Howard backs candidate Khanbhai

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorBELEAGURED Conservative Euro MP Bashir Khanbhai was given the full backing of party leader Michael Howard yesterday, following calls for his removal from the Tory list in the East of England after he repaid more than £6,000 in over-claimed expenses.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

A BELEAGUERED Euro MP who has faced calls to resign over a £6,000 expenses claim has been given the full backing of his party leader.

There have been calls for Bashir Khanbhai, the Conservative MEP for the East of England, to be removed from the party's list for the forthcoming European elections.

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An investigation held by senior party figures censured Mr Khanbhai for his “disregard” of European Parliament rules on the payment of travel expenses to Stansted and Heathrow Airports, which “fell below the standard expected”.

Mr Khanbhai has repaid more than £6,000 in over-claimed expenses and the investigation noted his regret at the error and decided not to remove his name from the list.

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However, Mr Khanbhai was the only Conservative candidate for the East of England who was not invited to the official launch of its campaign yesterdayin Cambridgeshire - which was attended by party leader Michael Howard.

When asked why Mr Khanbhai was not there, Mr Howard said: “I imagine he has another engagement.”

But when told that Mr Khanbhai had telephoned East Anglian Daily Times Political Editor, Graham Dines, at 9.15pm on Thursday asking for the time and venue of the launch, Mr Howard changed tack and said: “I'm afraid I don't know anything about that.”

However, Mr Howard said “yes” when asked if Mr Khnabhai would be on the regional list for the elections.

“It is very straightforward. Allegations were made about his expenses. Those allegations have been thoroughly investigated by an independent body which we set up for the specific purpose of considering allegations of this kind,” he added.

“When they are made, it is important they are investigated. It is also important that they are investigated fairly and that justice is done and seen to be done.

“I don't decide these things, it would be absurd if I did. The process has taken place, there was an investigation and at the end of that investigation the conclusion was reached that what happened was an inadvertent error.”

Mr Howard continued: “As far as I'm concerned, that's it. Bashir Khanbhai is as entitled to a fair and just hearing as anybody else. If any fresh allegations are made, that's a different thing.

“But on the basis of what has been alleged, there has been a proper investigation, it has reached a conclusion. It concluded it was an inadvertent error and that he should remain a candidate in these elections. It would be as wrong for me to interfere.”

Mr Khanbhai, who lives at Sevenoaks in Kent, uses a boatyard in Wroxham as a poste restante address for constituency correspondence.

He has strenuously denied trying to mislead constituents into believing his home was in Norfolk.

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