One of the Northern Irish MPs propping up the Government is facing a parliamentary inquiry after a Telegraph investigation revealed how he accepted holidays worth £100,000 from a state he is now helping to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.
Ian Paisley Jr said he had referred himself to Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, following this newspaper’s disclosure that he accepted two all-expenses-paid trips to Sri Lanka.
The announcement followed concern raised by MPs that the DUP parliamentarian might be helping to broker a “back-door trade agreement” with the country. Transparency International, the campaign group, said Mrs Hudson should investigate the matter as a “top priority”, following concerns that Mr Paisley has failed to declare the trips in the Commons register of interests.
The Telegraph can disclose that the holidays were organised by a highly controversial Sri Lankan official who has since become embroiled in a case brought by the country’s Corruption Commission, whose charges he describes as “frivolous”.
Sajin De Vass Gunawardena, who in a 2011 interview jokingly told how he had been described as a “rogue, thief and a corrupt person”, hosted Mr Paisley at a dinner in London in January 2013.
Following the dinner Mr Paisley wrote in an email seen by the Telegraph: “Dear Sajin, Many thanks for your hospitality on Wednesday evening. I had a wonderful time … It was great to meet with your bother and all your colleagues and to really feel part of a new family of friends.”
He added: “Given family commitments and school holidays would it be possible to visit between 30th March returning 6th April.”
Documents seen by the Telegraph show that Mr Paisley subsequently took his wife and children to the country for luxury holidays in 2013.
This week Mr Paisley posted a picture of himself alongside the Sri Lankan high commissioner, with the caption: “With Sri Lanka high commissioner to discuss NI-Sri Lanka trade deal after Brexit.”
Two days after the meeting in Parliament, Mr Paisley posted a picture of himself alongside Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, with whom he discussed “our trade agreements post Brexit”.
Mr Paisley initially declined to answer a series of questions about the Telegraph’s findings, including discussions he had with Mr Gunawardena about a potential oil deal.
But on Friday he said: “I can categorically state that I have never brokered any oil deal for this gentleman or anyone else.”
He also tweeted a statement from his lawyer saying: “My client totally denies the defamatory inferences arising from the article in today’s Daily Telegraph including those relating to his registration obligations as an MP. He has now referred this matter, and a full explanation, to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.”
Profile | Ian Paisley Jr
The son of the Democratic Unionist Party’s firebrand founder Dr Ian Paisley, Ian Paisley Jr has held his father’s old seat of North Antrim since 2010.
A DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly before being elected to Parliament, in May 2007 Mr Paisley joined the power sharing government led by his father, as a junior minister.
However the following year he resigned after months of adverse publicity over his links to a local property tycoon. He insisted he had done nothing wrong but said the “criticism has been a distraction and has got in the way of the activities of this government.”
Later in 2008 Mr Paisley travelled to New York in an attempt to persuade Donald Trump to build a golf resort in Northern Ireland.
Earlier this year he invited Mr Trump to visit Northern Ireland when the Open golf championship is held at Portrush in 2019.
He was a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and once described himself as “pretty repulsed” by homosexuality – although later said he had “grown up” since his comments.
Mr Paisley was among a number of Eurosceptic MPs to hold recent talks with the BBC over claims its Brexit coverage was “one-sided doom-laden reporting”.