Veterans minister drops £1,000-a-week consulting job to return to cabinet

Johnny Mercer started advising veteran employment company WithYouWithMe in May
Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Johnny Mercer has quit a £1,000-a-week consulting job to return to Boris Johnson’s cabinet as veterans minister.

The Plymouth Moor View MP got the green light from the government’s anti-corruption watchdog to take up an advisory role with veteran employment company WithYouWithMe less than two months before being called up in last week’s reshuffle.

The Australia-based company works to help armed forces veterans find digital jobs. In June it announced Mercer, a former army officer, was among a number of appointments made as part of its expansion into the UK.

He took up the job – which paid £1,000 a week for eight hours’ work on top of his annual £84,144 MP's salary – on 23 May, according to his entry to the register of MPs’ financial interests last month.

Last year, cabinet ministers were paid an additional £67,505 on top of their MPs' salary.

In May, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments signed off on the job, which it said had some “overlap” with Mercer’s previous ministerial post – a joint position between the Ministry and Cabinet Office, in which he was involved in setting up the Office for Veterans' Affairs.

Acoba said that as minister for defence people and veterans between July 2019 and April 2021, Mercer may have gained access to “sensitive information that could present an unfair advantage to WithYouWithMe, operating in the same sector”.

But it said the risk was limited since he had been out of government for more than a year. The two departments had said any information Mercer would have had access to would be “obsolete”, it added.

WithYouWithMe also has a “stakeholder relationship” with the MoD via its Career Transition Partnership, which provides training courses to help military ex-personnel transition to civilian life. However, it has no commercial relationship with government, and Acoba said the risk that the job had been offered as a reward for any decisions Mercer had made in office was “low”.

But the committee did impose two conditions on Mercer’s consulting gig – the first of which that he should not have any contact with the OVA concerning veterans’ employment.

It also said he should not contact the Ministry of Defence or Defence Digital to try and place clients of his new employer in digital jobs at the department.

The Cabinet Office has confirmed that Mercer has left WithYouWithMe for his post as the first cabinet minister for veterans’ affairs. 

"The minister has resigned from this post and has made relevant declarations in line with established processes," a spokesperson for the department told CSW.

Neither Mercer’s constituency office nor his parliamentary office responded to questions from CSW about the appointment.

The ministerial code says ministers must “scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interests”. On each new appointment, ministers must provide their permanent secretary with a list of interests that could present a conflict.

Mercer’s unexpected return to government came despite having been dismissed from his previous job via text message after accusing Boris Johnson of breaking a commitment to implement a controversial pledge to prevent veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles from being prosecuted. A bill to enact the pledge passed the Commons stages earlier this month.

He later told Times Radio that government had been “the most distrustful, awful environment I've ever worked in", where “almost nobody tells the truth”.

"I don't think anyone really can get on their high horse about trust and ethics and all the rest of it in politics, because as far as I'm concerned, most of it is a bit of a cesspit," he added.

In a recent promotional interview for WithYouWithMe, shared on his LinkedIn page, Mercer said his fortunes had “gone a bit south in politics, I got chucked out of the government”.

He said his commitment to improving the lives of veterans would continue “whether I'm in government or not”.

He described former armed forces personnel who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as “a golden generation of amazing people who’ve dealt with extraordinarily technical kit in very difficult environments”. 

“What you've got to do is kind of bring down the barriers of getting into really fulfilling jobs, whether it's in the tech sector, or whatever it may be… having a job is the single biggest factor in improving the life chances of a veteran or indeed his family,” he said.

At the time of publication, Mercer’s LinkedIn profile still describes him as a “​​strategic advisor at WithYouWithMe” and says he was employed by the Conservative Party as an MP between June 2017 and May 2022.

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