‘Tory Sleaze Is Back,’ Starmer Slams Sunak Over MP Caught In Lobbying Sting

The Labour leader tore into the prime minister over the footage of Tory MP Scott Benton.
Keir Starmer meets representatives from organisations dedicated to supporting victims of violence against women and girls on Thursday April 6, 2023.
Keir Starmer meets representatives from organisations dedicated to supporting victims of violence against women and girls on Thursday April 6, 2023.
Stefan Rouseau via PA Wire/PA Images

Keir Starmer said Rishi Sunak has “lost a grip” today after a Tory MP was caught out in a lobbying sting.

The Labour leader declared that “Tory sleaze is back” after Scott Benton was filmed offering to help gambling lobbyists for financial reward.

A Times newspaper operation caught the Blackpool South MP outlining his services to reporters posing as a fake investment fund. He has since had the party whip suspended.

Reacting to the news, Starmer told reporters on a visit to Sunthorpe it was important to have rules, regulations and transparency around hospitality.

“With Scott Benton, what you’ve seen is a flagrant disregard of those rules of those principles,” he said.

“It’s not a one off, only a few weeks ago we saw three other Tory MPs looking after lucrative jobs thousands of pounds at a time for their apparent advice.

“All of this shows that the prime minister’s lost a grip. If ever we needed further evidence this is it, that Tory sleaze is back.”

Benton appeared to propose actions that would be in breach of parliamentary lobbying rules. However, he did not pursue the role and no rules appear to have been broken.

At the meeting, Benton described how he could support the fund, which he believed was set up by an Indian businessman looking to make investments in the UK betting and gaming sector, by attempting to water down proposed gambling reforms.

Benton offered a “guarantee” to provide a copy of an upcoming gambling white paper to the business at least two days before publication, potentially allowing it to benefit from market sensitive information.

He also said he could table parliamentary written questions and said he had previously done it on behalf of a company.

Benton said he could offer “the direct ear of a minister who is actually going to make these decisions” and speak to them outside the Commons voting lobby.

The MP agreed with a fee proposed by the reporters in the range of £2,000 to £4,000 a month for two days’ work.

It comes as the government is carrying out a major review of gambling laws, mulling stricter regulations that could affect operators’ profits.

Late on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Tory chief whip Simon Hart said: “Following his self-referral to the parliamentary commissioner for standards earlier this evening, Scott Benton has had the Conservative party whip suspended whilst an investigation is ongoing.”

In a statement, Benton said: “Last month I was approached by a purported company offering me an expert advisory role.

“I met with two individuals claiming to represent the company to find out what this role entailed.

“After this meeting, I was asked to forward my CV and some other personal details. I did not do so as I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary rules.

“I contacted the Commons registrar and the parliamentary standards commissioner who clarified these rules for me and had no further contact with the company. I did this before being made aware that the company did not exist and the individuals claiming to represent it were journalists.”


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