A former MEP offered paying subscribers tickets to a Westminster meeting about Covid vaccine injury even though meetings on the parliamentary estate are supposed to be free.
James Freeman Wells, who represented Wales for the Brexit Party in Brussels, told Patreon subscribers to email him for an invite to the October 2022 event. He stressed he could only offer one ticket per person.
The meeting heard from anti-Covid vaccine campaigner Dr Aseem Malhotra, who has been criticised by factcheckers at AFP and elsewhere for his “misleading” and “false” claims that the jab is unsafe. It was hosted by the Covid-19 Vaccine Damage all-party parliamentary group (APPG), which is chaired by the Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope and was set up last July.
The meeting was attended by MPs including Andrew Bridgen, who is not on the APPG, and Sir Desmond Swayne, who is. Today Bridgen lost the Conservative whip after suggesting the Covid vaccine programme was “the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”.
The relatively new APPG has no external secretariat or website currently, and has not declared any income or expenditure.
Wells told Tortoise he created the Patreon page to recoup the costs incurred making a documentary, but that he had just over 30 subscribers, earning him a few hundred pounds.
On the page he wrote: “Thanks to your support, I have been able to produce content that led to me working with Sir Christopher Chope. I would therefore like to invite you to watch proceedings.”
Four subscribers who had “invested their own money in the documentary to raise awareness for the vaccine-injured” attended the meeting, he added.
Wells introduced Chope to Malhotra, he told Tortoise, and “worked as a go-between” for the anti-Covid vaccine scientist to appear at the event.
A spokesman for Chope told Tortoise he had “no idea [Wells] was selling tickets, or offering subscribers seats”, and it was “very much a surprise” to the veteran MP. Wells had emailed Chope telling him he worked for the World Council for Health, an anti-vaxx group, and asking to discuss the APPG over the summer, the spokesman added.
Chope told Tortoise: “It was not until this afternoon that I knew anything about James Wells having a different identity online or that he had a ‘Patreon’ account. The public meeting organised by the APPG for Covid-19 Vaccine Damage was well attended and it was free to all participants.”
A fellow Conservative MP said it was “beyond mad” to offer invitations to paying subscribers, adding: “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
A Labour MP told Tortoise: “You can’t sell attendance for an event at parliament – parliament is free by definition.”
Some of those who attended complained on social media that they had been unable to speak to MPs and “the focus was not on us”.
Other attendees included former footballer Matt Le Tissier and members from the Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART), an anti-lockdown and anti-vaxx pressure group, whose members regularly interact with Wells online.
Jemma Moran, the former head of communications for HART, had also attended the inaugural meeting of the Covid Vaccine APPG in her current role as a staffer for Conservative MP Esther McVey.
McVey’s office declined to comment.
Chope, the longstanding MP for Christchurch, has submitted at least 38 written questions to ministers on matters relating to Covid vaccines since this meeting. Bridgen has been repeatedly accused of making inaccurate claims about vaccine safety in the Commons.
Bridgen and Malhotra did not respond to requests for comment.
John Bye, a misinformation expert, told Tortoise that giving conspiracy theorists a platform in parliament had “given it a gloss of respectability”, while simultaneously crowding out the voices of those who had suffered adverse reactions to the vaccine.
“Repeating misinformation in parliament, particularly during PMQs, could actually be harmful to people’s health,” he said.