Boris Johnson escapes with rap on knuckles over free Caribbean holiday

‘Regrettable’ that PM failed to provide full explanation of arrangements for £15,000 Mustique break

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 08 July 2021 18:44
Today's daily politics briefing

Boris Johnson has escaped with a rap on the knuckles over a free New Year holiday in the Caribbean that was provided by a donor for him and his then fiancee, Carrie Symonds.

The Commons standards committee has branded the prime minister’s explanation of the source of the funding for the £15,000 break in a Mustique villa “unsatisfactory”.

But the committee – made up of MPs and lay members – overruled a finding by the head of Westminster’s sleaze watchdog, Kathryn Stone, that Mr Johnson broke the rules on MPs’ interests.

The PM was cleared of the breach only after the committee tracked down the real owner of the holiday property where he and Ms Symonds stayed, who was not the person named by Mr Johnson in the register of MPs’ interests.

In its report, the committee said it was “regrettable” that the full explanation of arrangements for the holiday emerged only through its own enquiries, rather than being provided to the standards commissioner by Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds were offered the use of a villa on the Caribbean island from Boxing Day 2019 until 5 January 2020 by Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross.

The sunshine break came weeks after Mr Johnson secured a landslide majority in the December 2019 general election, and was viewed as a chance for the PM to recharge his batteries after a gruelling campaign.

The PM recorded the trip in the register of MPs’ interests later in January as a donation from Mr Ross worth £15,000.

But it later emerged that Mr Ross’s property had not been available on the dates of the holiday, and the couple had in fact stayed in a different villa on the island, not owned by the mobile phone millionaire.

Ms Stone was not provided with the identity of the true owner of the accommodation, and ruled that Mr Johnson had breached parliamentary rules by failing to “make sufficient inquiries to establish the full facts about the funding arrangements” for the stay either before or after the break.

She said that Mr Johnson was obliged to establish “definitively who was to fund the free accommodation he had been offered, and what arrangements had been made to pay for it” before accepting the holiday.

But the PM objected to the finding, insisting that his entry in the register was made “in good faith”, as he regarded the holiday as a benefit in kind from Mr Ross. He said that he had provided all the assistance he could to the standards commissioner, and that it was not clear what further enquiries he could have made about the true ownership of the villa.

After reports that the villa, known as Indigo, was in fact owned by Sarah Richardson, the committee wrote to her and was informed that she had received a rental payment from the Mustique Company – which manages villas on behalf of shareholders – in respect of the PM’s stay.

The committee found that Mr Ross had an “ad hoc understanding” with the company that Indigo would be made available for Mr Johnson in return for Mr Ross allowing the company use of his own villa to cover the value of the break.

The committee overruled Ms Stone’s finding of a breach, accepting that the holiday was in fact a benefit in kind donated by Mr Ross to the PM.

But it added: “It is regrettable that a full account and explanation of the funding arrangements for Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation has only come to light as a result of our own enquiries rather than at an earlier stage.

“If greater clarity had been made available to the commissioner at the first instance, this matter could have been cleared up many months ago.”

The committee found that Mr Johnson’s failure to demonstrate to the commissioner that his register entry was made conscientiously “resulted in unnecessary speculation and a lengthy investigation”.

The report said: “It would have been wiser for Mr Johnson to have established the facts, dispelled any uncertainty and gained documentary evidence for the arrangement which we in the end have obtained for ourselves.” And it concluded: “It is unsatisfactory that neither Mr Ross nor Mr Johnson explained the arrangements to the commissioner until last autumn, and that Mr Ross only provided minimal information on the arrangement this spring and in response to our own enquiries.

“This matter could have been concluded many months ago if more strenuous efforts had been made to dispel the uncertainty.”

Given that Mr Johnson has twice previously been reprimanded for “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House”, the committee said it would have expected him to have “gone the extra mile to ensure there was no uncertainty about the arrangements”.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This whole murky affair shows Boris Johnson has a casual relationship with the truth, and a flagrant disregard for the most basic standards of integrity and trustworthiness that we would expect from a prime minister.

“The way Johnson handles his personal finances mirrors the way he governs the country – chaos and confusion.”

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