Camaigners urge an end to parliamentarians taking trips paid for by foreign governments

By agency reporter
July 30, 2018

British MPs and Lords should be prohibited from accepting overseas trips that have been paid for by foreign governments and their lobbyists, in order to protect UK politics from undue influence by malign outside interests, according to a new report by Transparency International UK.

In Whose Interest? has found the integrity of British democracy is being undermined by some parliamentarians who are, often consciously, helping to launder the reputations of corrupt and repressive regimes through providing political access and lobbying on their behalf. Many have been treated to all-expenses paid trips with either no clear purpose or to major events promoting the country, paid for by the host government or other parts of the regime.

Faced with this threat of undue influence, Transparency International UK is calling on  Parliament’s Commissioners for Standards to conduct an inquiry into the conduct of MPs’ and Peers’ roles in legitimising the actions of foreign states. The House of Commons’ Commissioner recently found that Ian Paisley MP had failed to declare the full cost of two luxury holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan Government, and then advocated on its behalf to the British Prime Minister.

To show the scale of this problem Transparency International’s new research has used three country case studies to illustrate how UK parliamentarians have supported corrupt and repressive regimes in Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain. It finds:

  • At least £333,000 spent on flights and accommodation for British parliamentarians to visit Azerbaijan between 2007 and 2017 – 84 per cent of which was paid for by the government or lobbyists and institutions connected to the regime
  • 12 British MPs’ paid at least £93,700 in total to appear on Russian state TV since 2014
  • Two UK parliamentarians provided advisory services to the King of Bahrain, including when the country engaged in a brutal crackdown of Arab Spring protests in 2011

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said: “International visits can certainly aid informed parliamentary debate, but when these trips are offered by foreign governments they undermine the independence of those MPs accepting them. 

“Citizens abroad have looked on our parliamentarians supporting their oppressors with anger and hostility, damaging the reputation of the UK abroad as a champion of democracy and human rights. Subsequent advocacy legitimising often brutal, repressive and corrupt regimes can leave people there subject to further ill-treatment from emboldened governments, and abandoned in their struggles for justice.”

“It is time to end the discredited practice of our parliamentarians enjoying generous foreign hospitality and recognise the harm this is doing to our democratic system. Our politicians are elected to work on our behalf, not the interests of foreign states who increasingly have subversive desires. Global scandals have exposed the activity of foreign states meddling in the affairs of others and we need to shore up our defences against this sort of activity.”

Transparency International argues that when British parliamentarians are influenced by foreign interests it can:

  • Undermine the credibility of those who engage in these activities.
  • Undermine efforts of other parliamentarians, UK Government departments and NGO’s to pursue democratic change in repressive states.
  • Harm the UK’s standing and reputation as a beacon of democracy and a defender of the rule of law.

In Whose interest? recommends:

  • A parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of members in legitimising corrupt and repressive regimes.
  • Prohibiting parliamentarians from taking trips paid for by foreign states and their lobbyists over £500 in value – a list of organisations should be agreed in Parliament from who paid trips over this amount are acceptable.
  • Prohibiting parliamentarians from providing paid or voluntary services to foreign governments and state institutions.
  • Providing parliamentarians with advice and guidance on how to approach due diligence on external engagements.
  • Publishing the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as structured open data to increase transparency and accountability over the activities of parliamentarians.

* Download the report In Whose Interest? here

* Transparency International UK


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