"Generals for hire" - yet another lobbying scandal

A Sunday Times investigation has secretly filmed former generals boasting about lobbying to win multi-million-pound defence deals for arms firms.

A Sunday Times investigation has secretly filmed top-ranking retired generals boasting about their lobbying ability when it comes to helping arms firms secure multi-million-pound defence contracts.

Individuals like Falklands war hero Lieutenant-General Sir John Kiszely, Lieutenant-General Richard Applegate and Lord Dannatt were filmed bragging about their access to ministers. Several said it was possible to "ignore" the rules banning recently retired service personnel from lobbying or deals that are in official "purdah".

One detail that stands out in particular is the fact that Lord Dannatt met the undercover journalists at his private lodging in the Tower of London - where the front door is guarded by a beefeater.

Defence secretary Philip Hammond has launched an investigation into the claims, saying the allegations are serious, but insisting that these retired generals wield "no influence". The individuals in question have denied wrongdoing.

It's another great undercover scoop by the Sunday Times, in the style of the sting that caught out former Conservative treasurer Peter Cruddas, who was filmed boasting that he could provide access to the prime minister in return for donations.

Whether or not serious wrongdoing is uncovered, the bragging of these generals (or the "galloping greed of the old warhorses" in the Sunday Times superb phrase) conforms to an overall impression that a lot of money and undue influence is wielded behind the scenes in Whitehall. The cloud under which former defence secretary Liam Fox left the department a year ago contributes to this.

David Cameron has repeatedly vowed to "clean up Parliament". The more stories like this emerge, the more people will doubt his ability, or even will, to keep that promise.

 

Former British Army head Richard Dannatt. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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We're running out of time to stop a hard Brexit - and the consequences are terrifying

Liam Fox has nothing to say and Labour has thrown the towel in. 

Another day goes past, and still we’re no clearer to finding out what Brexit really means. Today secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, was expected to use a speech to the World Trade Organisation to announce that the UK is on course to leave the EU’s single market, as reported earlier this week. But in a humiliating climb-down, he ended up saying very little at all except for vague platitudes about the UK being in favour of free trade.

At a moment when the business community is desperate for details about our future trading arrangements, the International Trade Secretary is saying one thing to the papers and another to our economic partners abroad. Not content with insulting British businesses by calling them fat and lazy, it seems Fox now wants to confuse them as well.

The Tory Government’s failure to spell out what Brexit really means is deeply damaging for our economy, jobs and global reputation. British industry is crying out for direction and for certainty about what lies ahead. Manufacturers and small businesses who rely on trade with Europe want to know whether Britain’s membership of the single market will be preserved. EU citizens living in Britain and all the UK nationals living in Europe want to know whether their right to free movement will be secured. But instead we have endless dithering from Theresa May and bitter divisions between the leading Brexiteers.

Meanwhile the Labour party appears to have thrown in the towel on Europe. This week, Labour chose not to even debate Brexit at their conference, while John McDonnell appeared to confirm he will not fight for Britain’s membership of the single market. And the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, who hardly lifted a finger to keep us in Europe during the referendum, confirms the party is not set to change course any time soon.

That is not good enough. It’s clear a hard Brexit would hit the most deprived parts of Britain the hardest, decimating manufacturing in sectors like the car industry on which so many skilled jobs rely. The approach of the diehard eurosceptics would mean years of damaging uncertainty and barriers to trade with our biggest trading partners. While the likes of Liam Fox and boris Johnson would be busy travelling the world cobbling together trade deals from scratch, it would be communities back home who pay the price.

We are running out of time to stop a hard Brexit. Britain needs a strong, united opposition to this Tory Brexit Government, one that will fight for our membership of the single market and the jobs that depend on it. If Labour doesn’t fill this gap, the Liberal Democrats will.

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.