Labour is demanding answers after it emerged that Boris Johnson’s new spin chief lobbied the government for controversial Chinese tech firm Huawei.
Guto Harri came under fire on his first day as No 10’s director of communications over his past work for Hawthorn Advisers, a consultancy firm founded by the co-chair of the Tory party.
It was also reported that Mr Harri arranged a six-month leave of absence from the firm – to rescue Mr Johnson’s beleaguered administration – before being required to resign to take up his new role.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, seized on the revelation that Mr Harri lobbied for Huawei, which was banned from building the UK’s 5G network because of its close links to the Chinese state.
Mr Johnson initially gave the go-ahead with restrictions, before being forced to step back by a Conservative backbench revolt, amid criticism from the White House.
“We can’t have the revolving door from lobbying to government see potential national security issues arise,” Ms Rayner said.
“We need full transparency from Guto Harri about all contact he had with government in his former role and who his clients were.”
Hawthorn Advisers included Huawei as a major client in the two years that Mr Harri, a former BBC journalist, worked at the firm and he had “a hands-on role”, sources told The Sun.
A Downing Street source told the newspaper: “This is separate to his new role in No 10. This government is committed to removing Huawei from UK 5G networks by 2027.”
And Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson told a Westminster media briefing there was no conflict of interest.
“He provided advice to the clients of a private company. That’s entirely legitimate, it’s in the public domain,” said the PM’s spokesperson.
“Obviously we wouldn’t exclude from government someone with valuable experience and expertise.
“Our position on Huawei is clear. We have strict controls on how Huawei is currently deployed.”
He said that anyone taking up work in 10 Downing Street goes through “requisite” security checks and these had been completed for Mr Harri.
The PM’s spokesperson said that any meetings Mr Harri had with Mr Johnson or senior Downing Street staff during his time as a lobbyist would be recorded and published in the usual way.
“He will be an asset to the prime minister, providing detailed communications advice based on his significant experience,” he said.
Lobbying scandals have dogged the government in recent years, in particular the way Greensill Capital joined a government backed loan scheme before its collapse.
The Treasury was accused of giving the doomed firm special favours because of fierce lobbying by David Cameron, who was employed by it.
The appointment of Mr Harri, who worked for Mr Johnson when he was Mayor of London, has raised eyebrows because of his recent criticisms of his leadership style.
In 2018, he warned Mr Johnson was “digging his political grave” with his controversial newspaper columns and that he would be “hugely divisive” as prime minister.
Mr Harri also offended “culture war” Tories for taking the knee live on air during a debate about racism towards England’s black footballers, triggering his suspension from the GB News channel.
Arriving at work, Mr Harri appeared to signal an end to No 10’s alleged boozing culture, telling reporters his first act was to bring “healthy snacks and mineral water” for staff.
Mr Johnson promised Tory MPs big “changes” in the way his government is run, as he fights off the threat of a no-confidence vote in his leadership following the Partygate scandal.
A mini-reshuffle is expected to see the removal of Mark Spencer, the chief whip, who has been blamed for failures dating back to the botched attempt to save the disgraced Owen Paterson over a different lobbying scandal.