Foreign junkets are back ON for MPs who can claim tests on expenses

Foreign junkets are back ON for MPs: Fury as ‘Westminster elite’ will be able to claim the cost of Covid tests on expenses – while families have to pay hundreds of pounds on swabs to go abroad

  • MPs were warned last night that to claim tests on expenses ‘doesn’t look good’
  • This is considering families are having to pay hundreds of pounds on swabs
  • Travel chiefs said it meant there would be different rules for ‘Westminster elite’
  • Ministers have failed to take concrete action to cut costs for holidaymakers despite a clamour of calls to deliver on their promise to drive down prices 

MPs will be able to claim the cost of coronavirus tests on expenses for their taxpayer-funded junkets.

But they were warned last night that doing so ‘doesn’t look good’ when families are having to pay hundreds of pounds on swabs to go abroad this summer.

Travel chiefs said it meant there would be different rules for the ‘Westminster elite’ while ordinary travellers ‘bear the brunt of extreme’ testing requirements.

MPs will be able to claim the cost of coronavirus tests on expenses for their taxpayer-funded junkets, but were warned last night that doing so ‘doesn’t look good.’ Pictured: A sign giving direction to a Covid-19 test centre at Heathrow Airport, July 31, 2021

Ministers have failed to take concrete action to cut costs for holidaymakers despite a clamour of calls to deliver on their promise to drive down prices.

The Treasury is stubbornly refusing to axe VAT on the ‘gold standard’ PCR tests, which would significantly slash costs.

Campaigners have also demanded ministers allow travellers returning from green and amber countries to take cheaper lateral flow tests when they return to the UK.

But now it can be revealed MPs will not be made to foot the bill for tests if their travel is for work purposes.

Parliament’s expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), said: ‘If an MP has to travel abroad for a parliamentary purpose, and is required to test before travelling or upon return, they would be able to claim for the cost of a Covid test.

‘We would expect MPs to ensure that they are up to date with instructions on travel testing, including whether any exemptions apply.

‘If the travel was not for a parliamentary purpose, they would not be able to claim the money back from Ipsa.’

The revelation provoked anger from the travel sector and Tory MPs.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘You couldn’t make it up.’ 

He said the Government seemed to be ‘quite happy to pay testing costs for MPs but they are not happy to pay the forced testing costs for consumers and they should be’.

The revelation that MPs could claim tests back on expenses provoked anger from the travel sector and Tory MPs. Pictured: People pass through International Arrivals at Heathrow airport on July 29, 2021

‘You’ve got rules for the Westminster elite but different rules for consumers who are bearing the brunt of these regulations which are too extreme,’ he said.

He added: ‘Another day, another example of a Government trip up on testing.’

And a Tory former minister said that while he thought Ipsa was right to allow MPs to expense tests for work travel, he conceded: ‘The public would probably not look at it in that way.’

MPs can start going on taxpayer-funded trips to amber list countries again from September. A Government spokesman said: ‘As noted in the Ministerial code, Ministers’ travel expenses for official business are covered by their department.’

Around the world with our ministers 

By Mario Ledwith for the Daily Mail 

For more than a year, Britons have had to miss seeing their loved ones abroad due to the Covid pandemic.

The ever-changing travel rules have also seen families lose out on thousands as holidays were cancelled.

Despite failing to implement a strict border policy when the pandemic unfolded last year, ministers have insisted that recent measures were vital to avoid spreading variants.

But at the same time, ministers were often jetting overseas themselves at the taxpayers’ expense.

Using an exemption afforded to crown servants, they did not have to quarantine on their return to the UK. 

In a further twist, many flights taken by ministers involved discussions on climate change as the UK prepares to host the COP environmental conference. Here, we look at some of the trips taken by ministers:

The Foreign Office minister

Wendy Morton has excitedly documented her various trips abroad.

In June, she travelled to Turkey as the country stayed on the red list, ironically using the trip to talk about the importance of the country as a UK tourist hub.

Pictured: Wendy Morton during a visit to Turkey as it stayed on the red list. There, she visited the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Antakya

She met the country’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, Faruk Kaymakcı, for a face-to-face meeting without wearing a mask, pledging that the countries would work together on climate change.

On the three-day visit she was also afforded a visit to the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Antakya. 

In April, when people were still unable to travel abroad, she flew to Greece for more diplomatic talks touching on the environment and visiting an ancient agora or meeting place.

Ex-Tory chairman

James Cleverly has been jetting across the world this year in his role as minister for the Middle East and north Africa.

While some of his trips touched on worthy subjects, such as terrorism, others have seemed less essential.

On a trip to Tunisia in June, just three weeks before the country was placed on the red list, he tweeted a picture of himself sampling olive oils. In May, he visited Saudi Arabia to discuss clean energy.

James Cleverly has been jetting across the world this year in his role as minister for the Middle East and north Africa. On a trip to Tunisia in June, just three weeks before the country was placed on the red list, he tweeted a picture of himself sampling olive oils

Foreign Secretary

Just two weeks after the UK entered its third national lockdown, Dominic Raab flew to east Africa for a three-state tour.

Mr Raab said the trip to Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia was an ‘invaluable opportunity to strengthen key partnerships’. 

As well as boosting trade and security links, the multi-flight trip was heralded for aiding the fight against climate change. 

The senior minister has flown thousands of miles this year, often on trips where he is keen to discuss the climate. 

He travelled to Indonesia and Brunei in early April, while in June alone he travelled to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Italy.

Trade Minister

When Graham Stuart travelled to Dubai in March, the United Arab Emirates was on the UK’s travel red list.

Local media reported that the MP was there to check on the progress of the UK pavilion at the world expo in Dubai taking place later this year.

During the week-long trip, Mr Stuart met with ministers and business leaders to discuss issues including renewable energy.

Sports Minister

Nigel Huddleston apparently dodged quarantine rules to grab selfies with Team GB heroes in Tokyo last month.

With Tokyo in a state of emergency amid surging Covid cases, strict rules mean athletes, officials and journalists are banned from leaving their hotel rooms for three to six days after arriving. 

Families of athletes are banned, and spectators are not allowed into stadiums.

Nigel Huddleston apparently dodged quarantine rules to grab selfies with Team GB heroes in Tokyo last month (pictured)

But no sooner had the Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire touched down on July 30, he visited the Tokyo Aquatics Centre where he soaked up the glory of Team GB’s gold medal in the mixed 4x 100m relay. 

He gushed on his blog: ‘I felt privileged to witness our incredible swimmers win their gold medal, only a few hours after arriving in Tokyo.’

The Government said he travelled under a diplomatic exemption as its only official representative and complied with testing protocols.

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