Dear Sir Jeremy,
I am writing to you as Cabinet Secretary about the influence on Government policy of the Conservative Party’s paid advisor Lynton Crosby, and the possibility of a conflict of interest.
The Government has until recently intended to introduce standardised tobacco packaging.
But in November last year, the Prime Minister appointed Mr Crosby as a strategy advisor, and a few weeks later, Mr Crosby reportedly met with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn at Chequers to discuss the contents of the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. In that very Queen’s Speech in May the Government then dropped its plans for standardised tobacco packaging.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly fallen back on a carefully constructed formulation that Lynton Crosby does not “lobby” him. This only seems to confirm that conversations have taken place on this issue with Mr Crosby.
During the period that Mr Crosby was advising the Prime Minister, including on the Queen’s Speech, we now know that his company had Philip Morris International, a major tobacco company, as a client.
This is a clear case of a conflict of interest. You will be aware that the Ministerial Code has a clear line on conflicts of interest:
7.12 Ministers should take care to ensure that they do not become associated with non-public organisations whose objectives may in any degree conflict with Government policy and thus give rise to a conflict of interest.
Had Mr Crosby been a Government employee there would have been very strict rules to prevent that conflict taking place.
Because he is formally an employee of the Conservative Party, while clearly advising on government business and regularly visiting Downing Street, we have been left with what is in effect a back door breach of the Ministerial Code.
This potential conflict of interest appears now to have been accepted by the Health Secretary, who on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night said that public health was an area Lynton Crosby never advised the Prime Minister on “because his company has clients in that area”.
This conflict is not limited to tobacco. We do not know who else Lynton Crosby is paid to represent, because he has not revealed his clients.
But it has been reported that he has represented the oil and gas industry, who have a direct interest in the UK’s energy policy; and for the drinks industry, who have a direct interest in UK’s policy on minimum alcohol pricing (Financial Times, 16 July 2013) – another area on which the Government has recently changed its position.
In light of these conflicts of interest, I believe it:
A) makes sense for you to launch an inquiry to establish public confidence about the activities of Mr Crosby;
B) provide details of the checks that the Health Secretary said exist to prevent Mr Crosby being involved in areas where he has clients;
C) set out what steps you are taking to ensure those checks also apply to Mr Crosby’s advice to the Prime Minister, given that they clearly have not to date.
I look forward to your swift reply. In view of the public’s interest in this matter, I am releasing this letter to the media.