An MP who previously claimed he was being paid £12,000 per year to advise a Teak growing firm now claims the role has always been unpaid.
Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire Andrew Bridgen had previously claimed that he was a paid director, then adviser, to Mere Plantations, a UK-based firm which is involved with the growing of Teak wood in Ghana.
However, following the MPs’ second jobs scandal, Bridgen now claims he has never been paid by the firm but has offered his services for free for eight hours per month between May 2020 and May 2022.
Labour have previously called for an investigation into Bridgen’s dealings with Mere Plantations, after it was brought to light last year that he lobbied on behalf of the firm to help them try to secure a lower rate of tax for their investors.
Role was declared as paid for almost 18 months
Bridgen first registered his employment with Mere Plantations in the 22 June 2020 edition of the register of members’ financial interests.
The role was registered on 17 June 2020, with Bridgen listed as “Director of Mere Plantations Ltd”.
The entry stated that the role would run “From 6 May 2020 to 5 May 2022” with Bridgen receiving “£12,000 per year for an expected monthly commitment of 8 h[ou]rs”
Despite adding two unrelated new entries to the register in between, this entry remained unchanged until the 4 January 2021 edition, at which point it was updated to show that Bridgen was an “adviser to Mere Plantations” in a role which would see him “provide advice on business and international politics”
This update to the existing role was registered on 23 December 2020, with the pay and hours involved in the role remaining unchanged.
The public version of the register is updated approximately every two weeks to include new or updated entries made since it was last published.
The MPs Code of Conduct states that MPs, “are required to register within 28 days any change” in their registrable interests.
From 23 December 2020 the entry which showed Bridgen as earning £12,000 per year in exchange for eight hours per month remained unamended for almost a year, until the 29 November 2021 edition of the register.
In the first edition of the register to be published since the MPs’ second jobs scandal, Bridgen’s entry has been updated to say that the role with Mere Plantations, which had been listed as being a paid role for almost 18 months, had in fact always been an unpaid role.
In the most recent entry, Bridgen states, “From 6 May 2020 to 5 May 2022, Adviser to Mere Plantations Ltd… I have not received any payment for this role. It will continue to be unpaid until it ends on 5 May 2022.”
But Bridgen’s links with Mere Plantations extend further back than this advisory role.
The firm paid for Bridgen to travel to Ghana in August 2019 for four nights at a cost of £3,300, to carry out a “UK company major asset inspection” which was registered on 20 August 2019.
A few months later, Mere Plantations donated to Bridgen’s 2019 general election campaign fund, with £5,000 registered in January 2020.
MP-linked firm secured meetings with senior ministers
In December 2020, OpenDemocracy reported that Labour were calling for an investigation into Bridgen after it was revealed that he had lobbied ministers on behalf of Mere prior to taking on a paid role with the firm.
It was reported that Bridgen requested a meeting with Harriet Baldwin MP, previously Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign Office, in March 2019 which led to a meeting involving board members of Mere Plantations.
Mere Plantations were involved in a roundtable discussion on leaving the EU hosted by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in November 2019.
OpenDemocracy reported that Bridgen wrote to then international development secretary Alok Sharma in January 2020 to arrange a meeting with Mere’s CEO Mark Hogg, which took place the following month.
The meeting related to tax arrangements for investors in Mere Plantations, with Hogg requesting support to lobby HMRC to reduce the tax rate from 45%.
Bridgen, who was listed on the register of members’ financial interests at the time as a director of Mere Plantations, told OpenDemocracy that he had been erroneously listed as a director.
He also said at the time that he had not “put any bills in” to Mere Plantations as he had “been very busy doing other stuff”.
‘He’s been superb’
Speaking to NationalWorld, Mere Plantations’ CEO Mark Hogg said Bridgen has never been paid to provide the firm with advisory services and that “somebody’s made a mistake” in relation to media reports suggesting he had.
Asked why Bridgen himself seemed to be under the assumption for over a year that he was being paid to offer advisory services to Mere Plantations, Hogg said he had “no idea”.
Hogg said: “Mr Bridgen has helped and supported [Mere Plantations] as a proper MP, he hasn’t done private work, he wasn’t paid for private work, he hasn’t billed for private work, he’s just been a thoroughly decent, supportive person and MP.”
He added: “I’ve got no issue with Andrew Bridgen at all, he’s been superb.”
Andrew Bridgen MP has declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on this article.