Rishi Sunak warns MPs to justify expenses as claims allowed for Christmas parties

Rishi Sunak has warned MPs they will have to justify their expenses to voters after they were told for the first time they could charge taxpayers for Christmas parties.

The Prime Minister “certainly doesn’t intend” to put food, refreshments and decorations on expenses for an office party after guidance was issued by the watchdog responsible for MPs’ expenses.

Though alcohol was deemed off limits for expenses, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has been widely criticised for giving the go-ahead amid a cost-of-living crisis.

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The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists: “Questions on these sorts of arrangements are for Ipsa. They’re independent of both Parliament and Government, they set the allowances.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has told MPs for the first time they can expense the cost of food and drink for Christmas staff parties to taxpayers, although alcohol will not be covered.
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“But the Prime Minister certainly doesn’t intend to use this and his view is that MPs will want to justify all spending to their constituents.”

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds suggested the expenses watchdog had been a “little bit naive” in putting out such guidance. “People have not been asking for this, I don’t think anyone will use it,” he told Times Radio.

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“This is our regulator … the independent body that runs the MPs’ expenses system, which is a system for staff and rent of your office and all of that kind of stuff, you know, being a little bit naive, to be honest, because if they publish stuff like this, you will get a story like this.

“I understand why people cover it in this way, but I doubt anyone will be using it. People will not have been asking for it. And [maybe] Ipsa need to be a bit more savvy in terms of how they present what they’re doing on this.”

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Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips – in a post on Twitter retweeted by foreign secretary James Cleverly – said Ipsa had been “irresponsible”.

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

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“The guidance wasn’t made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it’s really irresponsible to issue this guidance as if MPs have been clamouring for it when I’ve literally never heard anyone do that.”

Another Labour MP, Chris Bryant, added: "I don't know of a single MP who asked for this or intends to use it. It is totally inappropriate and I shall certainly not be taking it up."

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The SNP's Stewart McDonald called it an "absurd" ruling from IPSA, suggesting the body should reverse the "universally unwelcome" advice.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the expenses watchdog had “missed the mood of the age”. The senior Tory told TalkTV: “I think it’s bonkers, frankly.”

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The guidance issued by Ipsa, first reported by the Daily Mail, said: “MPs can claim the costs of food and refreshments for an office festive event under the discretion allowed as ‘hospitality’. As with all claims, value for money should be considered and all claims will be published in the usual manner. No claims are allowed for alcohol.”

MPs can also claim the cost of “festive decorations for their office”, Ipsa said, meaning lights, tinsel, and a Christmas tree can also be expensed.

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The TaxPayers' Alliance issued a statement, saying MPs "already get a plum deal without taxpayer-funded office jollies".

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