Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne appeals against decision which would have stopped him buying Taunton home

Here’s the statement on Jeremy’s website:

Taunton constituency MP Jeremy Browne is appealing against a decision by the House of Commons ACA Review Team that would have prevented him from buying a home in Taunton with his own money. Instead Sir Thomas Legg’s House of Commons ACA Review Team has requested a repayment of £17,894 in mortgage interest payments, dating from the initial arrangements Jeremy Browne made when he was elected in 2005. The appeal, conducted by Sir Paul Kennedy, will be considered and published, along with the full ACA Review Team report, in January 2010.

Jeremy Browne said:

“When I was elected as an MP in 2005 I bought my home in Taunton. I paid the deposit for the house using my own money from before the election and took out a mortgage to repay the remainder. I have always funded every penny of my Taunton home and maintained a completely clear distinction with the flat where I stay when I am in London.

“The ACA Review is now saying that I should not have used my own money from before I was elected to buy my home in Taunton. Instead they say that I should have spent that money on subsidising my expenses claims for my London flat.

“I believe I acted entirely honourably and in good faith. I deliberately avoided buying a much more expensive flat in London or ‘flipping’ between properties, even though both of these were within the rules. I seem to have been tripped up on a technicality even though I have lower mortgage claims for my London flat than hundreds of other MPs.

“The money that I used to buy my home in Taunton predates my election as the MP and has nothing to do with expenses. The ACA Review Team is saying that I should not have been allowed to buy a home in Taunton or should have designated the London flat as my main home, but I spend the majority of my time living in Taunton and that is clearly my principal place of residence.

There will be many people – perhaps understandably – who regard with deep suspiciion any MP complaining that Sir Thomas Legg’s expenses system has been unfair to them.

But it strikes me that Sir Thomas’s findings, at least in this case, run the risk of repeating the heinous mistake made by those MPs who exploited the system for personal gain. Those MPs – the Labour and Tory MPs who ‘flipped’ their homes, or claimed for ‘phantom’ mortgages – defended their actions by claiming they were acting within the rules. Many of them have, so far at any rate, got away with it.

Sir Thomas seems to be interpreting the rules strictly, but very narrowly, so that those who didn’t necessarily stick to the letter of the law – but acted within its spirit, and not for personal gain – are now the ones being hit hardest. That strikes me as rough justice.

Some will say that doesn’t matter: the public needs to see MPs held to account for the abuses committed by their colleagues, and if a few innocent suffer along the way, then tough luck. But I’m a liberal, and I don’t like that sort of thing.

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12 Comments

  • Andrew Tennant 17th Dec '09 - 11:44am

    I don’t know what sort of salary Jeremy would command outside of parliament but, to me as a pragmatist, accepting the conclusions and paying a one off charge (if he is in a position to be able to do so) thereby maximising his chances or re-election to a well paid job would seem like a good option. Jeremy may well be suffering unfairly here, but I am surprised he is not taking the long term view, taking the judgement as it comes, and putting the matter behind him while minimising his bad PR risk.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Dec '09 - 1:12pm

    I don’t see how he’s even in breach of the rules. MP’s expenses are not means-tested; why is it even relevant that he was spending money on other things? If he had bought a yacht instead of a house, would he now be told that this money should have been spent on subsidising his expenses claims?

    This one is just plain crazy.

  • kerry livermore 17th Dec '09 - 2:31pm

    Oink, oink! No doubt he will tell us that he had been advised by his pal Michael Martin that it was “all within the rules”. Even if he was innocent we won’t be seeing him after the next election.

  • Kerry, did you even read the article before commenting?

  • kerry livermore 17th Dec '09 - 4:32pm

    You will forgive me if I can’t really be bothered to understand his reasons, having listened to Shahid Malik, Doughlas Hogg, Harry Cohen, and myriad others pleading innocence and acting within the rules. Sir Thomas strikes me as a fair judge who has already listened to Browne’s excuses and found them wanting. I would prefer to bow to his judgement than that of yet another MP pleading special priveleges. It is hard to take seriously someone who sees nothing wrong in claiming a wreath on Rememberance day. Though I know he had a good excuse for that as well.

  • kerry livermore 17th Dec '09 - 4:37pm

    P.S. I am a Lib Dem as well hope my next local MP is Chris Nicholson.

  • Andrew Tennant 17th Dec '09 - 5:18pm

    Bit harsh Alix; the job’s not done yet I agree, but what work has been done has been positive. Legg quietly and methodically got on with they job; he has shown in what he did a fairness to the public and a principle of purpose, it’s those opposing the findings and watering down the recommendations who are the rightful targets of vitriol.

  • David Allen 17th Dec '09 - 5:38pm

    “Sir Thomas seems to be interpreting the rules strictly … so that those who didn’t …..stick to the letter of the law… are …. being hit. That strikes me as rough justice.”

    Er, sorry, the law is the law, you know.

  • ACA was only claimable towards the interest payments on the mortgage in order to provide second accomodation. What Jeremy seems to have done is increased his mortgage to raise the capital to buy his Taunton home and claimed the extra interest through ACA.

    ACA wouldn’t have covered interest payments for any other sort of loan to raise capital so I don’t see why they apply in this situation. The only ground for complaint would be that the payments were claimed in good faith, approved at the time and it is inequitable to reclaim them several years later.

  • kerry livermore 18th Dec '09 - 11:18am

    Apart from the rights and wrongs he should be doing what Nick Clegg recommended and draw a line under it. I have no doubt that Jeremy feels aggrieved over Legg’s findings, the same way he took umbrage at the claims about the Rememberance wreath. But the pubic will not understand the nuances of his position (I’m not sure I do) and sometimes it is best to take the rap and move on. Otherwise he will get lumped in with the Hoggs, Davies, Maliks, Fields, etc etc whose reputations are going down the toilet.

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