PACAC's Bernard Jenkin says check-off u-turn was "sale of government policy" – as fellow committee member brands him a bigot

Bernard Jenkin accuses government of "rotten" concessions to unions in exchange for EU campaigning – and is met with scorn by fellow PACAC member Paul Flynn

By Josh May

28 Apr 2016

A senior Conservative MP has accused ministers of the “sale of government policy for cash and political favours” after reports that it made concessions on a flagship bill in return for trade union support for the campaign to stay in the European Union. 

Yesterday, the government announced its controversial policy to require union members to opt in to the political fund – a key tranche of its Trade Union Bill – would not apply to existing members, one of a number of climbdowns during the legislation’s passage through Parliament.

And CSW's sister site PoliticsHome revealed last week that unions had threatened to ease off their pro-EU campaign unless the government allowed them to continue the ‘check-off’ system, which sees subscriptions taken directly from the pay packets of public sector workers, including civil servants. The plans had met strong opposition from peers including former civil service head Lord Kerslake, and minister Lord Bridges told the House of Lords last week that the case for keeping check-off in place had been made "with considerable vim and vigour".

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Bernard Jenkin, a leading Conservative eurosceptic who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), delivered a scathing assessment of the reports in the Commons on Thursday, and called for an investigation into whether it broke the ministerial code.

“We all remember the prime minister foretelling that the next great scandal would be a lobbying scandal, and here it is,” he said after being granted an Urgent Question.

“It has been confirmed to me through more than two independent sources that No 10 instructed these concessions to be made after discussions with trade union representatives. This being true would amount to the sale of government policy for cash and political favours.

“Lest there be any doubt about the impropriety of this deal, Her Majesty’s Opposition should just ask themselves this question: what would they be saying if this government had altered a bill in order to give extra money to the Conservative party or the Conservatives’ Remain campaign, Conservatives In.”

He concluded: “This stinks; this reeks of the same as cash for questions; this government really is at the rotten heart of the European Union.”

BIS minister Nick Boles said there had been “no breach” of the ministerial code, and that the Bill was amended after it became clear that the House of Lords would continue its opposition to the legislation without the concession.

He said: “There is a natural process towards the end of a parliamentary session where concessions are made on bills in order to secure their timely passage. What trade unions decide to do... is entirely a matter for them.”

"The comment is a disgrace and he should withdraw it"

Labour MP Paul Flynn – a fellow member of PACAC who has previously sparred with Jenkin during their time on the committee – provoked another row during the session by labelling the chairman a “bigot”.

“The person who asks this question speaks passionately on behalf of his own union which is the General and Municipal Union of Brexit Bigots,” he said.

Boles angrily hit back on behalf of Jenkin, accusing Flynn of “playschool abuse”.

“He is a disgrace, the comment is a disgrace and he should withdraw it,” the minister said.

Speaker Bercow explained his decision not to upbraid Mr Flynn for the remark: “The reason why I didn’t intervene is that I judge it to be a matter of taste. There is no imputation of dishonour... Their honour hasn’t been impugned in any way and that’s why I didn’t intervene.”

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