Wrong to focus on ‘sleaze’ allegations against Boris Johnson while India is suffering, minister says

‘That’s what you led with’ James Cleverly snaps at interviewer – when told both issues are important

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Monday 03 May 2021 11:46
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Wrong to focus on ‘sleaze’ allegations against Boris Johnson while India is suffering, minister says

A government minister has attacked headlines about the sleaze allegations engulfing Boris Johnson when India is suffering a terrifying Covid-19 surge.

James Cleverly criticised the “juxtaposition” of questions about the prime minister’s lavish flat makeover with vital international efforts to help Delhi tackle its huge death toll.

When he was told that no-one was suggesting the funding of the refurbishment is more important, the Foreign Office minister snapped back: “Yeah, that’s what you led with.”

The clash came as Mr Cleverly again insisted the various inquiries into the controversy must run their course, rebutting calls for Mr Johnson to reveal “who made the initial payment”.

No 10 has failed to say whether a donor paid a second invoice for the flat – with the redecorations costing as much as £200,000 – or whether the prime minister sought gifts to pay his childcare bills.

On Sunday, the Scottish Tory leader piled on the pressure by agreeing Mr Johnson must quit if he is found to have broken the ministerial code over the spending.

But Mr Cleverly criticised the questioning on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, saying: “We’ve just come out of reports of the situation in India.

“And my boss, the foreign secretary, is about to meet with his foreign ministerial colleagues from around the globe to address some of the really important issues that we’re discussing. 

“The prime minister will respond to those reports, but I think the juxtaposition of the images of what we’re seeing here....”, before being interrupted.

The presenter accused the minister of being “tricksy” – agreeing the controversy is not “more important than a person dying every four minutes in India” – prompting Mr Cleverly to say: “That’s what you led with.”

Mr Johnson is facing up to four inquiries, after repeatedly failing to deny that the Conservative Party originally funded the costly revamp of the flat above No 11 Downing Street.

It is believed the party secretly approved paying a £58,000 bill as long as nine months ago – a payment then covered by a wealthy donor, according to a leaked email.

He is also under fire for refusing to commit to publishing the findings of his new adviser’s investigation into the affair – despite criticism that he is making himself “judge and jury”.

Most seriously, the Electoral Commission has launched a formal investigation, saying there are grounds for believing “an offence or offences may have occurred”.

Mr Cleverly agreed that “no one is above the law”, adding: “The other reports will come out when they come out and the prime minister will respond to what they say.

“I can’t go any further than the prime minister has gone, because I don’t know the details.”

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