Dear Mr James,
Thank you for your letter 4 July and for a copy of the Commissioner’s report. I have taken the opportunity to read it. There appears to be one error on page 22 para. 67. Line l . It states ‘30 October 2018”. That obviously can’t be correct.
You asked me to respond to the substance of the report. I do not disagree with the factual account, I do have differences of emphasis and context that are recorded in my letter on page. 98 of the report.
I have made clear, right from the beginning of the inquiry, after I referred myself, that I recognised I had made a failure to register two official visits to Sri Lanka in 2013. This was my mistake. It was not done for an ulterior motive or for some reason that would be of benefit to me. It was a genuine mistake on my part to fail to register. At no time did I conceal the visits. I spoke openly about them. Wrote about them and published photographs about them. It was not a secret.
I have a good record of registration, both before and since. In recognition of my mistake, I have apologised profusely for this. I am deeply embarrassed by it and fully understand that it has an impact on my reputation. Members of the House are held to the highest standard and a failure, such as this, reflects on both the Member concerned and the wider house. I understand that fully, and know that I have let myself and colleagues down by not being properly attentive to the registration on these occasions in 2013. For this I apologise unreservedly.
In mitigation I was, at the time, in my first term as a Member. My office was undergoing a major change in staffing personnel; and I had other family matters to deal with that had taken over much of my attention. None of that takes away from the fact that I should have been more attentive to detail and that I should have completed the registration on time. I accept that fully.
I have had a longstanding interest in the conflict resolution process in Sri Lanka before I became an MP and certainly, I believe, I was able to add something to the understanding of ( comparative political discourse there. I know that the several visits I made added to my expertise and knowledge of the individuals and the issues on the ground in that country.
The Daily Telegraph article seriously and maliciously defamed me. The headline alone is a malicious and gross exaggeration. It is a sensationalised and misleading article. It dragged in Brexit, that was, in 2013, completely irrelevant, and contained a number of other preposterous claims. I am sure Members will understand why I reacted immediately to defend myself. That action has been delayed until this report is concluded. Indeed, this report, has facilitated the clarification that the Telegraph made an exaggerated claim of a El 00k visit that they had no evidence to substantiate.
I am pleased that the commissioner has found no grounds for finding that I;
1.breached rules regarding notification of a future visit to Sri Lanka that was subsequently cancelled in 2014.
2.That in January 2013, my speech in Parliament was not in breach of the rules. And, 3. finds no point in pursuing what was an innocent offer to exchange contact details between myself and a government official.
In terms of the breach of rules of paid advocacy. This appears to turn on the nature and content of the letter that I, along with others, sent to the PM in April 2014.
The letter was a general letter, signed by a number of Members, making a general request. It was not for the “exclusive benefit” of the Sri Lanka government but, in fact, was urging our own government to hold to a well-established position of non-intervention. For the U.K. to take a different position than normal would have put costs on HMG. A point that, I think, has not been appreciated. I did say to the Commissioner that it was harsh to accuse me of breaching the rule on paid advocacy as it turned on an interpretation of who was the actual benefactor. As it turned out, the government ignored the letter and those of us who signed it.
The Commissioner made reference to the delays in concluding the report. I feel, I am not solely responsible for these delays. It was not my idea to make an approach to the High Commissioner in person, or to give the High Commission several months to respond with a letter that concluded they had no evidence to add to the understanding of the inquiry. In fact, at the time I did make it clear that I didn’t think the High Commission would go beyond what they had previously said when approached by the newspaper. However, it now appears that delay—of months—is being apportioned to me. I think that is unjust. It has always been in my interest to conclude this matter as soon as possible. The delays have frustrated my legal action and the opportunity to move on from this sorry saga.
I fully appreciate the fuller understanding this inquiry has given to me of the rules of registration” distinct from “declaration”. A distinction that, at times, was misunderstood.
In trying to present evidence to substantiate my own claim that the Daily Telegraph evidence was exaggerated. I erred on the most-costly calculations, largely to highlight how preposterous was the original headline, and highlight that in the evidence they based the claim against me, they had a smaller calculation than I would have conceded. I understand that these twists and turns are of more interest to me than to the committee but it does, I hope, give Members a more complete picture.
Once again, I reiterate, as I have done so, on a number of occasions, in writing and in person, my unreserved apology for my mistake. I seek to blame no one else for it. I reiterate that I had no ulterior motive in making this mistake. It was a genuine mistake on my part and I made no benefit out of not registering. Members may further note that any and all subsequent visits or trade missions to Sri Lanka have been registered and declared in accordance with the rules. That I continue to take an interest in the country as a member of the APPG, but that I have not visited the country for some years. Importantly, I have no constituency or political benefit from taking an interest in this nation. I have neither a Tamil nor Sri Lankan organisation in NI or in my constituency to be lobbied by or to try to impress. My interest was in the post-conflict issues that NI has shared with the country. Those interests I have had long before entering the House.
My only meeting with the High Commissioner was when she visited Parliament in 2017 to meet members of the APPG and before she announced her return to her home country. My only other meeting with her was at the request of the Standards Commissioner to deliver a letter to her personally in January of this year. I hope this helps the committee in its deliberations.
Mr Ian Paisley MP
Published: 18 July 2018