

After bungling the investigation into how Martin Bashir secured his interview with Diana, Princess of WalesLord Hall had little choice but to quit as chair of the National Gallery.

His has been an ignominious fall from grace, but he was, for all that, once seen as an effective director of news at the BBC between 1993 and 2001. “What changed him was his period as chief executive of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden before he then returned to the BBC as director-general,” one BBC journalist tells, me off-the-record. “That was when he metamorphosed into a courtier who always just wanted to smooth things over and avoid anything awkward.”

In 2012, I disclosed how Hall had entertained George OsborneMichael Gove and Ed Vaizey at Covent Garden when he took it upon himself to give them tickets for all four parts of Wagner’s Ring cycle that were worth £2,664. John Sweeney, the former BBC journalist, told me: “There’s a character in John Le Carre‘s Call for the Dead who Smiley calls ‘the head eunuch.’ That’s Tony Hall.”

Eco warrior

Arch Eurosceptic though he is, Paul Dacre has been quietly taking money from the European Union until the bitter end.

New figures from the agriculture department show that the former Daily Mail editor used £86,892 in EU funds in 2019 on green initiatives at his English and Scottish estates. The spend was included in the £168,000 grant that the unlikely eco warrior applied for and was granted by the EU to benefit his estates at Langwell and Wadhurst in 2019.

Fan club

“The thing people don’t generally understand is that Dominic Cummings is an incredibly moral person. He plays a different game from the people who prize promotion and gongs and worry about where the massive contract is coming when they leave government.”

Tim Shipman, the political editor of the Sunday Times, is of course the master of the unattributed quote, but it struck me that there aren’t a lot of people who would naturally have said this about Boris Johnson‘s former aide who so brazenly broke the lockdown rules when he journeyed to Barnard Castle with his wife, Mary Wakefield, and their child.

James Beechey, the art historian whom Cummings befriended during his days working for Iain Duncan Smith, made the point to me last year that Cummings has simply never had a great many friends. He described him as “a lonely oddball”. The only three people I can imagine who could conceivably have said this are Wakefield, Michael Gove – Cummings goes back a long way with him – or, of course, Cummings himself.

What do you think? Have your say on this and more by emailing letters@theneweuropean.co.uk

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