The British foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has come under fire for accepting a watch worth £1,950 from one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men, despite a ban on ministers accepting gifts worth more than £140.
Mr Hammond has argued he accepted the £1,950 watch in his capacity as a constituency MP, which meant the ministerial rule did not apply
The Saudi billionaire Sheikh Marei Mubarak Mahfouz bin Mahfouz gave Hammond the expensive gift during an event in Mr Hammond’s Runnymede and Weybridge constituency in the summer.
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Hammond argued the event, an unveiling of a statue of the queen—sponsored in part the anglophile Sheikh—was a “local commemoration,” and that he attended as local MP rather than a minister, allowing him to skirt ministerial rules.
However, the day after the event, the Foreign Office issued a press release in which Hammond wrote: “I am immensely proud to be taking part in these celebrations, both as foreign secretary and MP.”
Labour MP John Mann said Hammond should not have kept the watch in either case.
“What on earth was he doing? No MP should be accepting watches worth nearly £2,000 as a gift. He should now give it to charity.”
Under the ministerial code of conduct, gifts worth over £140 become the property of the government unless the MP decides to purchase the item. The code stipulates that ministers must not accept gifts that would place or appear to place him under an obligation.
A spokesman for Hammond said: “As MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, Mr Hammond attended the local community organized unveiling, in his own constituency, of a statue of HM Queen to mark her long reign.
Hammond says his £2,000 watch was a constituency gift. Shouldn’t the sheikh be a constituent to give it?
— david morgan (@AJobTracker) November 30, 2015
“The gift of a watch to mark the unveiling of the local commemoration was a constituency matter, not a government one, which is why it was declared fully, openly and properly in the Commons’ register of interests.”
The mini-scandal comes after former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown accused David Cameron’s conservative government of bowing to oil rich Gulf States on British foreign policy matters.