DUP MP Ian Paisley suspended from Commons for 30 days for ‘serious misconduct’

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr is set to be suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days for "serious misconduct".

The extraordinary penalty was announced by a watchdog today in a damning report on two trips the MP made with his family to Sri Lanka – paid for by the country’s government.

Today’s report found Mr Paisley failed to register the trips, both in 2013, within 28 days and later engaged in "paid advocacy" in a 2014 letter to the Prime Minister.

"We have concluded that Mr Paisley’s actions were of a nature to bring the House of Commons into disrepute," the Commons Standards Committee declared today.

"We conclude that Mr Paisley has committed serious misconduct."

The suspension should last 30 sitting days and begin on 4 September, the committee said.

Because Parliament breaks over the party conference season the suspension is set to last until mid-November – depriving Theresa May of a crucial Brexiteer vote on her final deal.

The probe into Mr Paisley, the son of the late firebrand unionist of the same name, was triggered by an investigation in the Daily Telegraph last year.

Mr Paisley recommended himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, which itself triggered the ruling by the Standards Committee today.

Today’s report found Mr Paisley visited Sri Lanka twice with his family, in March to April 2013 and in July 2013.

But he failed to register the visits within 28 days.

Then, on 19 March 2014, the MP wrote to then-Prime Minister David Cameron with other MPs expressing “alarm” at a proposed UN resolution on Sri Lanka.

The UN resolution had proposed "an international investigation” into alleged human rights violations in the country.

But Mr Paisley’s letter opposed the resolution noting “with alarm the decision by HM Government to internationalise the internal affairs of Sri Lanka”.

In this letter Mr Paisley did not declare the financial benefits he and his family had received from the Sri Lankan government, today’s report said.

Mr Paisley argued he had felt a declaration was not necessary because “sufficient time had elapsed” since the visits and because the Prime Minister was aware of his interest in Sri Lanka.

Mr Paisley apologised immediately for his failure to register the hospitality, but there were also "aggravating factors", MPs said.

Today’s report declared: "Mr Paisley’s failure to register the hospitality he received from the Sri Lankan government is made more serious by the scale of that hospitality.

"While he has disputed the Daily Telegraph’s claim that the value was £100,000, by his own calculation it amounted to over £50,000 – and may have been significantly more than that.

"This massively exceeded the threshold for registration, which at that time was £660.”

The report said Mr Paisley later promptly registered a third visit to Sri Lanka – showing he was “well aware” of the need to do so.

The report goes on: "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the reason why the third visit was registered and the two earlier ones were not, was that Mr Paisley was conscious of the potential embarrassment that would be caused to him were it to become publicly known that he had accepted very expensive hospitality, for himself and his family, from a foreign government accused of serious human rights violations."

A statement issued by Mr Paisley’s lawyer said: "My client has apologised unreservedly at the outset for his unintentional failure to register the hospitality he received.

"While accepting the decision of the House Standards Committee, he nonetheless continues to take issue with the sensationalised report in the Daily Telegraph.

"Legal proceedings are being considered.

"No further comment will be made until Mr Paisley has addressed the House on Thursday."

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