UK Politics

Patrick Mercer 'deliberately evaded' MPs' rules, watchdog finds

Independent MP Patrick Mercer
Image caption Mr Mercer resigned on Tuesday

Former Conservative MP Patrick Mercer "deliberately evaded" rules intended to ensure transparency in the Commons, the standards watchdog has concluded.

In 2013, he was paid £4,000 by an undercover reporter from Panorama posing as a lobbyist seeking to secure the return of Fiji to the Commonwealth.

The standards committee confirmed that he had tabled parliamentary questions about Fiji after the approach.

It was the second-worst breach of the rules since 1947, the committee said.

Mr Mercer, who has represented the Nottinghamshire constituency of Newark since 2001, has said he was "ashamed" of the episode and decided to quit Parliament after reports indicated he would be suspended from the Commons for six months.

'Paid advocate'

The MP had already said he would not contest the general election next year and has been serving as an independent since May 2013. He did not contest the findings of the report into his conduct.

A by-election will be held in Newark on 5 June after a writ was moved in the Commons by chief whip Sir George Young.

Mr Mercer was filmed by undercover reporters from the BBC's Panorama last year agreeing to set up a parliamentary group to push for Fiji to return to the Commonwealth.

The Commons standards committee said: "While the rules permit MPs to have external interests, and to use the expertise they gain from them in the service of the House, paid lobbying is prohibited.

"The rule that no Member 'shall act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House' is very long-standing, and has been extended to prohibit lobbying approaches to colleagues, ministers or servants of the Crown.

"Mr Mercer's willingness to establish an all-party parliamentary group to further the interests of the 'Friends of Fiji' flouted that rule."

'Racially offensive'

The committee also noted that he had tabled five parliamentary questions and a Commons motion about Fiji after being approached by the undercover reporter.

Mr Mercer had not registered his agreement with the fake lobbying company and did not declare his financial interest in the matters he raised.

The committee found him guilty of "allowing payment to influence his actions in parliamentary proceedings".

It also said he had used "racially offensive language" in relation to footage that showed him recounting details of a visit to Israel.

He said he told an 18-year-old girl: "You look like a bloody Jew."

When he was asked about the incident during the investigation, Mr Mercer said he had been "very tired at the time" and admitted it had been a "stupid thing to say", the report said.

Mr Mercer had apologised and added: "I am married to a woman of Jewish extraction. I have lots of friends in the Jewish community, and, yes, I can prostrate myself no further... I accept I said it, and I am conscious that my speech isn't always as balanced as it should be."

But the report concluded: "Mr Mercer inflicted significant reputational damage on the House and its Members.

"The suspension we propose is the longest put forward since 1947, with the exception of that proposed for Mr Denis MacShane, who was subsequently convicted of criminal offences."

'Kitchen sink'

The Conservatives have selected Robert Jenrick to contest the by-election while Labour - which held the seat between 1997 and 2001 - has chosen Michael Payne to fight the seat.

The Liberal Democrats are still to make a selection.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage ended speculation that he might stand by announcing on Wednesday that he had decided not to take part.

His party would nonetheless "throw the kitchen sink" at overturning the previous 16,152 majority on behalf of their candidate, who has yet to be chosen, he said.

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