Transparency International warn Alun Cairns must avoid appearing like a ‘paid advocate’ for financial backers
Transparency International have warned that Alun Cairns could risk appearing like a “paid advocate” following an investigation by Nation.Cymru into parliamentary activities connected to a company of a major donor.
The Vale of Glamorgan MP and his constituency Conservative association has received £20,000 in donations from energy tycoon Alexander Temerko and his company Aquind Ltd since 2014.
Aquind was behind a controversial £1 billion project to build an electricity interconnector between the UK and France, which was last month rejected the UK Government following claims by a former Conservative defence minister it would “damage national security”.
Cairns established a Westminster interest group for “energy security” in February 2020, three months after being re-elected at the 2019 general election with the help of a £5,000 donation from Aquind.
The stated purpose of the group is to “promote the security of energy supply in the UK”. Aquind’s website said its interconnector was needed to “ensure additional security” and Temerko describes himself as a “vocal champion of UK energy security” on his own website.
Now Cairns has asked a written question connected to Aquind’s project.
In the week following the rejection of Aquin’s planning application, he tabled a written question to the UK Government asking: “What policies are in place with respect to sub-sea telecommunication cables; and what assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of including the security of sub-sea telecommunication cables in the national security strategy.”
That is connected to security concerns raised about the project by Portsmouth Labour MP Stephen Morgan, who told the Commons last July: “Aquind plans to lay one of the largest data pipes in Europe alongside the electricity interconnector.
“It will hold 180 fibre-optic pairs, many of which will be available for hire by third-party clients, which could include telecoms companies, technology firms and banks. That raises similar concerns to those about the UK’s 5G network and Huawei.”
Nation.Cymru asked Transparency International whether Cairns had breached parliamentary rules against paid advocacy.
Research officer Rose Whiffen said in response: “When MPs receive donations from those making major planning applications, they should be extremely careful not to lobby on their donor’s behalf.
“If you’ve got parliamentarians asking questions in the House relating to the interests of their financial backers there’s a distinct risk it could look like they’re acting as paid advocates.
“MPs should scrupulously avoid the perception – or the reality – that their actions in Parliament present them as in the pockets of vested interests.”
It comes after a similar warning from the former Liberal Democrat MP, Tom Brake, who now leads the Unlock Democracy campaign group, who said: “The paid advocacy rule means any MP, paid by a particular business or sector, must be extremely cautious about any related APPG activity.
“Stepping over a very indistinct line could leave them open to charges of lobbying.”
Nation.Cymru reported on Wednesday how Cairns attended a boxing match with Temerko while Secretary of State for Wales.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Temerko, who told Politico this week that the rejection of Aquind’s planning application shows “the influence of donors is very exaggerated.”
He said was active in his local Conservative party as well as Conservative headquarters to “try to implement our party manifesto, the industrial strategy, energy policies, green policies, because I am an environmentalist.”
Nation.Cymru contacted Alun Cairns for comment but he did not reply.
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