Farage should open his books to salvage credibility, says former sleaze watchdog
by Billy Kenber and Laura Pitel
21 April 2014
Nigel Farage must throw open his books to an independent auditor if he is to remain a “credible” politician, the former head of Westminster’s sleaze watchdog has said.
The Ukip leader is under pressure to explain what happened to almost £60,000 in EU funds which the Times revealed he said that he spent on a West Sussex office given to him rent-free.
This week OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office, is expected to decide whether it will pursue a full investigation into the Ukip leader after a former senior party official made an official complaint.
Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life from 2003 to 2007, said that Mr Farage must open his books to explain what happened to the money. “I’m sure if he wants to be a credible European candidate in future he should be accountable in that way,” he said. Referring to Mr Farage’s comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week when the MEP said that he would be open to allowing an independent auditor to inspect accounts “if that would settle the argument”, Sir Alistair said: “I think he should keep to his public statement and we can all be satisfied that there’s detailed information to back up his claims that the money has been used appropriately.
He said it was “ridiculous” for Mr Farage to claim that he was being unfairly picked out for questions about his use of allowances. “I just don’t think that’s a tenable argument,” he said. “In the end it’s public money — whether it’s European money or UK public money it doesn’t really matter. It all comes from taxpayers’ taxes and therefore whoever uses that money has to be accountable for guaranteeing to the public it’s being used in an appropriate fashion to fulfil your public duties.”
Under EU rules, MEPs receive 4,299 euros a month to pay for an office and expenses incurred in carrying out constituency work in their home country. The money is paid into an MEP’s personal bank account with no requirement to provide the European Parliament with receipts or a breakdown to show it has been spent within the rules.
Criticizing the “incredible” arrangement, Sir Alistair said it was a “monstrously loose and ineffective system”.
He added: “It’s a wanton waste of public money that you can allow someone to claim without providing receipts. If you think in the UK system at one time you could only claim up to £250 without receipts and they’ve even stopped that now.”
Sir Alistair said the European Parliament’s system was wide open to abuse.
Ukip also faces questions over nearly £300,000 that was paid out from Mr Farage’s local branch in 2004 and 2005 as unexplained “other costs”, when even payments for as little as £496 on communications were itemized.
Six former officials and whistleblowers have come forward to allege that they were silenced, ignored or forced out of the party after questioning its use of EU funds and donations. Ukip has described their claims as “historical”, deriding them as “very unimpressive people” whom the party had weeded out.
The remarks by the former standards chief came as it emerged that Neil Hamilton had been demoted from his role as Ukip’s campaigns director.
The former Tory minister caused a headache for Mr Farage at his party’s conference when the Ukip leader was confronted over the ex-MP’s involvement in the cash-for-questions scandal.
He insisted that Mr Hamilton was merely the “backroom boy”, but Mr Hamilton contradicted him. “I haven’t been in the backroom today, have I?” he asked reporters after coming off the podium.
The decision to axe Mr Hamilton from the campaign role suggests that Ukip is sensitive to suggestions of impropriety, despite attacking last week’s Times reports as a smear campaign.
The former Tory has been replaced by the party’s new director of communications, Patrick O’Flynn.
The negative headlines appear to have done little to damage Mr Farage. A poll by Survation for The Mail on Sunday, showed the party topping a Westminster constituency for the first time. The survey of 506 voters in Eastleigh, where the party came second in last year’s by-election, put Ukip in first place on 32 per cent.