The MP, the £100k gifts and the Brexit trade deal

DUP mem­ber en­joyed all-ex­penses-paid hol­i­days but he did not de­clare them

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Claire Newell, Ed­ward Mal­nick and Ni­cola Smith

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

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