Tory MP Urged To “Come Clean” After Questioning Ministers On Topics Linked To Libya Project
6 min read
Exclusive: Sir Paul Beresford is facing questions over whether he “behaved inappropriately” after questioning ministers about topics linked to a firm in which he is a director.
The Mole Valley MP used Parliamentary debates to question the government about Libya despite holding a directorship in a private company which is aiming to develop a “new city” in the country.
Beresford claimed in Commons interventions that Eribi Holdings, a private limited company, was a “humanitarian” project looking to rebuild the war-torn city of Sirte. However, he later said the firm planned to “rent” land with the intention of building a new “Hong Kong” alongside British firms. He also admitted to “updating” both Theresa May and Boris Johnson about the project because of its ability to deliver “significant benefits to UK plc”.
Beresford has not received payment or remuneration from Eribi and said he had joined the firm on the "basis of my strength of belief in the project".
Boris Johnson has also faced questions over his knowledge of the plans following his comments at Conservative Party Conference in October 2017 when the then-Foreign Secretary described a group of "UK business people, wonderful guys" who wished to invest in Sirte and that "the only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away".
In April, PoliticsHome revealed that Johnson’s former adviser Sir Eddie Lister had previously been one of the firm’s directors during a period where he was also serving as a non-executive director at the Foreign Office.
Beresford has been a director of Eribi Holdings Ltd since late 2018 which he listed in his register of interests as planning to conduct “rehabilitation” works in Sirte. Other directors of the firm include those with interests in real estate, investment banking and the oil and gas sector.
On two occasions, the Mole Valley MP used his position to ask ministers about the country, despite clear links to the interests of the firm, including a request for information about Iran’s involvement in Libya.
He later stated he had asked the question because the firm was “on the edge” of signing a deal but was “bothered” by the possibility of Iran causing “turmoil” in the area.Beresford told PoliticsHome he had received “no payment, remuneration or expenses” from his role as a director of the company which he took up “voluntarily” in support of a constituent who is the firm’s CEO.
He said his meetings with May and Johnson were for the purpose of “keeping them informed on the progress of a major project with significant benefits to UK plc” despite strict Parliament rules around lobbying for outside interests.
However, Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain has now urged Beresford to “come clean” about whether he “behaved inappropriately”, saying his “spin” about the firm being a humanitarian project was “hard to swallow”.
In early 2017, Beresford questioned then-International Development Secretary Priti Patel about the efforts to remove Daesh from the area because he claimed he had an interest in a "potentially large humanitarian action project" planning to go into the region.
He said: "I have an interest in a potentially large humanitarian action project going into Libya, so it would be of considerable interest to me if she could, either verbally now or in writing later, give me an update on the action being taken to remove Daesh and its fellow travellers from Sirte and its surroundings."
The following month, the firm was registered with Companies House, with Beresford being appointed as a director of the company the following year.
In September 2019, Beresford made a second reference to the region in a Commons debate, requesting details about whether Iran was "fiddling in the affairs" of Libya, adding he had a “distant, declared” interest in the country.
Asked about why he had raised the question by the local Guildford Dragon news website, Beresford said it was because the firm were "on the edge of signing an agreement" around the project but was "bothered" by the potential for Iranian involvement undermining their plans.
"We are on the edge of signing an agreement. What bothers me, as everybody knows, there is conflict within Libya between the legitimate government and General Haftar," he said.
"And I am bothered by that because of the turmoil on the edges of where we are looking, that the Iranians might get in and continue the turmoil."
He added that he believed there was a "national interest" in the project, revealing he had "talked it through with the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] and with the previous Prime Minister [Theresa May].
"A small firm has been set up, of which I am on the board, and we are looking to rebuild Sirte," he said.
"We are looking to hire, rent, a large portion of the land, the whole land surrounding Sirte and it will be an opportunity to build a Hong Kong, in effect, rented to us, with British companies and so forth in there, and we will be working with the Libyan Government to develop this."
Beresford added the "big, useful scheme" would create a "new city" after it was destroyed in the Libyan civil war, serving as an "engineering base".Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain, said: "Paul Beresford's spin about this being a 'humanitarian project' is hard to swallow. This looks worryingly like another case of Tory sleaze.
"Mr Beresford should come clean about whether he has behaved inappropriately, and provide urgent clarity regarding the full extent of his business interests in Libya."
Alex Runswick, senior advocacy manager at Transparency International UK, said: "The perception that money can buy access and even influence in our politics corrodes trust in our democracy. Although the rules provide a ban on most types of paid advocacy by parliamentarians, recent events show there is far too much room for confusion and mischief.
"When MPs take second jobs or have financial interests in a company, they need to be very careful to ensure that they don't damage the reputation of Parliament by being seen to act for personal gain rather than the interests of their constituents."
He added: "This is an area where MPs have been shown to be out of step with the public and need to rethink how outside interests are managed. As well as stronger rules on outside interests we need greater transparency on MPs' financial interests so it is easier to scrutinise the actions of our representatives."
Responding to the comments, Beresford said: “I have received no payment, remuneration or expenses of any kind from Eribi – and none is anticipated. My involvement has been entirely voluntary, in support of a constituent who is CEO of Eribi – and on the basis of my strength of belief in the project.
“The meetings I have had with both the current and former PMs were for the purpose of keeping them informed on the progress of a major project with significant potential benefits to UK plc.”
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