More UK parliamentary visits to Israel-Palestine than anywhere in last two years
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More UK parliamentary visits to Israel-Palestine than anywhere in last two years

BBC breakdown of expenses shows visits to the holy land were worth £2m with £1.2m of that from the Tories

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Top left: Labour MPs meeting Palestinian Authority Minister Amal Jadou in Ramallah. Top Right  Science Ministers Ofir Akunis & the UK's Sam Gyimah sign a memorandum of understanding. Bottom left : Labour MPs meeting with opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Bottom right: Tory MPs visit  visit Israel Innovation Authority,
Top left: Labour MPs meeting Palestinian Authority Minister Amal Jadou in Ramallah. Top Right Science Ministers Ofir Akunis & the UK's Sam Gyimah sign a memorandum of understanding. Bottom left : Labour MPs meeting with opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Bottom right: Tory MPs visit visit Israel Innovation Authority,

Israel and the Palestinian territories accounted for more UK parliamentary visits than any other area in the last two years, according to a BBC breakdown of Parliament’s expenses register. Out of 810 visits by 340 MPs, 102 were to Israel and the Palestinian territories — with the vast majority coming from the Conservative benches.

In total, the visits made either side of the 2017 election were worth more than £2 million, £1.2 million of which came from the Conservative side of the House. Labour politicians declared much less: their visits accounted for £630,000, while the other parties had less than £200,000 spent on them put together.

The research analysed by the BBC shows that Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Hong Kong contributed to nearly half of the £1,105,490 worth of travel covered by foreign governments, offering free flights, hotels and meals to their guests.

The findings come after questions were raised over the travels of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and DUP MP Ian Paisley this year.

Mr Corbyn’s conduct was reported to Parliament’s Standards Commissioner after he failed to declare a 2013 trip he took to Tunisian, that was at the centre of the antisemitism controversy..

LFI delegation at the Western Wall

MPs must register all trips that are valued more than £600, but the Labour Party claimed that the Opposition leader’s visit was worth less than the threshold. Ian Paisley was suspended as an MP in July for 30 sitting days after failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka, covered by the Sri Lankan government.

The BBC research was limited to visits that were declared to Parliament by MPs before June 18 2018. The register of interests does not include ministerial costs or trips taken as part of delegations including Nato and the Council of Europe. Politicians have regularly praised parliamentary friend of Israel groups for helping to show the reality of life and challenges in Israel during trips to the region, which also take in the West Bank and include meetings with leading Palestinian figures.

Nine of the 10 MPs who had the most money spent on them in the year after the 2017 election are Tories, with only Rotherham’s Labour MP Sarah Champion making expensive trips to Hong Kong, Taiwan and India.

The most expensive traveller in the year after the 2017 election was Leo Docherty, Conservative MP for Aldershot, who went on six trips worth a total of £26,895. Most of this was at the invitation of the governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Mr Docherty, who ran the Conservative Middle East Council before entering Parliament last year, was part of a delegation invited by the Saudi government to “see the impact of ballistic missile strikes in the Saudi/Yemen border region and gain a deeper understanding of the strategic importance of the Coalition operations in Yemen”. His four-day visit in January was valued at £8,257.

But the MP who made the most overseas visits was Labour’s John Mann, who racked up eight trips. Mr Mann said these trips were “part of the job”.

None of Mr Mann’s trips was sponsored by foreign governments and most were related to his role as the UK chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism.

Nevertheless, eyebrows were raised at the discrepancy in declarations between a trip made by Mr Mann to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said to have cost £818, and a trip to the same area, made by Hendon Conservative Matthew Offord, which he declared as costing $3,450. Mr Offord’s visit — in April this year — is understood to have taken place under the auspices of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

Asked to explain the difference, Mr Offord told Jewish News: “I do not know where John Mann went as part of his two-day visit but my visit — Sunday until Friday. — was significantly longer and appears to have covered much greater parts of the country. In addition, I extended my visit (at my own expense) so that I could attend the ‘Notes of Hope’ concert alongside many of my constituents. You will also recall that the US bombed Syria that weekend and I was recalled by the Whips Office at 01:30 am on Monday morning in anticipation of a vote on the issue. Therefore CFI very kindly obtained me an additional flight to get me back — at additional cost.

“It does not appear that my visit is comparable to John’s in length of time, issues discussed, places visited and days and times of flights”.

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