Stronger euro gives British MEPs £17,000 of extra gravy

British MEPs stand to receive a £17,000 pay rise under a salary and expenses deal approved yesterday by members of the European Parliament.

The increasing strength of the euro against the pound has inflated the current value of the €102,000-a-year salary far beyond the £56,358 currently paid to MEPs.

British Labour and Conservative MEPs voted against the package in an attempt to avoid reviving the outcry over the Brussels-Strasbourg "gravy train".

But MEPs from across the rest of Europe voted to accept the package, introduced after five years of negotiations to introduce a flat-rate salary for all members of the Parliament.

They also voted to exempt MEPs from British tax and national insurance, and instead charge a special EU income tax of between 15 per cent and 17 per cent.

The package, which intro-duces curbs on MEPs' travel expenses, is due to be implemented at the end of the next Intergovernmental Conference on the future EU constitution, probably in a year's time.

At present MEPs receive salaries in line with those paid to members of their national parliaments. That has led to wide variations in pay between MEPs from different countries.

The new flat-rate deal would give them all €8,500 a month, which was worth about £64,000 a year for British MEPs in July last year when the pay rate was set, but has now increased to £73,000. A slump in the euro would slash the value of the salaries in Britain.

The pay package cracks down on travel perks for MEPs, forcing them to claim no more than the actual cost of travel and other business expenses for the first time.

Jonathan Evans, leader of the Conservative group in the Parliament, said: "We have consistently voted for the pay of British MEPs to match that of an MP at Westminster. We are also determined to ensure that MEPs pay the same tax as their constituents. For those reasons we could not support the proposals."

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