£17,000 severance for 36 hours in the job: How much year of political turmoil will cost taxpayers

UK

Britain’s year of political turmoil could cost the taxpayer up to £726,000 in severance payments to former ministers and whips, Sky News analysis of House of Commons library data has found.

Since the beginning of the year, 79 government ministers and whips have either been sacked or have resigned.

And 71 of them are likely to be eligible for payments averaging more than £10,000 – no matter how long they were in the job.

To receive the lump sum, they cannot return to government within three weeks of leaving their post.

This means anyone shuffled out by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday will be eligible for a payment as long as they do not return to a paid government role by 15 November.

Our calculations are based on what they will be eligible to receive if they remain on the backbenches for that period.

Newly installed Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis leaving Downing Street, London, after meeting the new Prime Minister Liz Truss. Picture date: Tuesday September 6, 2022.

Brandon Lewis: £34,000

More on Boris Johnson

Mr Lewis, who most recently served as justice secretary under Liz Truss, is eligible for the largest sum, with two payments totalling nearly £34,000 – more than the £31,676 that nurses earn on average in a year.

He is eligible for one payment due to his resignation as Northern Ireland secretary in July – in protest at Boris Johnson’s refusal to stand down – and for a second payment due to the loss of his position as justice secretary during Mr Sunak’s reshuffle.

In a year of political chaos, 2022 has seen three prime ministers and numerous reshuffles. The result has been a record level of turnover on the government benches, resulting in a large number of people eligible for severance payments.

The number of cabinet appointments this year is already more than twice as high as in any year since 1979, according to the Institute for Government.

In July, Boris Johnson announced he would stand down as PM after dozens of MPs resigned in protest at his handling of sexual assault allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and military representative to NATO Ben Bathurst leave NATO Headquarters following a summit on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Pool

Liz Truss: £385 per day

Ms Truss consigned a further 30 ministers and whips to the backbenches in her first three days as PM.

Both Mr Johnson and Ms Truss are eligible for the most generous individual payments, at £18,860 each.

For Ms Truss, who served just seven weeks in the top job, that represents £385 per day in office. Her total potential sum is more than the £10,120 which she would have earned in the role from her salary, if paid on a pro-rata basis.

Kwasi Kwarteng: £444 per day

Mr Kwarteng, who was forced to resign as chancellor over the mini-budget, is eligible for nearly £17,000.

That’s equivalent to £444 for each day he was in the job, and is more than twice the amount he would have earned from his official salary as chancellor if paid pro-rata (£7,023).

Suella Braverman, who resigned as home secretary on 19 October, will not be eligible for a payment as she returned to the frontbench just six days later – within the three-week cut-off window.

Overall, 32 MPs could claim more in severance payments than they earned in the job.

Minister of State for Northern Ireland Conor Burns during a press conference following a British-Irish Council (BIC) summit meeting at the St Pierre Park Hotel in Guernsey. Picture date: Friday July 8, 2022.

Conor Burns: £7,290

Former trade minister Conor Burns is set to receive a severance payment of £7,290 – three times his pro-rata salary of £2,602.

He was fired in October after just one month in the role after losing the whip for an allegation of “serious misconduct” at the Conservative Party conference.

Anyone leaving a paid position in government can claim – regardless of whether they willingly resigned, were fired or stepped down in disgrace.

The only conditions are that they don’t return to a job within three weeks, are under the age of 65 and did not die in office.

Chris Pincher: £8,000

Mr Pincher, who resigned as a government whip in July following allegations of sexual assault, was eligible for a payment of nearly £8,000.

Sky News has contacted those eligible for payments, but many of them have yet to respond.

British Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan walks through conference hall during Britain's Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 3, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Some donate severance payments to charity

Michelle Donelan has said she will donate her payment to a local charity.

She qualified for a payment of nearly £17,000 after serving as education secretary for less than 36 hours under Boris Johnson.

The office of Dominic Raab, who was reappointed as justice secretary on Tuesday, told Sky News he is planning to return part of his £16,876 payout.

Grant Shapps spent just 43 days out of ministerial office after resigning as transport secretary under Mr Johnson, but could claim nearly £17,000 in severance for his trouble. His office said he will be donating around half of his payment to an HMRC-recognised charitable account he uses.

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Reshuffle: How the day unfolded

Severance pay to Labour in 2010: £1m

When responding to an Urgent Question about severance payments in July, then Cabinet Office minister Harriet Wheeler said: “The severance pay for ministers is established in legislation that was passed by Parliament in 1991 and that has been used by successive administrations over several decades.

Ms Wheeler added: “Reshuffles are a fundamental part of the operation of government and, by their nature, routinely remove ministers from office, and that, unlike in other employment contexts, there are no periods of notice, no consultations and no redundancy arrangements.”

She pointed out severance payments had been made and accepted during the Blair and Brown years in office, adding: “To ensure transparency, severance payments are published in the annual reports and accounts of government departments.

“As an example of the previous operation of this provision, the data published in 2010 indicated severance payments made to Labour ministers in that year amounted to £1m.”

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