The MP, the £100k gifts and the Brexit trade deal
DUP member enjoyed all-expenses-paid holidays but he did not declare them
ONE of the Northern Irish MPS propping up Theresa May’s government accepted holidays worth £100,000 from a country he is now helping to secure a post-brexit trade deal, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.
Ian Paisley Jr, one of the Democratic Unionist Party’s most prominent MPS, accepted two all-expenses-paid trips from the Sri Lankan government.
Documents seen by the Daily Telegraph show that Mr Paisley took his wife and four children to the country. They flew business class, stayed in the finest hotels and were provided with a chauffeur-driven Mercedes, all paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
During discussions with officials, he offered to help the state broker an oil deal, saying he had “significant arrangements with national oil suppliers” in Oman and Nigeria.
The trips, which were never disclosed in the Commons register of interests, will raise serious questions about the influence and interests of the MP, who is one of 10 DUP members relied upon by Theresa May to ensure her government can continue to function after her snap election.
The Register of Members’ Financial Interests exists so that MPS can declare income, gifts or affiliations that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest with their parliamentary roles.
This week Mr Paisley posted a picture of himself alongside Amari Wijewardene, the Sri Lankan high commissioner, outside the Houses of Parliament captioned: “With Sri Lanka high commissioner to discuss NI-SRI Lanka trade deal after Brexit.”
Two days after the meeting in Parliament, Mr Paisley posted a picture of himself alongside Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary responsible for negotiating post-brexit trade deals. It was captioned: “With Liam Fox discussing our trade agreements post Brexit.” The Sri Lankan high commission in London said yesterday that Mr Paisley was considered to be in a particularly good position to help the state “enhance trade relations between Sri Lanka and UK” given the DUP’S role supporting Mrs May’s Government.
The images have prompted concern that Mr Paisley is attempting to use his influence within Government to help negotiate a deal on behalf of the nation that provided his £100,000 holidays.
The trips, which took place in 2013, have also raised questions given Sri Lanka’s questionable human rights record. Later that year Conservative MPS were banned from accepting trips funded by the Sri Lankan government due to concern about the regime’s lobbying tactics.
Shortly after the holidays Mr Paisley spoke in Parliament and suggested that the Queen could visit the country to aid the peace process there following years of civil war.
By failing to declare his trips Mr Paisley appears to be in breach of parliamentary rules, which state that funded trips that cost more than £300 must be declared.
Last night, the DUP said he had referred himself to Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. She has previously been criticised for her failure to reprimand MPS found guilty of breaking Commons rules.
Last night Siobhain Mcdonagh, a Labour MP who is vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Tamils, said it appeared that Mr Paisley might be helping to broker a “backdoor trade agreement” and described the revelations as “disturbing”.
“Sri Lanka has a seriously bad human rights record. Why would anybody accept holidays for their family if they wanted to speak in defence of the regime? Surely they understand, and surely the regime understands, that it undermines the honesty and validity of the view they are expressing,” she
said. Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, added: “No MP ought to give the impression they are acting or speaking out on an issue because they have been on all-expenses-paid trips to the country in question rather than thinking objectively about the issue at hand and acting in the UK’S national interest.”
According to documents seen by The Telegraph, Mr Paisley, a member of Parliament’s all-party group on Sri Lanka, had two holidays with his family in Sri Lanka in 2013. In February 2013, the MP emailed an official saying that he “wanted to follow up on your kind offer of a visit for myself and my family”, before suggesting some dates.
The trips took place in March and July 2013. On the first he stayed for 10 days and took his entire family. On the second he stayed for seven days and took his wife, Fiona, and two of their children.
The Sri Lankan ministry of external affairs is understood to have paid for business-class flights for the couple and their children, costing about £16,000, and arranged six hotels across the two trips, picking up the bill for their meals at the hotels. The group was greeted by officials at the airport in Colombo and given access to the VIP lounge.
The government also paid for helicopters to shuttle Mr Paisley and his family around the country, at a cost of $15,000 (£11,400) for one of the trips, with its defence ministry clearing space for them to land.
During their stays they were taken to attractions including an elephant sanctuary, a national park and a Buddhist temple, with the costs of the excursions covered by the government.
During the first trip, in March and April 2013, Mr Paisley and his family were given a suite at the Hilton hotel in Colombo, before being accommodated in the five-star Heritance hotel near Galle, in the south of the country, and the Amethyst resort on its east coast.
Three months later Mr and Mrs Paisley returned with two of their children, again with business-class flights to Colombo covered by the Sri Lankan government. After arriving in the capital on July 2, they were scheduled to fly by helicopter to Kandalama in the country’s central province, where they stayed at another five-star Heritance hotel, with a pair of rooms costing $272 (£208) and $332 (£254) for two nights. The hotel is nestled in a forest near the centre of the island. The website boasts that monkeys climb balcony pillars.
The family’s itinerary in Kandalama included a visit to the Sigiriya rock fortress, where complimentary tickets were arranged along with an Englishspeaking guide. They also arranged a 50-mile helicopter trip to the city of Kandy, where they were put up in the five-star Earl’s Regency Hotel and given free access to an elephant orphanage an hour from their hotel.
Later they flew back to Galle, where they checked back into the Heritance and had several “leisure days”, choosing from excursions that include a turtle hatchery, a lake and a mask museum.
While Mr Paisley failed to declare the 2013 trips in his register of members’ interests, he did declare a third trip to the country in November that year, costing around £3,400 , and one in 2012 with a cross-party group of MPS.
Mr Paisley has been a vocal supporter of the Sri Lankan government in recent years, calling for “positive trading opportunities” between Britain and the island, as well as highlighting how human rights abuses may have been committed by Tamils as well as the government during the civil war.
In January 2013, a month before emailing officials to arrange his first family trip, he opposed calls for the Queen to avoid the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka over fears her attendance “would be regarded as a vindication of the Sri Lankan Government’s actions”.
Mr Paisley said: “I am startled by the view that if Her Majesty were to put her foot on the soil of Sri Lanka it would be an insult to democracy. We should stretch out our hand to Sri Lanka; we should not step on Sri Lanka.”
In a Commons debate earlier this year, he argued against an international inquiry into historic war crimes in the country, saying: “The Govern-
ment rightly resisted all calls to make the Bloody Sunday and Iraq inquiries international in any way, because they were domestic inquiries into events that had an international impact.”
During discussions about arranging the first trip, Mr Paisley wrote to one official: “We discussed a potential oil purchase. I have two significant arrangements with national oil suppliers in either Oman or Nigeria. I understand from our conversation you require a regular supply and are currently changing your filters on the refinery to take other than Iran oil.
“If you can let me know quantity and
quality specifications of oil requirements I can certainly make this happen very quickly. As you know this is the most lucrative project you could be involved in and government-to-government arrangement will attract the most discount.”
It is not clear what became of the proposal. This week Mr Paisley declined to answer a series of questions about these discussions, his trips to Sri Lanka, and his subsequent discussions with the high commissioner regarding a post-brexit trade deal.
Asked about the trips yesterday, a diplomat at the high commission in
London confirmed Mr Paisley’s 2012 trip to the country with a delegation of MPS, but said: “The High Commissioner is not in a position to disclose any information with regard to personal trips.”
The diplomat added that the meeting with the high commissioner was to discuss bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and UK in general and also to discuss trade relations – how to enhance them, especially after Brexit.
Parties in Northern Ireland, unlike mainland parties, are allowed to keep the identities of their donors secret, due to the sensitivities of politics in the province following the Troubles.
‘No MP should appear to be speaking out because they have been on all-expensespaid trips’
‘If you can let me know quantity and quality, I can certainly make this happen very quickly’
Top, Ian Paisley Jr with Amari Wijewardene, the Sri Lankan high commissioner. Above, Mr Paisley and his wife Fiona stayed at the Heritance Kandalama, left, and the Earl’s Regency