Tory MP suspended and loses party whip amid investigation into claims of misuse of funds

The Conservative Party is facing questions around why it took so long to take decisive action after learning of the allegations, as Political Correspondent Harry Horton reports

An MP has lost the Conservative whip and been suspended from his role amid allegations he misused campaign funds.

Mark Menzies is alleged to have used £14,000 given by donors for Tory campaign activities for private medical expenses, after the funds were transferred to his personal bank accounts, according to The Times.

He also faces allegations he made a late-night call to a 78-year-old aide asking for help because he had been locked up by “bad people” demanding thousands of pounds for his release.

The Fylde MP disputes the allegations reported by The Times but the Conservative Party is investigating the claims and said it is taking them seriously.

However, the party, which has faced numerous sleaze scandals, has come under scrutiny for failing to take action despite knowing about the allegations for more than three months.

In the Commons on Thursday, Labour's shadow Leader of the House, Lucy Powell, said the “extraordinary” allegations raise “very serious questions” and warrant a police investigation.

Ms Powell questioned the handling of the claims by the Tories, alleging there is “a worrying pattern here of cover-up and inaction”.

Referring to recent revelations regarding a “honeytrap” scandal in Westminster, she added: “It seems that, yet again, like with the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) and so many other recent cases of sleaze and scandal, they’re too weak to act decisively and instead choose to brush things under the carpet.”

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt declined to comment on the specific case, but said the cases raised by Ms Powell are “very serious matters”.

Sir Keir Starmer echoed Ms Powell's concerns and questioned why the police were not already involved.

One Conservative councillor, who did not want to be named, told ITV News that Mr Menzies’ suspension was “a shock but on past behaviour, not terribly surprising”.

“There are stories of him behaving in an inappropriate manner when he’s had too much to drink," said the councillor.

“Our constituents deserve an MP at the top of their game and that’s not what they’re getting.”

Following the publication of the allegations, Mr Menzies “agreed to relinquish the Conservative whip, pending the outcome of an investigation”, confirmed a spokeswoman for Chief Whip Simon Hart, meaning he will now sit as an Independent MP.

No 10 also confirmed he has been suspended from his role as Rishi Sunak's unpaid trade envoy to Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps this morning sidestepped questions about why the whip had not been removed earlier - and only had once the allegations became public knowledge. He said Mr Menzies gave up the whip after “further information” came to light.

What are the allegations?

Along with claims of misuse of campaign funds, the MP is said to have called his 78-year-old former campaign manager at 3.15am one morning in December, claiming he was locked in a flat and needed £5,000 as a matter of “life and death”.

The sum, which rose to £6,500, was eventually paid by his office manager from her personal bank account and subsequently reimbursed from funds raised from donors in an account named Fylde Westminster Group, it is alleged.

According to a source close to Mr Menzies, the MP had met a man on an online dating website and gone to the man’s flat, before subsequently going with another man to a second address where he continued drinking.

He was sick at one point and several people at the address demanded £5,000, claiming it was for cleaning up and other expenses.

The source said Mr Menzies decided to pay them because he was scared of what would happen otherwise, but did not have the funds to transfer the money from his own savings.

There are other occasions where Mr Menzies is said to have used money from the campaign fund to cover his personal expenses.

In 2020 he allegedly sought £3,000 to cover medical bills, but he did not repay the money and instead asked for and received a further £4,000, The Times reported.

The newspaper said a source close to the MP disputed this account and said the former campaign manager had been the one who suggested Mr Menzies use funds from the business account to pay his personal medical expenses, but she is understood to deny this.

A further £7,000 was received by Mr Menzies from the account in November, it is alleged.

A decade ago, Mr Menzies quit as a ministerial aide following allegations about his behaviour made by a Brazilian male escort.

In a statement to The Times, Mr Menzies said: “I strongly dispute the allegations put to me. I have fully complied with all the rules for declarations. As there is an investigation ongoing I will not be commenting further.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “The Conservative Party is investigating allegations made regarding a Member of Parliament. This process is rightfully confidential.

“The party takes all allegations seriously and will always investigate any matters put to them.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said it was “frankly appalling” that the Conservative Party had been aware of the allegations for more than three months.

“When our national security faces threats on many fronts, it is deeply concerning that some MPs are so open to traps, threats and manipulations,” she said.

Have you heard our podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…