Lobbying for ‘naked bacon’: how the Owen Paterson scandal began

1 year ago 113

The way to Owen Paterson’s resignation connected Thursday day was marked retired much than 2 years ago, erstwhile successful 2019 the Guardian exposed his lobbying connected behalf of 2 companies from whom helium has received astatine slightest £500,000 successful payments.

Documents released pursuing state of accusation requests revealed the MP had repeatedly demanded entree to ministers and regulators connected behalf of his paying clients. This raised the question of whether helium had breached parliamentary rules that prohibit MPs from undertaking paid advocacy– rules that person existed successful assorted forms since the 17th century.

The Guardian grounds led the parliamentary standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone, to commencement her ain investigation. That resulted successful past week’s damning study from the cross-party Commons committee connected standards. It concluded Paterson’s 14 approaches to ministers and nationalist officials were an “egregious” case and that helium had brought parliament successful to disrepute.

In 2018 the Guardian began making inquiries astir a little-known institution called UK 2020 that Paterson had formed successful 2014 aft helium mislaid his ministerial station arsenic situation secretary. He described it arsenic a Conservative thinktank. Funded by donations from backstage entities, it published occasional reports connected issues including the situation and the NHS.

But it besides began donating thousands of pounds to Paterson, its sole director. Between 2014 and 2019 it donated astir £40,000 to him to money assorted overseas trips.

MPs are required to state the identities of their governmental donors successful the register of members’ fiscal interests. Paterson lone ever declared his thinktank arsenic the donor successful the parliamentary register, truthful the archetypal root of the thousands of pounds backing him was successful effect hidden from the public.

Following the Guardian article, the Labour enactment demanded the standards commissioner analyse the existent root of the funds, but this evident bypassing of the rules did not signifier a portion of her aboriginal investigation. Paterson closed the thinktank down successful October 2019.

The Guardian was capable to place conscionable 2 of the donors to UK 2020. The archetypal was a commercialized relation representing agrochemical manufacturers, which paid for UK 2020 to big panels astatine Conservative enactment conferences successful 2015 and 2016. The 2nd was the Northern Irish objective diagnostics institution Randox Laboratories, which sponsored a 2016 study from Paterson’s thinktank criticising the outcomes of the NHS compared with the wellness systems of different countries.

Randox, headquartered successful Belfast, is owned by Peter Fitzgerald, a Northern Irish polo-playing multimillionaire doctor. The institution hired Paterson, a erstwhile Northern Ireland secretary, arsenic a advisor from 2015, initially connected £49,000 a year, aboriginal doubled to £100,000 a year. This income was connected apical of his MP’s wage of astir £80,000 a year. Paterson declared these institution payments successful the registry of MP’s fiscal interests. Documents amusement Paterson past devoted sizeable clip and vigor to lobbying connected Randox’s behalf.

Paterson talked and past wrote to Priti Patel, past the caput of authorities for planetary development, requesting a gathering truthful Randox could sermon its “state of the creation technologies” and outlining the advantages of the firm’s products.

A gathering was aboriginal arranged betwixt Paterson, Randox and Patel’s past inferior minister, Rory Stewart. “This gathering covered Randox’s laboratory prime assurance systems … and DfID [Department for International Development] procurement routes and imaginable commercialized opportunities that Randox whitethorn privation to explore,” a DFID interior memo recorded. DfID told the Guardian it had ne'er itself awarded immoderate contracts to Randox.

In December 2016 Paterson besides began moving arsenic a advisor for different Northern Irish company, Lynn’s Country Foods, which trades nether the sanction Finnebrogue. He declared consultancy payments from this institution of £12,000 a year. The institution sells Finnebrogue Naked bacon, which it markets arsenic a steadfast alternative to accepted bacon. Its merchandise is processed without the nitrite-based preservatives successful astir cured nutrient that person been linked to cancer.

Paterson assisted the institution successful a sustained lobbying run with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that lasted much than a year, the documents obtained by the Guardian and aboriginal published by the standards commissioner show. Paterson’s aboriginal enactment was raising interest astir a competitor’s cured nutrient merchandise that claimed to beryllium each natural. Lynn’s and Paterson argued it could not warrant the statement nether EU regulations.

In the people of repeated meetings with Paterson and apical level FSA unit including its chair, which sought enactment against the rival’s product, emails accidental Lynn’s took the accidental to beforehand its ain “innovative” bacon merchandise “which is being prepared for motorboat successful the caller year”.

Lynn’s marketed this caller merchandise arsenic being escaped of E fig additives, but the FSA recovered that it did incorporate an additive premix that needed to beryllium declared connected the label. Over galore months, Lynn’s and Paterson sought to transportation the FSA they did not request to enactment it connected the label. Emails betwixt officials enactment the “considerable resources” being utilized up connected Paterson’s paying client. They besides allege Paterson misrepresented what was said successful meetings and antagonistic the assertion that Lynn’s additives had been approved by different EU countries, which turned retired not to beryllium the case.

The quality appears to person ended successful December 2018, erstwhile Lynn’s agreed to state connected the statement of Finnebrogue Naked bacon that its merchandise contained an additive.

Paterson maintains helium lone raised these issues due to the fact that they were important matters of nationalist safety. He says the aforesaid applies to his lobbying of the FSA for Randox implicit antibiotic residues successful milk. FSA briefing notes of meetings with Randox and Paterson grounds that the “primary purpose for discussion” was the “use of Randox exertion for screening of residues”. Randox had tested UK beverage for antibiotic residues and recovered a banned cause successful them. Illegal antibiotic usage successful livestock is simply a known occupation successful Northern Ireland.

Randox wanted the FSA to follow its caller techniques for detecting contamination. It could not, however, amusement which portion of the UK its samples came from and its trial methods had not been accredited. The FSA did its ain sampling crossed the UK and recovered nary grounds of residues. It judged determination was nary information risk.

The institution would not agelong aft win £500m of authorities enactment for the NHS’s Covid trial and hint programme. The institution had already been favoured with a visit to its labs successful Northern Ireland by the past wellness secretary, Matt Hancock, successful 2019. .

The National Audit Office confirmed the beingness of a VIP lane whereby companies with authorities oregon authoritative contacts were referred for Covid PPE contracts. Neither the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) nor Paterson answered our questions asking whether Randox had been referred into immoderate akin VIP accelerated way for trial and hint work.

A Randox spokesperson told the Guardian Paterson had nary engagement successful the contracts being awarded. He did not reply erstwhile asked wherefore Paterson had attended a gathering betwixt Randox and a wellness curate successful complaint of Covid procurement successful April 2020. The DHSC continues to resist an FoI petition for documents relating to that meeting.

Paterson continues to importune helium is guiltless of immoderate wrongdoing. “My integrity, which I clasp precise dear, has been repeatedly and publically questioned,” helium said successful his resignation connection connected Thursday. “I support that I americium wholly guiltless of what I person been accused of and I acted astatine each times successful the interests of nationalist wellness and safety.”