Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng offer to work for fake Korean company for £10,000 a day in MP sting

Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng are among the MPs who agreed to work for thousands of pounds per day for a fake South Korean firm after being duped by campaign group Led by Donkeys.

The ex-health secretary and former chancellor were caught on camera discussing a day rate for work, with Mr Kwarteng adding that he would expect to be reimbursed for his travel but would not expect a “king’s ransom”.

Mr Kwarteng initially said he would expect £10,000 per month but appeared to agree with an offer of £8,000-£12,000 per day for six board meetings a year that could be face-to-face or virtual.

Matt Hancock told a fake firm his daily rate for work was £10,000 (PA Archive)
Matt Hancock told a fake firm his daily rate for work was £10,000 (PA Archive)

Mr Hancock, meanwhile, said he had a rate of “around £1,500” per hour.

Led by Donkeys came up with the fake company “Hanseong Consulting” and a reporter played “Sooyeon Lee”, the firm’s claimed vice president of external affairs.

The group said it reached out to MPs to join Hanseong’s “advisory board” and had been conducting job interviews on Zoom.

The group, working with journalist Antony Barnett, also approached other top Tories such as former education secretary Gavin Williamson and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee.

The latter said he was “thinking something like £60,000 as an annual rate”, in a video shared by the group.

In total, they approached 16 Conservatives, two Labour, one Lib Dem and one independent MP, based on their financial “track records”. Of those, five responded with interest – four Tories and one independent, according to a preview video posted on social media.

Mr Barnett said the purpose of the investigation was to find out whether MPs would take a job “furthering the interests of a foreign company on top of their constituency duties”.

While there are no restrictions on whether MPs can have second jobs, Led by Donkeys considered it to be an ethical question facing members of parliament after the Owen Patterson and Geoffrey Cox scandals.

Led by Donkeys said they would be releasing further details of the Zoom job interviews over the coming days. It was revealed that Mr Williamson turned down the company at the job interview stage but the other four wanted to proceed.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell called on Rishi Sunak to suspend the Tory MP from the Tory MPs – saying there should be an investigation into any potential rule breaches “around the use of parliamentary offices to garner such income and such jobs”.

She told Times Radio: “When I see MPs, selling themselves in this way for their political advice and consultancy, to advise on regulatory matters, and so on, it absolutely sickens and angers me to be honest … Because I know that it reflects on all of us, not just those Conservative MPs.”

Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s shadow Commons leader, added:  “Being an MP is a full-time job. Tory MPs should not be using their taxpayer funded offices to line their own pockets. This is shameful at any time but particularly during the cost of living crisis.”

Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng (PA Wire)
Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng (PA Wire)

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the Tories caught up in a sting operation had been operating “within the rules” – but said MPs should ask themselves if they are putting “public service” first.

The levelling-up secretary told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “Inevitably all of us will reflect on this and think the first duty of a member of parliament is towards their constituents.

“And ultimately, the really important thing is, is an MP delivering for their constituents, is a member of parliament doing everything they can to put public service first?”

Mr Hancock, Mr Kwarteng, Sir Graham, Mr Williamson and the Conservative Party have all been contacted for a response. None had replied at the time of writing.

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “The accusation appears to be that Matt acted entirely properly and within the rules, which had just been unanimously adopted by parliament. It’s absurd to bring Mr Hancock into this story through the illegal publication of a private conversation. All the video shows is Matt acting completely properly.”

Sir Graham, who is stepping down as an MP after his term ends, said: “I made it clear any arrangement would have to be completely transparent and that, whilst a member of parliament, I would only act within the terms of the code of conduct.

“I also made it clear that while I could be flexible in attending international meetings in person, this would be subject to some important votes or commitments in Westminster.”