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Tories accused of ‘smear campaign’ over claims of MPs drinking on Armistice trip to Gib

By Patrick Daly and Gavin Cordon, PA Political Staff

The Defence Secretary is due to write to the SNP and Labour to express his disappointment following claims three MPs were worse for wear after drinking on a flight to visit armed forces in Gibraltar.

The three politicians were flying as part of a group of MPs to the Rock to mark Armistice Day.

Conservative MP James Gray, who runs the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS) which is co-ordinating the trip, said that he had heard those named in reports had “imbibed too much”, but stated that he was not with them on the flight.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The armed forces scheme is an opportunity for both parliamentarians and the military to understand each other.

“This behaviour puts military personnel in a difficult position and risks undermining respect for Parliament.”

A senior defence source confirmed Mr Wallace would be writing to both parties to record his disappointment.

Two SNP MPs named in reports – Drew Hendry and David Linden – have both denied the “false” allegations, accusing the Conservative Party of whipping up a “smear campaign” to distract from the sleaze row it has become embroiled in since news of former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson’s paid-for lobbying broke.

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, the two SNP representatives and a Labour MP – named by the paper as Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols – were said to have been drinking before and during a flight from Heathrow to Gibraltar on Tuesday.

Posting a picture with troops in Gibraltar, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Mr Hendry said on social media: “It’s deeply disappointing that Tory MPs have made false claims in a shameless attempt to divert attention from the Tory corruption scandal engulfing Westminster."

“That is a matter for their conscience. I’ll focus on doing my job and respecting our troops as we mark Armistice Day.”

Glasgow East MP Mr Linden said on social media: “Incredibly disappointed by what appears to be a bizarre Tory smear campaign in the media tonight but I’ll leave the politics to others.”

An SNP spokesman repeated that the suggestions of impropriety were “false”, adding: “Drew Hendry MP and David Linden MP were honoured to be invited to this important event and attended all engagements, including the welcome meeting and dinner shortly after landing."

“Instead of trying to divert attention from the Tory corruption scandal engulfing Westminster, Ben Wallace should be apologising for his role in it, including voting to get Owen Paterson off the hook.”

The AFPS’s Mr Gray – who was allegedly tipped off about the behaviour by a concerned parliamentary aide – said the flight from Britain was not part of the programme, which began when the delegation reached Gibraltar, meaning the MPs were effectively flying out as private citizens.

In comments the PA news agency understands Ms Nichols made to The Sun, she said: “Everyone had had a few drinks on the flight."

“The issue for me is the medication I am taking. That affected my tolerance. I had the same amount to drink as the others. I do not know how many drinks I had – I wasn’t counting. It was less than five.”

It was announced in September that Ms Nichols would be taking a leave of absence from her Labour front bench role as shadow equalities minister for personal reasons.

Labour said at the time that she was expected to return to the frontbench in the future.

The party said it would not be commenting on the allegations surrounding the Gibraltar trip.

PA has contacted Ms Nichols for comment.

Business minister Paul Scully on Thursday reminded MPs of their responsibility to show leadership while in office.

Asked on Times Radio whether it was a “good look” for MPs to allegedly be “drunk” on a flight to mark Remembrance Day, Mr Scully said: “No, it is not."

“We’ve got to show responsibility. We are leaders. We – all 650 MPs – are leaders in their own right, and are to be held to a high standard."

“Clearly, with the armed forces over there, we’ve got to show our leadership… and our respect to our armed forces as well.”

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