Brexiteer MP broke code of conduct rules, Commons watchdog finds

Ian Paisley Jnr speaking to the media after his election as an MP in North Antrim at Meadowbank Spor

Ian Paisley Jnr speaking to the media after his election as an MP in North Antrim at Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt Co Londonderry as counting begins Westminster election. - Credit: PA

A Brexiteer MP has been found guilty of breaking the minister's Code of Conduct, a Commons standards committee has found.

DUP representative Ian Paisley Junior failed to declare funding towards a luxury family holiday to the Maldives in 2016.

Parliamentary commissioner for the Standards in the House of Commons committee Kathryn Stone also rejected claims the trip has been partly funded by a friend and did not need to be declared.

Stone launched her own investigation following a report by BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme into the MP's holiday back in December 2018.

A chunk of the trip had been met by a third party with allegations it was arranged by a foreign government.

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Stone's investigation looked at whether the North Antrim MP should have registered receipt of the trip and if he had acted in breach of rules on paid advocacy for MPs.

She concluded that, on the balance of probability, "that a corporate body, rather than a personal friend of Mr Paisley’s" had absorbed the cost.

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Stone went on to say although no evidence of Paisley engaging in parliamentary duties while on the trip existed, the "circumstances were not analogous to a family holiday which was partly paid for by someone else because of a purely personal relationship".

She said the fact that Paisley had no direct relationship with the donor “created a presumption...and I was persuaded that having received complimentary rooms was something which others might reasonably consider to influence Mr Paisley, which made registration a requirement”.

The commissioner said Paisley should have registered his holiday within the 28 days and that he breached the Code of Conduct but did not act in breach of the rules on declarations of interest or paid advocacy.

Expressing frustration at the process, she said: “This investigation has taken far too long to complete. Some of the time taken is attributable to waiting for evidence from third parties, some to the dissolution of parliament and some to the volume of work in my office.

“However, much of the delay is the result of Mr Paisley focusing his attention on rebutting allegations made in the media rather than on answering specifically my questions about his adherence to the rules of the House.”

She added: “I believe that in so doing, when he asked for the Registrar's advice in December 2018, he did not disclose all of the relevant information.

"Had he disclosed more detail then about the nature of his relationship with one of the resort's owners, his contact with that individual before and after his visit to the Maldives, and about other arrangements for his holiday, he would have been advised then to register the hospitality he had received and this matter could have been concluded very much sooner, early in 2019."

Stone said the MP had broken the rules while being subject to an inquiry concerning separate matter.

Paisley has been asked to register the trip and will not face any further punishment.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

He was previously suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days for serious misconduct after he failed to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

A petition to trigger a by-election in his North Antrim constituency fell short by 444 votes, an outcome described by Paisley as a "miracle".

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