Tories don't deserve criticism for handling of disgraced MP Mark Menzies, says Cabinet minister

Tories don't deserve criticism for handling of disgraced MP Mark Menzies, says Cabinet minister

The Conservatives do not deserve “any criticism” for their months-long handling of a former Tory MP who allegedly tried to use donors’ money to pay off “bad people” and on his medical expenses, a cabinet minister insisted on Monday.

Mark Menzies, the MP for Fylde in Lancashire, disputes the allegations but announced on Sunday that he was resigning from the party and would not be standing at the next election following an internal investigation.

Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “I don't think that his actions were those one has a right to expect from a Member of Parliament. And that is why he no longer has the whip and is no longer a member of the Conservative Party.”

The Conservatives’ investigation found “a pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs”, but stressed that the money in question was not party funds.

Mr Mitchell said that as a result of the probe, the party was setting up a hotline for whistleblowers and offering new training for Conservative workers “to make sure this doesn't happen again”.

“The Conservative Party investigated it fairly. We established that there was no breach of the Electoral Commission's rules or the rules of the House of Commons,” he told Sky News.

“We then tried to intervene in respect of what happened within the [Fylde] Association and discovered that this was funding that was kept outside the Association.

“So I don't think there should be any criticism of the Conservative Party. We tried to get the balance right between on the one hand, the rights of an individual MP which should be respected, but also what actually went on.”

However, the party stands accused by Labour of sitting on the allegations since January and acting only when they were reported by The Times last Wednesday.

The newspaper reported that Mr Menzies had called his 78-year old former campaign manager, Kate Fieldhouse, at 3.15am one day in December, claiming he was locked in a flat and needed £5,000 as a matter of “life and death”.

The sum, which rose to £6,500, was eventually paid by his office manager from her personal bank account and subsequently reimbursed from funds raised from donors in an account named Fylde Westminster Group, it is alleged.

The Times also reported that £14,000 given by donors for Tory campaign activities was transferred to Mr Menzies’ personal bank accounts and used for private medical expenses.

Before the MP’s announcement on Sunday, Ms Fieldhouse said that she was “appalled” at the party’s handling of the matter after she first informed Tory Chief Whip Simon Hart in January.

“I put my faith completely in the party … nothing happened,” she told the BBC. “The party has been part of my life, I’ve run every election campaign here for 40 years. I work myself into the ground for the party – all they hear is a 78-year-old little old lady.”

Mr Menzies said it had been “a very difficult week” and announced: “It has been an enormous privilege representing the people of Fylde since 2010, but due to the pressures on myself and my elderly mother, I have decided to resign from the Conservative Party and will not stand at the forthcoming General Election.”

Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said Mr Menzies had “done the right thing” but that “serious questions remain for Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party”, claiming that Tory officials had not spoken to Ms Fieldhouse.