North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson has once again issued a denial of any wrongdoing in relation to his financial affairs, simply stating that his financial interests have been ‘declared correctly’. But after new information came to light in an article in the Guardian which revealed the extent of Mr Paterson’s activities, lobbying for two firms – Lynn’s Country Foods’ and a healthcare firm called ‘Randox’. Both these firms are based in Northern Ireland and neither have any notable link to Shropshire. In both cases the MP is claimed to have repeatedly used his position as an elected representative of the people of North Shropshire to seek and gain access to key decision makers for these companies. This included meetings with a government minister and several such meetings with the chair of the Food Standards Agency. Mr Paterson apparently didn’t just arrange the meetings but attended and lobbied as if he were a representative of the companies rather than his constituents. Whilst he may not have broken any parliamentary rules, it raises serious questions about his commitment to his constituents and local interests. It also appears that his MPs salary, which rose to £79,468 pa earlier this year, or the hundreds of thousands he claims in expenses are enough for him. His work as a ‘consultant’ for these two companies earns him a further £112,000 a year on top.
These issues come on top of earlier questions about secret donations made to a company established in 2014 and owned and controlled by Mr Paterson between April 2017 and June 2019, which he appears to have used to fund numerous extravagant international trips from 2015 onwards to places such as Australia, South Africa and frequently to the United States. Parliamentary rules and the law on declaration of political donations are intended to ensure transparency of MPs and their interests. This is particularly the case in relation to international trips. Yet it appears Mr Paterson exploited a legal loophole by receiving funds at a private company called UK2020 Ltd, registered at an address in Liverpool. UK2020 does not have to publish or declare the origin of those funds and has used those funds to pay for Paterson’s trips. The MP then simply declares UK2020 as the donor, hiding the identity of the true source.
That Owen Paterson may be able to do all these things without breaking any rules or the law reveals how flawed our existing laws on transparency and political donations are. Should MPs be able to have additional jobs on top of being an MP, let alone jobs which make use of their position as an MP to make a profit on his political connections? We believe this, certainly, should be illegal. And companies which act as an intermediary for donations to politicians and parties should be subject the same transparency requirements as political parties.
Come the next General Election, which looks likely to be soon, we urge the people of North Shropshire to reject Owen Paterson and his dodgy donations and lobbying-for-profit! Vote for a candidate who stands for transparency and accountability, who is motivated by serving the people of North Shropshire. We intend to offer the people just such a candidate.