And the bad news just keeps on coming!
Article By Fiachra Gibbons
The expenses scandal that has shaken Britain's political class and claimed the head of the Speaker of the House of Commons now threatens to engulf Europe.
Several British MPs have already been forced to resign from their parties for claiming exorbitant expenses for everything from the cost of cleaning the moats of their castles to hiring electricians to change a lightbulb.
One even billed the public purse for building a house for his ducks. The furore culminated with the departure of the Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, the first time such a normally uncontroversial establishment figure has been forced to step down for 300 years.
But now public anger is turning towards MEPs, whose liberal expenses regime has been long the target of the country's eurosceptics. Ironically, however, it is the leader of the UK Independence Party, who want to pull Britain out of Europe, who has been exposed as the worst offender. Nigel Farage, who has called on voters to punish the "greedy" establishment parties at the European elections in nine days' time, has himself boasted of taking more than 2.3m euros in expenses from the European Parliament, on top of his salary of nearly 80,000 euros.
It comes as UKIP has risen to an unprecedented 17 per cent in the polls on the back of public disenchantment with the greed of national MPs. But now Farage's astonishing admission threatens to burst his party's bubble.
Farage, who employs his own wife as his paid parliamentary assistant, tried to limit the damage by saying that MEPs were "very expensive", but opponents have accused him and his party of gross hypocrisy. He has long insisted that the EU is too expensive, and his party has campaigned on a platform that Euro corruption is so endemic it is unreformable (below right). "We should not be paying 40 millions pounds a day to an organisation whose accounts have not been signed off for 14 years in a row," he said.
Farage insisted that he had not "pocketed" the money but had instead used the "very large sum of European taxpayers' money" to subvert the EU and hasten Britain's exit from the union. But this is far from the first time that UKIP has found itself embroiling in expenses rows, with two of its original 16 MEPs actually charged with fraud. Tom Wise, who has since left the party, and his researcher Lindsay Jenkins are both facing prison for alleged abuse of their expenses, and another former MEP, Ashley Mote, 73, was given an nine-month suspended prison sentence two years ago for falsely claiming benefits of more than £65,000. Another leading British MEP, the Tory Den Dover, has been forced to pay back £445,000 in "unaccountable expenditure". He had been accused of paying his wife and daughter nearly £750,000 from European funds.
Farage let the size of his expenses claims slip during a debate about Europe at the Foreign Press Association in London. He was asked by former Europe minister Denis MacShane what he had received in non-salary expenses and allowances since becoming an MEP in 1999. "It is a vast sum," he said. "I don't know what the total amount is but it must be pushing £2m. "
The expenses claims of European parliamentarians have come under increasing scrutiny over the last few years. The regime was seen as generally lax until the first reforms four years ago, and the lack of transparency about allowances and travel expenses in particular had become a running embarrassment. Part of the reason for the liberal regime was an attempt to make up for the glaring disparities in pay between MEPs from different countries. For the last decade or so MEPs were paid the same as their colleagues in their national parliaments, which meant that Italian members were paid nearly 130,000 euros, while those from Spain received less than a quarter of that, and those from the new member states in the east only a tiny fraction of that sum.
However, all new MEPs elected in June will get a Europe-wide flat salary of 91,984 euros - which will mean a pay cut for those from Austria, Germany and Italy - while sitting members will come under pressure to agree to the same deal. The rules on expenses have also been tightened sharply, but worries remain over enforcement, with officials only conducting spot-checks on MEPs accounts rather than systematic vetting of every claim
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