LONDON — Who’s afraid of ACOBA?
The U.K.’s revolving door watchdog — snappily called the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments — is back in the headlines as Westminster awaits its verdict on Sue Gray, the former senior civil servant who quit to take up a job with the opposition Labour Party.
ACOBA’s job is to weigh the restrictions top officials and ministers should have imposed on them when they take on post-government roles, in a bid to stop people from cashing in on their insider knowledge.
Yet MPs themselves don’t seem too spooked by the watchdog, whose rulings are only advisory and which cannot impose any sanctions for rule-breaking.
Should Gray need some inspiration to plow on regardless, here’s POLITICO’s handy round-up of five recent senior MPs who didn’t let an angry ACOBA letter get them down.
The former health secretary turned, er, camel-penis-eating reality star knows ACOBA well. The watchdog criticized Hancock for signing up to the hit reality show “I’m A Celebrity … Get me Out of Here!” without its permission — though the MP argued he didn’t believe he needed permission for a “one-off media appearance.”
Hancock went ahead with kickstarting his post-politics career anyway — and finished in a respectable third place on I’m A Celeb.
Back in 2019 and out of government, Patel attracted criticism after failing to approach ACOBA before accepting a position with advisory firm Viasat. Under the ministerial code, former ministers are meant to seek guidance before they take up any new gigs within two years of leaving office — and they’re not supposed to start until ACOBA’s advice has been received.
Patel first approached the watchdog for advice on her lucrative new role a month after she had started in the position. Whoops!
The close ally of Boris Johnson and former culture secretary has pivoted into TV, with a new role as a late-night host on talkTV. Dorries was found to have breached ACOBA’s rules by failing to approach the watchdog in good time before taking up the gig.
However, ACOBA didn’t recommend any further action, and Dorries can still be found on TV screens across the nation on Friday nights.
The former chancellor got a rap on the knuckles from ACOBA for contacting Whitehall officials on behalf of his new employer — a London-based lender.
The watchdog said Hammond’s messages to Treasury officials were “not consistent” with the rules on lobbying and access for former government employees. Hammond hit back and said ACOBA was only trying to “demonstrate that it is not ‘toothless’” amid renewed scrutiny of Westminster’s lobbying culture.
Even the former prime minister has had his run-ins with ACOBA.
After quitting his role as foreign secretary in Theresa May’s government, Johnson took up a lucrative role as a columnist at the Daily Telegraph — but (you guessed it) without informing the watchdog beforehand. ACOBA said it was “unacceptable” Johnson only told them about the column a full fortnight after he had signed a contract with the newspaper.
He kept writing the £275,000-a-year weekly column anyway.