Boris Johnson criticised for re-hiring minister who repeatedly broke ministerial code
- Boris Johnson appointed George Freeman as a minister in his reshuffle of the UK cabinet last week.
- Freeman was previously rebuked for twice breaking the Ministerial Code for post-government work.
- Labour and Lib Dem MPs said Freeman's return shows a lack of integrity in the government.
- See more stories on Business Insider SA's home page.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for reappointing a former minister who was found to have broken the ministerial code twice earlier this year.
Johnson conducted a government reshuffle last week, making George Freeman MP the science minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
He was previously a minister in the Department for Transport.
Freeman was found to have broken the code on two separate occasions by Eric Pickles, chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) which regulates jobs taken up by former ministers.
A senior figure in Johnson's government had previously noted that Freeman's disregard for ministerial rules could harm his employment prospects - but it was not enough to prevent Johnson giving him a new role.
Opposition MPs criticised the move.
Sarah Olney MP, a Liberal Democrat, told Insider that "it really is not acceptable that once again we're witnessing ministers act in complete defiance of measures which have been introduced to improve transparency and accountability.
"The Prime Minister's appointment of Freeman, who began this sorry affair by incredulously demanding an apology for himself, underlines the fundamental lack of decency and integrity that runs through the heart of this Conservative government."
Anneliese Dodds MP, Chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: "This is yet another example of Boris Johnson treating the ministerial code with contempt and more evidence that the current system for regulating lobbying and standards in public life is totally unfit for purpose.
"There cannot be one rule for senior Conservatives and another rule for everyone else."
Freeman lost his job as a transport minister in a February 2020 reshuffle, starting a two-year period in which he was required to consult ACOBA before taking up any new roles.
In April 2021, Pickles wrote to the Cabinet Office noting Freeman's failures to do so:
- Freeman earned £2,500 working for Aerosol Shield, a firm trying to sell PPE to the NHS, in June and July 2020.After Pickles wrote to Freeman saying he had breached the Ministerial Code, Freeman claimed ACOBA had made a "serious error", appealed the finding, and demanded an apology. Pickles did not apologize, but Freeman later did.
- Freeman organised a £20,000-a-year consultancy contract with Ryse Hydrogen, openDemocracy reported. He then cancelled the work and refunded the company after realising he first needed ACOBA's approval before taking the role.
- Freeman had unpaid roles with the Resume Foundation, Reform for Resilience, and Haemcro.
Freeman apologised for his various breaches.
Lord Nicholas True, a Cabinet Office minister, responded to Pickles in May, suggesting that there would be consequences for Freeman in future.
True agreed that Freeman had breached the Government's Business Appointment Rules. Following the Business Appointment Rules is a requirement of the Ministerial Code.
"The public recognition that Mr Freeman did not adhere to the rules means that current and future employers, as well as the public can take this into account", he wrote.
Freeman told Insider: "The Cabinet Office have accepted my apology that I had understood ACOBA's remit only covered commercial roles (not my not-for-profit projects) and appointments related to a Minister's previous job post (not my previous career in technology).
"Indeed Lord True made clear my case showed why ACOBA Guidance needed amending."
True wrote that the Cabinet Office and ACOBA were assessing "whether a lighter touch regime is appropriate for unpaid, voluntary roles with not-for-profit organisations".
Downing Street declined to comment.