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George Osborne Defends Himself As MPs Say He Can't Be An MP And A Newspaper Editor

Evening Standard editor-in-chief George Osborne tried to justify his new media job in parliament, but MPs have told BuzzFeed News that the former chancellor must step down.

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George Osborne tried to defend his multiple jobs in a short speech to parliament on Monday as MPs accused him of undermining the already low public trust in politicians and the media.

"In my view, this parliament is enhanced when we have people of different experience take part in a robust debate and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the decisions we have to make," Osborne said.

Labour's Wes Streeting was one of the MPs to hit back, however, saying: "The trust of the public in both politicians and the media has never been so low, so what does it do to the trust of the public in politicians that people can have a number of roles, including editing a newspaper?

"What does it do for the reputation of media in an era of fake news to have someone editing a newspaper who has no qualifications to do so?"

Anyone watching the Tory benches today would think this was HoC from the 19th century. George Osborne's appt's an affront to our #Parliament

The former chancellor announced on Friday that he would become the new editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard, replacing Sarah Sands, who is leaving the newspaper to edit the Today programme.

Osborne said that he would continue being an MP, and that he would have no issue doing both jobs as the Evening Standard is "edited primarily in the morning", after which he could go to parliament.

The Tatton MP also spends one day a week as an adviser to investment firm BlackRock, which has led several politicians to call for him to stand down, especially as he did not consult the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), which advises former ministers on the jobs they can take, before taking the editorship.

Shadow minister Andrew Gwynne wrote to the Cabinet Office last week to report Osborne for a potential breach of the ministerial code, then secured an Urgent Question in the chamber on Monday, for which he had cross-party support.

Responding in the chamber on Monday afternoon, minister for the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer said: "I understand that the application for this particular role mentioned by the honourable gentleman at the London Evening Standard was received by the committee on the 13th of March and is currently being considered.

"When the committee has fully considered this application, it will provide its advice directly to my right honourable friend, and this advice may be public on the committee’s website. Until this advice is made public, there’s a confidential process between the committee and the honourable member."

"It was sadly unsurprising to see the lack of answers in response to my question. The government have claimed that it was not their duty to respond but rather the duty of ACOBA," Gwynne told BuzzFeed News.

"Unfortunately had the minister been aware of the process around appointments for former ministers, he would have known that as the appointment is now public, ACOBA are not able to provide recommendations."

"The first thing I did was to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1st because it just seemed like such a bad joke," Caroline Lucas MP, who is also calling for Osborne to step down, told BuzzFeed News, "and when I realised it wasn't a joke, I was absolutely horrified."

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Explaining why she is calling on Osborne to resign as an MP, or at least quit the Privy Council, the leader of the Green party said: "I think it's hugely insulting to his constituents to suggest that he can just squeeze in his parliamentary duties when he's finished editing a newspaper and when he's not advising a large financial organisation.

"My other major concern is about conflicts of interest, and I think he hasn't been able to respond to the fact that, for example, as the chancellor, he was a member of the Privy Council, and that membership goes on for life.

"He will have access to confidential briefings, which could go as far as getting advance notice if the government is planning to commit armed forces in conflict. The idea that it's appropriate to have a newspaper editor at those meetings is preposterous."

She went on: "And that's before you get into all the other potential conflicts of interest. For example, newspaper editors have to keep the people who advertise in the newspapers happy, so what does that mean for the relationship between Osborne as MP with businesses that he will want to advertise in his newspapers?"

Lucas tabled four parliamentary questions to the prime minister on Friday, hours after the announcement was made.

The first sought to clarify the arrangements to be made by 10 Downing Street to ensure that "the editor of the London Evening Standard is not able to misuse his position as a member of the Privy Council to generate news stories based on confidential government briefings or advance notice of any prime ministerial decision to commit HM Armed Forces in enemy action".

The second inquired about the "checks and balances" that will be put in place "to ensure that government ministers do not exert undue influence on the editorial policy of the London Evening Standard newspaper", and vice versa.

The third concerned Osborne's future ability to fully comply with his party's three-line whip, and the fourth aimed to make sure that the former chancellor wouldn't be making "inappropriate use of parliamentary estate premises and facilities when undertaking his editorial duties".

All four called on May to make a statement to the House of Commons, and Downing Street is yet to respond to any of them.

Hurricane George hits the Evening Standard.

Gwynne's letter, sent to the permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office on Friday, raises concerns about "a potential breach of the Ministerial Code".

"The rules on Business Appointments are established to counter suspicion that the decisions and statements of a serving Minister might be influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with a particular firm or organisation; and that an employer could make improper use of official information to which a former Minister has had access to," he said.

"Disregarding these rules deeply undermines public trust in the democratic processes and does a disservice to those Members that ensure they follow the rules laid out on these matters."

The shadow minister concluded by requesting that the incident is investigated, and asking the department to clarify whether they knew of the appointment before it was announced, and if they were aware that ACOBA had not been consulted.

Marie Le Conte is a politics and media reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Marie Le Conte at marie.leconte@buzzfeed.com.

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