Two Conservative MPs in Northamptonshire have defended a decision to pay themselves more than £40,000 for almost 1,000 hours of work in just three months of EU referendum campaigning.
The revelation comes after the Conservative pair’s register of interests were published, with Corby and East Northants MP Tom Pursglove receiving £19,250 and Wellingborough MP Peter Bone £21,750.
Pursglove claimed for more than 450 hours between December 2015 and March 2016, with Bone almost 500.
When asked by the Northants Telegraph whether his EU work, which accounted for more than 30 hours per week, had impacted on his role as MP, Mr Pursglove said: “My work on behalf of Grassroots Out has been undertaken in my personal time and does not interfere whatsoever with my role as the Member of Parliament for Corby & East Northamptonshire.
“Indeed, I am one of the most active Members of Parliament, according to independent analysts – since my election last May, I have spoken in 98 debates compared to my predecessor’s 49 in his final year.
“My voting record is also 96.20 per cent compared to his 78.25 per cent.
“I continue to campaign hard on the issues and concerns of Corby & East Northamptonshire – not least fighting to secure the future of our steel industry.
“My first priority has been, and always will be, continuing to do my best on behalf of local people and ensuring that I am Corby & East Northamptonshire’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in the constituency.”
The average salary for a steelworker is widely considered to be about £19,000, just short of Mr Pursglove’s campaign income.
The pair founded Brexit campaign group Grassroots Out, with Mr Pursglove remunerated for his work as chief executive and director and Mr Bone for his accountant services and as director.
Grassroots Out failed to win designation as the official Brexit group after losing out to Vote Leave, backed by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone, who also helped launch Grassroots Out, has not received any payments according to the register.
A statement by Mr Pursglove and Mr Bone, on behalf of Grassroots Out, said: “We are disappointed that some individuals have jumped to conclusions without being in full possession of the facts.
“Grassroots Out Ltd was established to campaign to get the United Kingdom out of the European Union, and in particular, to organise grassroots campaigning across the country – something we have been successfully achieving.
“Of all the major EU referendum campaigns, we have the cheapest and most efficient structure in place and our administrative and running costs are by far the lowest.
“The board of Grassroots Out Ltd took the decision to appoint Tom Pursglove as its chief executive and Peter Bone’s accountancy firm, PWB Accountants, to carry out accountancy work on behalf of the company.
“This decision was taken to ensure that Grassroots Out kept costs to a minimum, allowing us to spend the maximum amount on campaigning.
“The board took this decision because it was clearly the most cost-effective way of delivering the campaign.
“To have hired similar expertise from outside would clearly have been much more costly.
“The company decided not to appoint any other employees.
“Given the involvement of MPs, it is even more imperative that the company operates in a transparent manner.
“There is also a requirement, quite rightly, for any work carried out by MPs to be declared in full to the Registrar of Members’ Interests, including the number of hours worked.
“This declaration was properly made by both Tom Pursglove MP and Peter Bone MP.
“It must also be clarified that both Peter Bone MP and Tom Pursglove MP have made donations to Grassroots Out Ltd that exceed the level of the payments received.
“These donations will be listed in the official return made to the Electoral Commission.
“Neither Peter Bone MP, or Tom Pursglove MP, have made any financial gain from this arrangement.
“We remain committed to working towards getting the United Kingdom out of the European Union on June 23 and delivering grassroots campaigning under the Grassroots Out banner.”
A statement on behalf of Arron Banks, who has funded Grassroots Out, said: “Leave.EU has raised £9m to fight the Brexit cause, £5m personally from Arron Banks, £4m from other donations including 5,000 individuals.
“We are extremely shocked and disappointed to discover that two elected individuals have treated the GO Brexit campaign as a business not a cause and would urge them to do the honourable thing and donate the sum directly to a smaller Brexit group.”