Government minister received £15k in donations linked to controversial Aquind interconnector project

New government minister Simon Clarke has received thousands in donations linked to controversial Aquind project

An MP recently appointed to Boris Johnson’s cabinet has received thousands of pounds in donations from a firm at the centre of a  controversial infrastructure project, analysis by NationalWorld can reveal.

Simon Clarke, the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, received £15k in donations linked to Aquind between 2019 and 2021.

A key decision on the company’s project has been postponed on several occasions, due to a major backlash locally and concerns about the firm’s ties with Government.

While other ministers have recused themselves from being involved in decision making on the project due to links to the firm, Clarke is yet to do so.

Campaigners opposing the project say the donations should warrant a “thorough and transparent inquiry into the relationship between the Conservative Party and Aquind Limited”.

Simon Clarke was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury in September (Graphic: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld)

What is the Aquind interconnector project?

Aquind first submitted a Development Consent Order application (DCO) to build an underwater energy cable between the UK and France in 2019.

The company says the cable, which would run through parts of Portsmouth, would “make energy markets more efficient, improve security of supply and reduce carbon emissions.”

The project has been mired in controversy, however, with campaigners opposing the cable fearing environmental damage and potential security implications for the UK.

With a final decision on the pipeline’s construction now due to be taken by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in the new year, Aquind’s seemingly close ties with the Conservative party have also been a source of concern for campaigners.

Analysis of the MP’s Register of Interests by NationalWorld has revealed that Simon Clarke, who was recently awarded a top ministerial position as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has received £15,000 in donations from either Aquind or its director, Alexander Temerko, since 2019.

Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, received the most recent donation of £5,000 in April 2021.

Clarke is not the only senior minister to have received donations from the company or its directors in recent years, with Anne-Marie Trevelyan, former minister for energy and clean growth, and Martin Callanan, the business department’s parliamentary undersecretary, both facing calls to recuse themselves from decision-making on the Aquind pipeline in April 2021.

This was due to Trevelyan having received over £15,000 in donations linked to Aquind between 2013 and 2020, while Callanan was a former non-executive director at Aquind between May 2016 to June 2017.

In July 2021, Trevelyan recused herself from answering questions in the House of Commons on the Aquind Interconnector, following former business secretary Alok Sharma who recused himself from decision-making after reportedly attending a dinner with two of Aquind’s directors in 2020.

In April 2021, the Labour party said the donations and links between Aquind and Conservative ministers presented “a clear conflict of interest” at the heart of the business department.

‘Government cronyism’

Portsmouth South Labour MP Stephen Morgan, who has vocally opposed the project, told NationalWorld: “Government cronyism on the Aquind interconnector project continues to go from bad to worse.

“We now have four members of the cabinet who have either been lobbied or received private donations from Aquind, two of which have recused themselves from commenting on or making decisions on the project. The Chief Secretary to Treasury must now do the right thing and follow suit immediately.

“It only raises further questions if the Business Secretary can truly make a balanced decision on an issue that is already mired in cronyism.

Viola Langley, co-founder of campaign group Let’s Stop Aquind, said the revelations presented a “crisis in public confidence” around the pipeline: “The citizens of Portsmouth deserve a thorough and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the Conservative Party and Aquind Limited to restore faith in our democracy, a democracy that many of our members believe is now up for sale.”

A HMT spokesperson said of Clarke’s recent donation from Aquind: “This donation has been fully declared in the proper way through the Register of Members Interests.”

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