Two Jags set for one last jolly with tax-funded world tour


Last updated at 22:00 18 May 2007

John Prescott is to visit Barbados as part of his 'farewell tour' as Deputy Prime Minister, it has been revealed.

The 8,000-mile round trip - which will cost the taxpayer up to £15,000 - has been billed as part of the Government's marking of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

Yet it will be seen as little more than a final sunshine break for the gaffe-prone Mr Prescott and reignite the controversy over his ability to enjoy the jet-setting high life at public expense.

It will also fuel concerns that he is using his final weeks as Tony Blair's deputy to cram in as much perks as possible before he loses office.

Mr Prescott will be hosted on the Caribbean island by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur.

Mr Arthur visited Mr Prescott's constituency of Hull on the bicentenary of the Abolition Act on March 25, to reopen a museum in honour of the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who was MP for the city.

As part of a 'return leg', it is believed the Deputy Prime Minister's visit to Barbados could be on 11th June, which the European Commission has identified as an annual day to highlight present-day human trafficking.

But it was claimed that Mr Prescott may also use the jaunt as a chance to see one of his sons, who is believed to have a home there.

As with previous worldwide trips, Mr Prescott is likely to travel first class and stay in a five star hotel and will be accompanied by a number of advisers.

The Deputy Prime Minister will step down on June 27, the same day that Mr Blair formally hands over power to Gordon Brown.

Mr Prescott made a low key official resignation speech on the same day that Mr Blair's farewell address to his constituency on May 10.

Yet his last weeks as the Deputy Prime Minister will be anything but low profile.

This week Mr Prescott stunned MPs when he stood in for Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions for the final time with a shambolic performance in which he said he would not be 'whingeing' from the backbenches in his retirement.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott tabled a parliamentary question demanding to know how much the trip will cost.

He said: 'John Prescott's legacy is two fingers to the taxpayer. Why should we pay for his farewell flight to see his son in the sun?'

The trip will be seen as a final embarrassment for Mr Prescott, who was accused of bringing shame to the office of Deputy Prime Minister by having an affair with his diary secretary Tracey Temple.

When he announced his resignation Mr Prescott, 68, said it had been a 'source of great pride' to hold the party's deputy leadership for 13 years.

But the continuing controversy of his political career has fuelled speculation that Mr Brown will not make whoever wins the deputy leadership contest Deputy Prime Minister.

In his retirement Mr Prescott will enjoy a gold-plated £23,000-a-year Cabinet pension and a further £37,000-a-year pension when he quits as an MP, and has a pension pot worth more than £1million.

According to his friends, he intends to carry on as an MP until the next general election and is said to be considering a number of options after leaving the Cabinet, but is reluctant to lose the trappings of office.

In a sign that he wants to keep his jet-setting lifestyle, Mr Prescott could even become an international ambassador for Britain or take a job on the Council of Europe.

Last year he was stripped of his department after admitting a two-year

affair with Miss Temple.

Although he retained no ministerial responsibility, he was allowed to keep his grace-and-favour properties, a £134,000 salary and seat in Cabinet.

Mr Prescott is already Britain's longest-serving Deputy Prime Minister and will have outlast Margaret Thatcher's deputy, Willie Whitelaw, by 17 months when he steps down next month.

A spokesman for Mr Prescott said: 'We don't release details of his diary for operational reasons. We won't be drawn into his diary movements for operational and security reasons.'

Mr Prescott's wife Pauline does not usually travel with him on work trips. But she may take this final opportunity to join her husband if they are visiting their son.

The cost of the trip is estimated to be around £15,000 - based on an £8,000 first class return ticket for himself, economy class tickets for three aides and staying in a five star hotel.

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