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‘Pay to Play’: UK MPs criticized for accepting cash, using Parliament’s offices in Zoom on human rights panel

LONDON: British MPs Layla Moran and Crispin Blunt both admitted on Saturday that they used their House of Commons offices to engage in paid non-government work. The “work” in question was a Zoom panel hosted by a private law firm discussing human rights in Saudi Arabia, a country with strong and historic ties to the UK.

While at first glance such an admission would not warrant any serious concern, the reality is quite the opposite – as the incident raises serious questions about whether or not external parties or foreign governments could recruit lobbyists or law firms to directly or indirectly engage deputies to appear. as if they were speaking on behalf of the British government.

The two MPs participated via Zoom in a panel organized by the law firm Bindmans LLP on political prisoners in Saudi Arabia last November.

The law firm described the meeting as an evidence-gathering session in which it heard testimony from human rights groups and family members of detained activists. However, no representative or spokesperson for the Saudi government was present to provide the kingdom’s perspective or correct any inaccurate statements that may have been made.

Given that Moran and Crispin were speaking from their official offices in the House of Commons, some experts argue that this can be misinterpreted by participants to give the discussion “the feeling of an official British government position”, when this was not.

Although the UK government does not comment on individual cases, events organized by individual MPs do not represent the political positions of the UK government. However, such events do not usually occur from the offices of parliament.

The other factor criticized by the experts here is the deployment of a “pay to play” attitude towards a serious subject such as human rights. Critics say it gives MPs “a bad reputation” that any enemy of any country can use them if they are willing to pay the right price. This is particularly critical as Moran is also Lib Dem’s foreign affairs spokesperson.

In fact, Moran was paid £ 3,000 by the company and Blunt received £ 6,000 to attend the session and conduct the testimonies.

A former British parliamentarian told Arab News: “While there may not be anything legally wrong, how is it okay to be paid to attend a human rights session? Where is the moral dimension? I would have been ridiculed for the rest of my life if I had engaged in something like this 15 years ago.

While Moran did not respond to multiple Arab News requests for comment, Blunt responded in an email stating that: “The UK constitution has government ministers present as members of Parliament or the House of Commons. Lords so that they can be directly accountable to their fellow parliamentarians. “

“Other than a very, very basic misunderstanding, people would have no reason to believe that these reports represented the views of the British government. People would have every reason to believe that the reports are authoritative and independent. They have also stood the test of time, ”he told Arab News.

He also went on to say that he and his fellow MPs were featured in the Detention Review Committee reports where the committee’s basis, research and evidence supporting our report’s analysis “was clearly defined.”

“I must also stress that of the five parliamentarians who sat on the three panels, only Lord Edward Faulks, former Minister of Justice, was a lawyer by profession. We were, however, advised by a senior legal advisor, who had experience in both international and human rights law. “

In response to the media backlash, MP Moran – who represents Oxford West and Abingdon – apologized and said it would not be repeated; however, MP Blunt – who represents Reigate – has sought to defend himself in interviews with local media.

“MPs are subjected to an absurd media feeding frenzy in relation to their extra work which is now causing greater damage to the institution of Parliament by creating a totally inaccurate image in the minds of the general public,” said Blunt said in a statement. .

However, this is not the first out-of-office payment scandal that Blunt finds himself in. Last month the MP for Reigate was paid £ 117 an hour – £ 15,000 a year – by a company which provides accommodation for asylum seekers. job seekers, months after the company itself was accused of paying its staff less than the minimum wage.

According to the code of conduct that governs the behavior of Members: “Members are personally responsible and must ensure that their use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided by public funds is in accordance with the rules established in the matter. ”

“Members of Parliament ensure that their use of public resources is always in support of their parliamentary functions. This should not confer any undue personal or financial advantage on themselves or on anyone else. “

UK citizens have taken to social media to express their frustration with MPs, with user Marko Von Richards tweeting “There is NO reasonable interpretation for your statement” Any reasonable interpretation, the work would meet a definition of ‘being’ parliamentarian ” If it was ‘parliamentarian’ your MP salary would cover it, not and an extra £ 6,000 @CrispinBlunt. It’s time to quit.

Another user wrote “@CrispinBlunt you are not getting paid as an MP to be able to work on anything else Saudi Arabia is not part of Great Britain last time I watched try to focus on the things that matter to your constituents and worry less about your wallet. “

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