Tory MP John Penrose, who until this morning was the PM’s Anti-Corruption Champion, has announced he’s stepping down because “it’s pretty clear” that Boris broke the Ministerial Code, and will be voting against him in the confidence vote this evening. Releasing a public letter minutes ago, Penrose said:
“I’m writing, with huge regret, to tender my resignation as your Anti-Corruption Champion. Not because I have ceased to care about the role — the issue is more important now than ever. Nor am I unhappy with what the Government is doing on the topic either: the recent Economic Crime Act and sanctioning of Russian oligarchs; plus the measures to make it harder for organised criminals and kleptocrats to hide dirty money in the UK through tighter rules on shell companies; more transparent Public Procurement; and the plans for a second Anti-Corruption Strategy when the existing one completes its 5-year term at the end of this year, are all welcome and needed. I’m proud to have been able to contribute to all of them.
My reason for stepping down is your public letter last week, replying to your Independent Adviser on the Ministerial Code about the recent Sue Gray Report into ‘partygate’. In it you addressed the concerns over the Fixed Penalty Notice you paid, but not the broader and very serious criticisms of what the Report called ‘failures of leadership and judgment’ and its’ conclusion that ‘senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture’. You will know (and your letter to your Adviser on the Ministerial Code explicitly says) that the Nolan Principles of Public Life are absolutely central to the Ministerial Code, and that the seventh of them is ‘Leadership’. So the only fair conclusion to draw from the Sue Gray Report is that you have breached a fundamental principle of the Ministerial Code — a clear resigning matter. But your letter to your Independent Adviser on the Ministerial Code ignores this absolutely central, non-negotiable issue completely. And, if it had addressed it, it is hard to see how it could have reached any other conclusion than that you had broken the code.
I will always be grateful to you for getting Brexit done after the country voted to leave in the EU Referendum, for leading us to victory in the 2019 General Election, and for getting the country out of covid lockdown as early as was safely possible last year. But I hope you will understand that none of these can excuse or justify a fundamental breach of the Ministerial Code. As a result, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be honourable or right for me to remain as your Anti-Corruption Champion after reaching this conclusion, or for you to remain as Prime Minister either. I hope you will now stand aside so we can look to the future and choose your successor.”
Penrose is married to Dido Harding, former head of NHS Test and Trace. The spouses of both Kate Bingham and Dido Harding calling for the PM to go in the same day.
John Penrose who backed Remain but has become an ERG stalwart since the refendum has been appointed as Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office. Leave-voting Kwasi Kwarteng has been appointed as new junior Brexit minister after serving for 18 months as Philip Hammond’s PPS. The Cabinet’s balance has shifted further in favour of remain, and some potentially troublesome backbenchers have been bought off…
John Penrose MP should have had a very good understanding of FOBTs, as when he was at DCMS he was responsible for arranging the sale of the Tote to Betfred, a bargain for Fred Done, but a disaster for Tote staff. FOBTs had been introduced illegally, but the government owned Tote itself and had been operating them prior to the 2005 Gambling Act’s legitimisation of FOBTs as category B2 machines.
A recent Times article exposed that Mr. Penrose enjoyed the bookies’ sporting hospitality on 13 different occasions, including a visit to Royal Ascot.
Mr. Penrose has a record of staunch defense of FOBTs. At a Tory party conference, he was seen in a heated exchange at the Campaign for Fairer Gambling booth. He was upset that the Campaign was describing FOBTs as “the most addictive form of gambling”. If he had looked at the DCMS and Gambling Commission approved 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey and the secondary research based upon it, then he would have known that this description is factual.
An observer of the exchange made an interesting disclosure after Mr. Penrose moved on. The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) had held a private event at Tory conference and Mr. Penrose was seated in the small audience. In his speech, Dirk Vennix, the ex-CEO of the ABB and ex- Director of Communications at the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, stated: “You scratch our back – and we will scratch yours.”
After being an ex- Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCMS, Mr. Penrose is now Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury) (Whip) and Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, which was reported to have recently blocked a DCMS review of FOBTs. Whichever way you look at it, bookies and politicians doing a bit of back-scratching is not a pretty sight!