A senior Tory MP is being investigated by Parliament’s sleaze watchdog following claims he lobbied the NHS on behalf of a client during the Covid crisis.
Steve Brine, chairman of the Commons Health Committee, is under investigation amid allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of a firm for which he was working as a paid consultant.
His case is being looked into by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Daniel Greenberg.
Downing Street refused to comment saying there was a parliament process “ongoing”, but the investigation prompted calls for Mr Brine to step down immediately.
The allegations emrged as part of a tranche of leaked Whatsapp messages from former health secretary Matt Hancock published by The Daily Telegraph.In them Mr Brine, a former health minister, had complained that he had been “trying for months” to persuade the NHS to hire anaesthetists through recruitment company Remedium, the paper said. Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party Chair, who referred the matter to the Standards Commissioner, said:“The public are rightly sick of this constant slew of Conservative sleaze. These are very serious allegations and the Commissioner must be given space to thoroughly and independently investigate.”
Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said today: “Steve Brine should immediately step down from the Health Select Committee whilst this investigation takes places.
“It is absurd for an MP who may have wrongly lobbied the NHS to now be in charge of holding them to account.
“The evidence against him looks damning and is clear for all to see. The messages sent by Steve Brine appear to show an MP during the pandemic proiritising his corporate employers above all else.
“To the public, this whole thing stinks of another Conservative sleaze scandal.”
According to the Telegraph, Mr Brine contacted Michael Gove – the then Cabinet Office minister – in early 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, seeking his help after he had tried to raise the issue with then NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
In a message to Mr Gove he wrote: “Dear Michael … sorry to raise this but having tried the Dept of Health (seemed logical) and the Chief Exec of NHSE (ditto) I am at a loss.
“Long story short, I have been trying for months to help the NHS through a company I am connected with – called Remedium.
“They have 50 anaesthetists right now who can be in the country and on the ground in the NHS if someone only said let us help. They just want to assist and asked me how they might.
“Despite offering this to health and to Simon Stevens I’ve had nothing despite SS telling the press conference last week this is an acute problem, despite the PM telling the Liaison Committee this is his biggest problem etc etc.
“How might I progress this or does the NHS just not need the help?”
On February 2, Mr Gove forwarded the message to Mr Hancock who replied: “Weird – he hasn’t texted me”. He added a short time later: “This is already in hand. Thanks for pinging on”.
According to the Telegraph, Remedium had been paying Mr Brine £1,600 for eight hours’ work each month since July 2020 – an arrangement that continued until the end of December 2021.
Under Parliament’s rules, MPs are not allowed to lobby for any organisation they are being paid by for six months after their last remuneration.
It was a breach of this ban on paid lobbying which led to the resignation of former Tory minister Owen Paterson in 2021.
In addition, under Government rules former ministers are banned from using contacts from their time in government to lobby for two years after leaving office.
Mr Brine, the MP for Winchester, told the Telegraph: “This was about responding in the national interest to an urgent public call from ministers and the NHS in a national crisis even if, ultimately, it led nowhere let alone secure any business for Remedium.”
Mr Brine has been contacted for comment.