Today (June 14th) the Guardian carries a report that the European parliament proposes to demand £100,000 from me for staff expenses which were allegedly mis-spent. Naturally I have had many media bids from journalists who want more information. And I’ve had to tell them that in respect of this alleged demand for £100,000, I know no more than they do. I have had no communication whatever from the parliament on the question.
This may seem surprising, but it is not the first time that some allegation of this type has emerged through a press leak, with no information from the parliament to the individuals concerned. Indeed the parliament has a technique where it deliberately leaks speculative allegations to friendly journalists, and then uses the consequent media reports as a basis for a hostile enquiry. This procedure is totally improper and prejudicial, but it seems to be common practice.
The Guardian also seeks to link the £100,000 story to my resignation. But I signed resignation papers on May 31st, and my first inkling of the Guardian story was an e-mail yesterday morning from Jennifer Rankin, a Guardian journalist. I immediately sent the Guardian e-mail to Klaus Welle, the parliament Secretary General, demanding an explanation, but so far I have no reply.
The story (such as it is) is a follows. The parliament indicated to me at the turn of the year that it was concerned about payments to two of my UK staff – though it was not at all clear why they had such concerns. Nonetheless, I prepared and submitted two very substantial dossiers of evidence supporting the work done by the employees. After some time and several enquiries, I was able to establish that they had cleared one case, related to my regional Press Officer.
The other case relates to my Constituency Manager Paul Oakden. Paul joined me shortly after I moved to UKIP in March 2012, and had been a hugely committed and effective Constituency Manager until his resignation in December last. Initially he worked for me, or for me plus my regional colleague Margot Parker MEP. In January 2015, Margot decided to make other arrangements, and I put Paul on a half-time contract, and reduced his salary accordingly by 50%. Paul naturally decided to seek other employment for the remaining 50% of his time, and took a second half-time contract with another employer, as he was perfectly entitled to do under UK employment law. The second contract was with UKIP.
Paul’s duties (for me) included running a busy office in Market Harborough, managing two or three administrative staff, dealing with or supervising correspondence with constituents, organisations, companies, pressure groups, charities and NGOs who phoned, or e-mailed, or visited the office in person. He had overall responsibility for my UK diary and managed my events in the region. He oversaw relations with the media and accompanied me on media meetings. He and I had regular review meetings at weekends in the region, in Market Harborough or at the Costa Coffee Shop in Lutterworth. He also occasionally accompanied me on overseas missions. He was even my driver of last resort to get me to the airport when my car was in for service.
I do not issue my mobile phone number widely, but Paul’s number was on a notice board outside the office. He was available to constituents 24/7. He was also available to me 24/7. Because of the nature of parliamentary work we often had to talk outside normal working hours, at anti-social times, and over weekends and so on.
In the dossier I presented to the parliament I provided hard-copy records of phone and e-mail exchanges during 2016. These were incomplete. The parliament’s own phone records, for example, only went back six months, while earlier parts of the e-mail record were no longer available. Despite repeated efforts we have still been unable to obtain Paul’s phone records for 2016, and he frequently called me. Yet despite these limitations, we identified around 830 proven contacts in the year. There are typically around 240 working days in the year, and Paul was nominally working half-time (though I believe he did more than that). But 50% of 240 days is 120 days, so we have hard evidence of an average of at least seven contacts every working day. If the records were complete, I would expect the figure to be around ten contacts per working day.
Against this background, to suggest that Paul wasn’t working for me is simply risible.
An affront to natural justice: The problem, of course, is that the parliament is judge, jury and executioner in its own cause. In a criminal case, the onus of proof is on the prosecution. In a civil case, we deal with a balance of probabilities. But in the European parliament, they demand proof beyond doubt that work was done – in other words, the rule is guilty until proven innocent. Had I known that such an enquiry might arise, I might have required monthly reports and so on. But I come from a business background, not a bureaucratic background. Rather than pile up interminable reports, I prefer to hire good people and delegate.
There is an appeals procedure in the European parliament, but it amounts to little more than asking the same people who made the first decision to confirm it. And the great majority of bodies in the parliament are dominated by pro-Europeans who would find against eurosceptics on an automatic ideological basis. It may be time to consider other legal options.