Welwyn Hatfield MP resigns potentially profitable side job after listing it as ‘unpaid’

PUBLISHED: 17:41 02 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:45 03 August 2018

MP Grant Shapps

MP Grant Shapps

Archant

Grant Shapps has stood down from a high-tech post, and a parliamentary group, after a row over the parliamentary register of MPs’ interests.

Until Tuesday, July 31 the Welwyn Hatfield MP was chair of the governance committee of OpenBrix, a property company that uses blockchain technology and will trade with cryptocurrency tokens.

He was also, until his resignation on Tuesday, co-founder and co-chair of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (AAPG) for blockchain.

While Mr Shapps has listed the OpenBrix job as “unpaid” in the parliamentary register of MPs’ interests, the Financial Times (FT) Alphaville blog today claimed that he had been offered a share of cryptocurrency tokens in the company’s initial offering, which it estimated could be worth at least £170,000 to the MP personally.

Mr Shapps told the Welwyn Hatfield Times that this estimate was “crazy”, adding that the only reason the blog wrote the article is “they basically hate everything to do with distributed tech”.

Asked why he listed the potential OpenBrix earnings as “unpaid,” Mr Shapps said: “I said to the registrar I wanted this to be completely transparent, please tell me what I register.”

Mr Shapps said that he was told that there was no way to mark potential earnings in this situation, and that “unpaid” was the appropriate statement.

“I followed her advice to the letter,” he said.

“I asked all of these questions and sought all this advice.

“I could’t have gone more out of my way and been clearer with the registrar.”

He said that with OpenBrix he might have made “a few thousand pounds, maybe, if successful.

“I may or may not have been paid something, somewhere down the line.

“The idea that I’ve got some kind of secret payment is outrageous.”

He added: “I wasn’t doing it for the money, but I just thought that [OpenBrix] was a good company.

“I’ve got an interest in the subject, you do it for the love.”

The APPG for blockchain that Mr Shapps recently co-chaired is an informal group bringing together industry experts, MPs and businesspeople, to explore the potential of the technology.

An OpenBrix advisor, Adi Ben-Ari, has also made his way onto the AAPG as an expert advisor.

Mr Shapps explained his resignation from both roles by saying that he is too busy with other projects.

The Welwyn Hatfield Times also asked Mr Shapps if there had been a conflict of interest in standing on the AAPG both as an MP and as a businessman who stood to potentially gain from the blockchain industry.

“That’s why there’s a register and lots of people do have outside interests but that is a misunderstanding of what an APPG does,” he said. “An APPG doesn’t change laws, ministers do that.”

Blockchain is a form of digital ledger for recording transactions, and was first invented to track bitcoin, one of the first digital currencies.

Mr Shapps and MP Damian Moore founded the blockchain AAPG in January 2018 with the mission of ensuring “that industry and society benefit from the full potential of blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies (DLT) making the UK a leader in Blockchain/DLT’s innovation and implementation”.

Mr Shapps has previously enthused about the potential of the technology for numerous industries including property, writing on July 25 for OpenBrix that: “If there is one thing that the blockchain is good at, it is acting as a trusted third party [...] I suspect it won’t be long before the blockchain is bringing massive changes to the property sector.”

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