Watchdog apologizes for telling MPs to declare expenses for Christmas parties

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The watchdog responsible for MPs’ spending has apologized for telling MPs they could sue taxpayers for Christmas parties, leading to some politicians being “exploited”.

UKTN Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was widely criticized for giving the go-ahead amid a cost-of-living crisis.

MPs also complained that the watchdog gave the impression that they had “screamed” to put food, refreshments and decorations for an office party on expenses.

We also failed to recognize the public mood at a time of severe economic and financial pressure

Ipsa said a number of MPs reached out after the release of the Christmas spending guidelines to say “they have never made such claims in the past and have no intention of making any in the future”.

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The watchdog’s CEO, Ian Todd, said: “We misunderstood the message by giving the impression that this is what MPs wanted to do, rather than our interpretation of the discretion available under the existing rules.

“We are an independent body and we make our own decisions, but occasionally, like everyone else, we make mistakes.

“I would like to apologize to those MPs and their staff who have experienced phone calls, emails and in some cases abuse as a result of our guidance. They did not write the guidelines or influence their content.

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“In issuing it, we also failed to recognize the public mood at a time of severe economic and financial pressure. Sorry about that.”

Tory MP Maria Caulfield tweeted: “Welcome clarification from Ipsa that MPs are not using public funds for Christmas parties.”

Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt also welcomed Ipsa’s statement.

Ipsa’s first directive said MPs could claim the cost of “food and drink for an office festive event” as well as “celebratory decorations for their office”, but “no claims are allowed for alcohol”.

On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman told journalists: “The prime minister certainly has no intention of using this and his view is that MPs will want to justify all spending to their constituents.”

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Labor frontbencher Jess Phillips said in a post on Twitter, retweeted by Secretary of State James Cleverly, that Ipsa had been “irresponsible”.

“I just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it,” she wrote.

“The guidance was not made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it is really irresponsible to issue these directives as if MPs have been screaming for them, when I have literally never heard anyone do that.”

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