A UK Independence Party (UKIP) MEP was suspended yesterday (19 March), and barred from standing in May’s national elections, amid accusations of European Parliament expenses fraud.
Janice Atkinson was also stripped of the party whip by UKIP, which said it was “incredibly disappointed” with the South East England MEP. She was elected in last year’s European elections, which saw UKIP returned as the most successful British party.
Her chief of staff was filmed by an undercover reporter from The Sun newspaper allegedly accepting a bogus restaurant receipt for almost treble the correct amount.
It is claimed Christine Hewitt told the journalist, “The idea is we overcharge them slightly because that’s the way of repatriating [the money].”
Atkinson had hosted a cocktail reception, attended by UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s wife Kirsten, during the Eurosceptic party’s conference last month. The €1,314 drinks bash was paid for by Hewitt on a credit card.
24 hours later, according to The Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper, she returned. She allegedly asked the manager to give her a bill for €4,357 so she could claim a larger amount from the EU.
Both Atkinson and Hewitt were reported to the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, and Kent Police.
A UKIP spokesman said, “The party is incredibly disappointed with Ms Atkinson, who appears to have exercised extremely poor judgment in acting in a way that the party has never, and would never condone.
“The party has acted swiftly and immediately, and just as we showed when we suspended another MEP for financial irregularities, we always maintain a zero-tolerance attitude towards acts of this nature.”
Farage, a candidate for Thanet South and leader of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament said, “If what she has been suspended for is right, I am astonished she could have done something quite so stupid.”
“It looks like a claim that wasn’t made, I am pleased to say, but a claim that was intended to be made that may not have been as genuine as perhaps it should have been,” he told The Telegraph.
Atkinson was slated to fight the nearby Folkestone and Hythe constituency in May’s elections, which have been dominated by immigration and the UK’s relationship with the EU.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a “Brexit” referendum if the Conservatives win the election and has called for reform on EU immigration rules. UKIP take a harder line on those issues, demanding the UK leave the EU and introduce an Australian-style points system for immigration.
Atkinson, one of UKIP’s highest profile politicians has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons before. She sparked a race row last year after she was recorded calling a UKIP-supporting Thai woman “a Ting Tong from somewhere”.
Ting Tong was the name of a Thai transsexual mail order bride played by comedian Matt Lucas in popular sketch show Little Britain. She offers sex in exchange for, among other things, residency in the UK. Ting Tong is also a Thai colloquial term for a mentally ill person.
In December, it emerged that Atkinson, UKIP’s welfare spokeswoman, owed more than €2,768 in child support to her ex-husband, despite previously criticising ‘feckless families’ who have more children than they can afford.
In January, she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that MEPs “directly encouraged” the deaths of young Ukrainians by interfering in the Ukraine.
The UK European elections were held the 22 May, coinciding with local elections in England and Northern Ireland.
A total of 73 MEPs were elected. The Conservatives, the party currently in governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats, were pushed into third place for the first time in a European Parliament election, the same position as Labour in the previous 2009 European Parliament election. It was also the first time since 1984 that the largest opposition party failed to win the European Parliament election.
The UK Independence Party UKIP won 32.88% of the vote and 24 MEP seats. The Labour Party came second with 27.4% of the vote and 20 MEP seats. The Tories came third with 26.03% of the vote and 19 MEP seats. The Green Party of England and Wales obtained 3 MEP seats, the Scottish National Party obtained 2, The Liberal Democrats and four smaller parties obtained one seat each.
The 7 May UK general election will go a long way towards deciding whether Britain will stay in the European Union, or choose to leave, after 40 years of uneasy relations.
A surge in Eurosceptism has firmly pushed the European Union onto the political agenda in Britain. The ruling Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union."
- 7 May: Elections in the UK