Three MPs are facing a dressing down from the defence secretary after being accused of being drunk and “lairy” on a flight to visit troops in Gibraltar for Armistice Day commemorations.
According to a Ministry of Defence report seen by The Times, the SNP’s David Linden and Drew Hendry and a Labour MP – named by The Telegraph as Charlotte Nichols – began boozing in a BA departure lounge at Heathrow and continued drinking after boarding their plane.
Nichols was said to be so “incapacitated through drink” that she had to be helped out of the Gibraltar airport in a wheelchair after arriving in the overseas territory with 14 other MPs for the commemorations. Defence sources told the paper that she had been “visibly pretty drunk getting on the plane” and had boozed “throughout the journey”.
An insider said: “She was kind of helped off the aircraft but made it through… to the baggage area. In order to avoid a scene, she was popped on a wheelchair from the baggage area to the transport that was laid on. She was then put in the hotel straight away, and given a drink watch through the night.”
SNP MPs Linden and Hendry were also drunk and “lairy”, according to witnesses. One told The Sun that all three MPs had “looked like they were going on a stag do”.
Linden and Hendry reportedly got “difficult” with customs and health officials at the Gibraltar airport when asked for their Covid travel documents. A source told The Telegraph that military staff had to intervene to “try and take control of the situation, rather than being the amenable host”.
The Sun reported that “a parliamentary staffer was so alarmed by the trio’s behaviour that they raised the matter” with the chair of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, Conservative MP James Gray.
Gray said he would be “having a word” with the under-fire MPs, but added that the three-day trip had not officially begun until Wednesday, so the trio “were simply civilians on the way to a visit” when the row kicked off.
He told The Times that “had they got drunk in an officers’ mess, that would be my responsibility and I would, without question, dismiss the Labour MP from the course”.
The paper reported that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will be writing to Labour and the SNP to express his “disappointment” in the MPs.
“This type of behaviour shows a lack of respect for the enduring work of our Armed Forces. The Armed Forces scheme is an opportunity for both parliamentarians and the military to understand each other,” said Wallace.
“This behaviour puts military personnel in a difficult position and risks undermining respect for Parliament.”
Labour MP Nichols has denied that matters got out of hand and said medication had “affected her tolerance” for alcohol.
“Everyone had had a few drinks on the flight,” she told The Sun. “The issue for me is the medication I am taking. That affected my tolerance. I had the same amount to drink as the others. I do not know how many drinks I had – I wasn’t counting. It was less than five.”
The MP for Warrington North, who is also a shadow equalities minister, is understood to be taking medication for “post-traumatic stress disorder”, the BBC reported.
The Labour Party has yet to comment on the row, but an insider said that “they accepted Ms Nichols had had a reaction to medication while on the flight”, according to the London Evening Standard.
Nichols is reported to have returned home from the trip two days early, after speaking to her party whips. She is understood to have missed official visits on Tuesday morning, including a meeting with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
Linden and Hendry, who have attended all of the sceduled events, also deny being drunk on the plane but did not deny having alcoholic drinks.
An SNP spokesperson said that reports about their behaviour were “inaccurate”. The duo “were honoured to be invited to this important event and attended all engagements, including the welcome meeting and dinner shortly after landing”, said the spokesperson.
“Instead of trying to divert attention from the Tory corruption scandal engulfing Westminster, Ben Wallace should be apologising for his role in it, including voting to get Owen Paterson off the hook.”