Appointment prompts concerns about rules governing the jobs government employees can take up after leaving Whitehall
: DAN DENNISON/GETTY IMAGES/GETTY
A senior civil servant advised the United Arab Emirates on “public service communications” during taxpayer-funded trips before accepting the post of communications chief at the Emirati foreign ministry, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
Alex Aiken, the Government’s executive director of communications, went on five official visits to the UAEone of which cost taxpayers £8,600 for business-class travel, accommodation and meals.
Last week the Cabinet Office announced that Mr Aiken was quitting his £150,000-a-year post to become communications adviser to the UAE foreign ministry. Shortly afterwards, Mr Aiken’s wife, Nickie, a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said she intended to quit at the next election to support her husband in his new role.
However, last week’s announcement prompted concerns about the rules governing the appointments that senior civil servants can take up after leaving Whitehall. MPs raised concerns that Mr Aiken was being permitted to continue in his post for the remainder of his notice period, having accepted a job working for an overseas government.
Now The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that Mr Aiken visited the UAE five times in the space of four years, between 2015 and 2019. The Cabinet Office insisted that Mr Aiken did not discuss job opportunities on any of the trips.
Seven-strong Supreme Council
On one trip, in 2018, he addressed an international conference on government communications hosted by the Emirate of Sharjah and opened by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qasimi, Sharjah’s ruler and a member of the UAE’s seven-strong Supreme Council.
He was filmed at the event wearing a lapel pin featuring the Union and UAE flags and saying: “I’m fundamentally here to talk to our friends in the UAE about how we develop the practice of public service communications.”
His other trips took place in February 2015, January 2017, May 2017 and April 2019. In both 2017 and 2019 he held official meetings with representatives of the UAE government, The Sunday Telegraph understands.
The disclosure comes after The Telegraph revealed that Mr Aiken hosted a 20-person official delegation from Abu Dhabi last May as part of a new initiative billed by the Foreign Office as the “UK-UAE inaugural Strategic Dialogue 2023”.
UAE has come under scrutiny over its human rights record and curbs on freedom of expression. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE president, described Vladimir Putin as his “dear friend” during a state visit by the Russian president in December.
The UK Government is currently considering whether to approve an Abu Dhabi-backed takeover of The Telegraph and the Cabinet Office, the department in which Mr Aiken is based, has faced calls by MPs to review the bid on national security grounds.
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