Ex-cab secs calling for standards reform are hypocrites for taking 'quite nice' private-sector jobs, Rees-Mogg says

Leader of the House asks: "Why do we think they are the most high-minded and that politicians are not?”
Photo: Benjamin Wareing/Alamy Live News

Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused the former cabinet secretaries who called for strengthened regulations for standards and lobbying of hypocrisy because some of them have taken well-paid jobs after leaving government.

The leader of the House of Commons said politicians were better placed to decide what regulatory measures should be in place than those who "deemed themselves to be saintly".

The UK's five living ex-cab secs wrote to The Times last month imploring the prime minister to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s recent review, which included the introduction of “meaningful sanctions” for ex-ministers and officials that break lobbying rules.

The peers – Robin Butler, Richard Wilson, Andrew Turnbull, Gus O’Donnell and Mark Sedwill – said reform was needed “to ensure public confidence in the integrity of our public life”.

CSPL's recommendations also included putting standards bodies on a statutory footing, and giving the prime minister’s independent adviser on the ministerial code greater powers to investigate potential breaches without the PM’s say-so.

​​But Rees-Mogg, who is currently being investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone over a possible breach of the rules on MPs declaring outside earnings, opposed the call to strengthen the oversight bodies.

He said the “prime minister has a democratic mandate and you cannot hand that over to a bureaucracy”, suggesting the PM has greater accountability than independent bodies.

"If an independent regulator does not like the behaviour of somebody the prime minister has appointed, to whom is that regulator accountable? Nobody. On the other hand, the prime minister is accountable to parliament between elections and to the electorate every four to five years," he said.

Rees-Mogg questioned whether independent bodies were “ipso facto more high-minded, more honest than elected people”, before referring to the Times letter from the ex-cab secs “saying we should do this, that and the next thing”.

He said the ex-officials were guilty of hypocrisy, given that many of them had taken up well-paying jobs in business after leaving government.

“How many of those went off to take jobs in the private sector? How many of those got quite nice jobs once they’d left being cabinet secretary, well-paid, from merchant banks, et cetera, et cetera? Why do we think they are the most high-minded and that politicians are not?” he said on his ConservativeHome podcast The Moggcast.

“You see, I would rather things are determined by those who are accountable rather than those who have deemed themselves to be saintly.”

It is common for former top officials to take on business or consultancy positions after leaving government. Lord Sedwill, for example, became an adviser to Rothschild investment bank last year.

However, criticism has largely been levelled not at former ministers and civil servants who have merely taken lucrative jobs, but at those who have appeared to use their former positions or contacts to their advantage. Many of the recent calls for strengthened standards were triggered by the Greensill Capital scandal, in which ex-PM David Cameron lobbied cabinet ministers and top officials on behalf of the supply-chain finance firm he was advising.

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