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Another Tory MP took £4000 Cheltenham Festival freebies days before lockdown

22nd April, 10:31

Laurence Robertson - whose Gloucestershire constituency includes the racecourse - accepted a number of tickets for him, his wife and a friend

Another Tory MP accepted thousands of pounds worth of free tickets to the Cheltenham Festival days before the coronavirus lockdown, it has emerged.

The Mirror revealed last week that two MPs - Philip Davies and former Minister Caroline Nokes - had accepted £2,400 worth of VIP tickets from a major betting firm.

And today, OpenDemocracy revealed Laurence Robertson - whose Gloucestershire constituency includes Cheltenham Racecourse - had accepted £4,000 worth of tickets for the event for him, his wife and a friend.

The first two days worth of tickets were supplied by The Jockey Club, William Hill, the Betting and Gaming Council and betting giant GVC Holdings.

Mr Robertson failed to register some of the tickets with authorities within the 28 days required by Commons rules.

He told OpenDemocracy: "Perhaps I was momentarily distracted by the duty upon me to help my constituents."

Five days before the festival started, Mr Robertson posted on Facebook defending the decision to go ahead with the festival.

He wrote: "The disruption to people's lives, and the risk to their livelihoods, caused by cancelling events and activities would be too great to justify [cancelling] at the moment."

He added: "At the moment, events are not being cancelled because it is felt businesses can carry on as usual, with there only being about 100 cases identified out of a UK population of about 66 million.

"Possibly the disease might peak in a few weeks, or months, and a different approach would then be taken then."

Asked if there should be an inquiry into whether the racing event should have been cancelled, Health Minister Helen Whately said: "I'm sure that we will look back on this and there will be many evaluations done and as you say we'll look back with hindsight on what was done right or wasn't.

"But all the way through we have followed the scientific advice. We've followed the guidance of the scientists who have taken really difficult decisions, but for instance introduced the social distance and lockdown measures at the point when it's the right thing to do in order to be effective."

Shipley MP Philip Davies and former minister Caroline Nokes accepted eight tickets between them to the horse racing event from GVC Holdings, the sports betting giant which owns Ladbrokes and Coral.

Mr Davies accepted six tickets, worth £300 each, but refused to say whether he had used the tickets.

He said: "I have absolutely nothing to say to the Daily Mirror." Ms Nokes accepted two tickets, also worth £300 each.

She was photographed at the event, wearing a grey suit with pink checks and a shocking pink hat and matching scarf.

Both MPs registered the gifts with Commons authorities - stating they would have access to a VIP hospitality box during their visit.

Ms Nokes said: "I accepted the tickets and declared them in accordance with the rules, which clearly you can establish from the register of members' interests.

"As you know it was prior to the lockdown being declared and there were no restrictions on movement."

She added: "There were a number of other Members of Parliament there that day, including the Shadow Security Minister Conor McGinn."

Mr McGinn confirmed he attended the event in his capacity as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Racing.

Source