One of the Northern Irish MPs propping up the Government is facing a parliamentary inquiry after a Telegraph investigation revealed how he accepted holidays worth £100,000 from a state he is now helping to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.
Ian Paisley Jr said he had referred himself to Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, following this newspaper’s disclosure that he accepted two all-expenses-paid trips to Sri Lanka.
The announcement followed concern raised by MPs that the DUP parliamentarian might be helping to broker a “back-door trade agreement” with the country. Transparency International, the campaign group, said Mrs Hudson should investigate the matter as a “top priority”, following concerns that Mr Paisley has failed to declare the trips in the Commons register of interests.
The Telegraph can disclose that the holidays were organised by a highly controversial Sri Lankan official who has since become embroiled in a case brought by the country’s Corruption Commission, whose charges he describes as “frivolous”.
Sajin De Vass Gunawardena, who in a 2011 interview jokingly told how he had been described as a “rogue, thief and a corrupt person”, hosted Mr Paisley at a dinner in London in January 2013.
Following the dinner Mr Paisley wrote in an email seen by the Telegraph: “Dear Sajin, Many thanks for your hospitality on Wednesday evening. I had a wonderful time … It was great to meet with your bother and all your colleagues and to really feel part of a new family of friends.”
He added: “Given family commitments and school holidays would it be possible to visit between 30th March returning 6th April.”
Documents seen by the Telegraph show that Mr Paisley subsequently took his wife and children to the country for luxury holidays in 2013.
This week Mr Paisley posted a picture of himself alongside the Sri Lankan high commissioner, with the caption: “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, with whom he discussed “our trade agreements post Brexit”.
Mr Paisley initially declined to answer a series of questions about the Telegraph’s findings, including discussions he had with Mr Gunawardena about a potential oil deal.
But on Friday he said: “I can categorically state that I have never brokered any oil deal for this gentleman or anyone else.”
He also tweeted a statement from his lawyer saying: “My client totally denies the defamatory inferences arising from the article in today’s Daily Telegraph including those relating to his registration obligations as an MP. He has now referred this matter, and a full explanation, to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.”
Ian Paisley Jr denies £100,000 Sri Lanka holiday claim
One of the Democratic Unionist MPs whose votes prop up Theresa May’s government has denied allegations that he took £100,000 worth of hospitality from the Sri Lankan government.
Ian Paisley Jr, the MP for North Antrim, has referred himself to a Westminster watchdog committee after allegations that he did not declare two all-expenses-paid holidays to the country in 2013.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Paisley Jr had recently met Sri Lankan officials to discuss possible post-Brexit trade deals.
Paisley Jr said the report in the Telegraph was both “devoid of logic or fact” and defamatory. He said on Twitter that he had reported the article to his lawyer.
He later tweeted an image of a letter from his solicitor Paul Tweed denying the claims:
A DUP spokesman said: “Ian Paisley MP will rightly refer himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards. We await the outcome of that investigation.”
The House of Commons code of conduct states that MPs must declare any visit to a destination outside the UK which “relates in any way to their membership of the house or to their parliamentary or political activities” and which costs more than £300, unless they have paid for it themselves or out of parliamentary or party funds.
The rules state the MPs do not have to register family holidays, so long as they are “wholly unconnected with membership of the house or with the member’s parliamentary or political activities”.
Entries in the register of members’ interests should cover the cost of travel, hotels, meals, hospitality and car hire, and repeat visits should be registered if their combined value comes to more than £300.
Paisley’s register entries include a trade mission to Sri Lanka in 2012, as well as a second trip to the island that year as part of a cross-party delegation to examine post-war reconstruction, which received funding of £3,200 from the Colombo government. There is no mention of the alleged trips in 2013.
Complaints over alleged breaches of the code are investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, who reports to the Commons standards committee.
This committee, made up of MPs and lay members, has the power to recommend sanctions, such as requiring an apology or temporary suspension, subject to a vote in the Commons.
Paisley Jr, 50, is the son of the late Rev Ian Paisley, who founded the DUP in the early 1970s. He is one of 10 DUP MPs whose votes in the House of Commons help to keep the minority Conservative government in power. The price for the DUP’s support has been a £1bn-plus aid package for Northern Ireland.
In 2010, Paisley Jr succeeded his father as MP for North Antrim.