Tory peer gets in a tangle over lobbying as MPs apply the pressure

Written by David Singleton on 28 February 2019 in News

Greg Barker was grilled by the foreign affairs select committee

The Conservative peer who chairs Oleg Deripaska’s En+ has told MPs that he has never employed any lobbyists in the UK – a few months after PAN revealed that he had engaged a Westminster-based consultancy.

Greg Barker was being grilled by the foreign affairs select committee when told MPs he had not used a lobbying firm or "any similar organisation" in the UK.

The former energy minister also claimed that a Washington D.C.-based public affairs agency had not been doing any lobbying even though Mercury Public Affairs was given a $100,000-a-month contract to push for the lifting of sanctions on the London-listed energy-to-aluminium group. The firm is linked to Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Lord Barker said: “My personal definition [of lobbying] would be seeking to change government policy or to influence government policy. Under that definition we weren’t looking to lobby at all… Mecury were able to represent me and say ‘at least give this guy a hearing because he is not there to represent Deripaska, he is there to represent minority shareholders’.”

But Bryant was unimpressed with that response. “I find it difficult to understand how in any world that could not be considered to be lobbying on your behalf. It is trying to put across an argument to legislators to achieve an outcome,” said the Labour MP.

After that, Lord Barker backed down. "I’m not going to argue with you on definitions of lobbying," he told Bryant.

The Labour MP then asked: “Have you employed any similar organisations in the UK?” To which Lord Barker replied: “No. We haven’t done any lobbying as you might call it in the UK."

The Tory peer did not volunteer any further information but in August last year PAN reported that Hawthorn Advisors had been called in advise on communications in the UK. The Westminster-based consultancy bills itself as an agency with expertise in public affairs, with its website stating: “Hawthorn helps organisations to navigate and overcome this political risk, bridging government relations and regulatory affairs with multichannel political campaigns that shift perspectives, influence policymaking and win arguments.”

Sources at Hawthorn previously confirmed to PAN that the agency was advising on “strategic communications” but they stressed that the work for EN+ did not include any public affairs-related activities.

Lord Barker was MP for Bexhill and Battle from 2001 to 2015. Earlier this year the Commons foreign affairs select committee criticised the flotation of En+ Group on the London Stock Exchange in a report into dirty Russian money in London.

 

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