Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen may be suspended from the House of Commons for five days after he failed to declare a financial interest in a firm while writing to ministers about it.
The Commons Standards Committee found that Bridgen had breached lobbying rules “on multiple occasions and in multiple ways” – and that he had also made an “unacceptable attack on the integrity” of Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone.
A BBC report stated:
The committee said Mr Bridgen had called the integrity of Ms Stone into question on the basis of “wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations, and attempted to improperly influence the House’s standards processes”.
According to the BBC (again),
It was recommended he be suspended for three days for this – in addition to two days for three breaches of the code of conduct, including failing to declare a relevant interest in emails to ministers.
The committee said Mr Bridgen should have told ministers and officials he received a donation and a funded visit to Ghana from the Cheshire-based firm Mere Plantations, and had a £12,000 contract to be an adviser.
Bridgen appealed against the decision, but a panel has dismissed this, saying the proposed penalty was appropriate. MPs will vote on whether to uphold the recommended five-day suspension.
It seems Bridgen had had questioned whether his reputation as an outspoken critic of then-prime minister Boris Johnson could have influenced Ms Stone’s findings:
He wrote to her saying: “I was distressed to hear on a number of occasions an unsubstantiated rumour that your contract as Parliamentary Standards Commissioner is due to end in the coming months and that there are advanced plans to offer you a peerage, potentially as soon as the Prime Minister’s resignation honours list.
“There is also some suggestion amongst colleagues that those plans are dependent upon arriving at the ‘right’ outcomes when conducting parliamentary standards investigations.
“Clearly my own travails with Number 10 and the former PM have been well documented and obviously a small part of me is naturally concerned to hear such rumours.
“More importantly however you are rightfully renowned for your integrity and decency and no doubt such rumours are only designed to harm your reputation.”
The committee said Mr Bridgen’s email “appears to be an attempt to place wholly inappropriate pressure on the commissioner” which is “completely unacceptable behaviour”.
In his appeal, it seems Bridgen criticised the investigation as “flawed”, arguing that it had not fully considered the motivations of the person who had made the initial complaint.
He also said he had been carrying out the duties of a constituency MP.
But the Independent Expert Panel, that had been asked to consider his appeal, concluded that the motivations of the complainant were “completely irrelevant” and that an exemption for an MPs constituency duties did not apply in his case.
Its members added that sanctions “could properly and fairly have been more severe”.
Then why weren’t they?
There are three fairly serious misdemeanours here:
- he failed to follow lobbying rules (on multiple occasions, we’re told);
- he tried to exert pressure on the Standards Commissioner by attacking her integrity; and
- he tried to claim the investigation was part of a personal attack by whoever made the complaint about him.
So this is not just about lobbying, and possibly benefiting financially from such activities; it’s also about bullying and deflecting blame.
If a five-day suspension is the worst sanction that the Parliamentary standards system can impose, then perhaps there should be legislation to formally criminalise this behaviour, with jurisdiction on any punishment handed over to the courts?
Or would this simply give the police another opportunity to kowtow to the Conservatives?
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