“With a taxpayer-funded MP’s salary of £80,000 a year, Andrew Bridgen is hardly poor. But the bleating Tory moaned to a judge about having to pay for Remembrance Sunday wreaths out of his own pocket so he can honour Britain’s war dead. And he reckons a bitter divorce battle with ex-wife Jacqueline, 40, has left him virtually penniless – while it is claimed he manages to pay high rent on a £2million property and lavishes gifts on new partner Nevena Pavlovic.
The 52-year-old asked a court to stop a monthly £1,100 maintenance payment to Jacqueline for their two children. He said: “On Remembrance Sunday I buy five wreaths for the five main services, I will attend three and I will read the names at all of them. “It is now de rigeur that MPs can’t put in claims for wreaths or travel. £175 on wreaths it will cost me, £200 [including travel] to be the MP of North West Leicestershire on that Remembrance Sunday. “Something I do gladly but which is not appreciated by the general public. “So the remuneration of an MP is not the same as if I was working for the Co-op. There are huge costs to being an MP which can never be claimed for. I have not had a holiday this year.”
But his griping sparked fury at a time when the Tory party has plunged millions of ordinary people into poverty with crippling austerity and cuts to public services and the military.
Labour MP John Mann said: “He should stop moaning. It’s a privilege to be an MP. His attitude just brings all MPs into disrepute. “He’s an embarrassment and a disgrace. I’d call on Theresa May to withdraw the Tory whip, for him to make a public apology and announce
Colleague and Afghan war veteran Clive Lewis added: “Tory cuts have hit the armed forces hard, our servicemen and women who are suffering under the public sector pay cap probably won’t have a lot of sympathy with a Tory MP who voted for austerity having to pay for a wreath. “This just adds insult to injury.”
Bridgen, of Coleorton, Leics – who married 38-year-old Serbian opera singer Nevena in April – made his pleas of poverty during a family court hearing to try to stop maintenance. He claimed the split from trainee teaching assistant Jacqueline cost him more than £1million in payments to her and he had to sell his £2.2million mansion at a cut price. And he said he has forked out more than £500,000 in legal fees on the divorce.
The court heard Bridgen’s brother has frozen him out of his family farm business, which had netted the MP £110,000 a year. And his income fell after he lost chairmanship of a select committee. He said: “My personal assets run to less than £20,000 and that would be if I sold all the furniture in the house I rent. I have no car, no house and a bad credit rating. Until I am paid I have less than £200 in the bank. “My income has dropped by 70%. I fought two general elections in the last two years, where I could have lost my job, and, who knows, we might be fighting another one soon. “There is no more insecure employment than politics.” But that won no sympathy from District Judge Richard MacMillan who told him: “You chose to go into politics, Mr Bridgen.”
And Jacqueline told the hearing at Nottingham crown court her ex “chooses to live a luxury lifestyle to the detriment of our children” and she cannot bring them up properly without maintenance payments. She also claimed he recently bought a £3,000 ring for Nevena, transferred £2,500 to her account and spent thousands visiting her in Serbia.
She added: “The court should put the needs of our children above his needs. His income is approximately £4,000 a month and he chooses to spend over half on rent for a property that is way beyond his means. “My income is £8,000 a year while his is 10 times that. Frankly without that money I don’t know how I’m going to manage each month.
“I have spent the last 20 years being bullied and controlled by Mr Bridgen, there is no one more desperate than me to be out of his control. However, I still need the support of spousal maintenance payments so I can meet the needs of our children. “I have to sit here and fight and listen to the foul things Mr Bridgen has to say because I have no alternative to provide for my children.”
Throughout the two-hour hearing, Bridgen continually interrupted his ex-wife’s evidence. Judge MacMillan finally lost patience with his outbursts and told him: “We are not in the Commons now.” Bridgen even tried to stop the Mirror attending the hearing on Friday. But the judge said he saw no reason to exclude the press “however embarrassing it may be”.
The MP had applied to have around £5,000 in maintenance payments given back to him by his ex. Judge MacMillan refused but agreed he was not obliged to hand over £7,673 of payments he had missed this year.
The couple married in 2000 but had an acrimonious split around five years ago. The court heard Jacqueline is now living with a Mr Gittins at an address in Packington, Leics, meaning her circumstances had changed.
Perjury query weeks before court date
Andrew Bridgen wasted Government time asking questions about family courts weeks before his maintenance hearing. On September 4 he asked the Justice Secretary David Lidington : “How many people have been prosecuted for perjury in the family court in each year since 2007, by gender?”
When told the answer could only be got “at disproportionate cost”, he asked on September 14: “How many (a) men and (b) women were prosecuted for perjury in the family court in 2016?”
Outside court we asked the MP whether tabling Government questions on personal matters called into question his impartiality. He said: “It’s perfectly appropriate. I have a personal and professional interest.”