Boris Johnson has been cleared by parliament’s committee on standards of wrongly declaring a luxury villa stay in Mustique funded by a Tory donor – but criticised for failing to ascertain the details himself at the time.
The committee, chaired by the Labour MP Chris Bryant, opted not to endorse the findings of the independent commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, after Johnson revealed new details about the convoluted arrangement.
Johnson initially declared David Ross, a Tory donor, as the donor of the holiday accommodation in December 2019 in the register of members’ interests. A spokesperson for Ross had previously accepted that he facilitated the trip, but insisted the entrepreneur did not “pay any moneys whatsoever”.
Stone, whose report is published alongside the committee’s findings, suggested Johnson had “sought and was offered” the use of a villa owned by Ross, the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, “a friend of Mr Johnson and a political supporter of the Conservative party”.
“By Mr Johnson’s and Mr Ross’s own admission, the arrangements for funding Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation were ad hoc and informal, and do not appear to have been fully explained to Mr Johnson at the outset,” she found.
In the event, Johnson did not stay in Ross’s villa, however, and Stone said she was “unable to conclude what Mr Johnson’s register entry should have contained”.
She found him in breach of clause 14 of the House of Commons code of conduct for members, because he “did not make sufficient inquiries to establish the full facts about the funding arrangements for his free accommodation, either before his holiday, as he should have done, or in 2020”.
After Bryant’s committee received Stone’s report, it wrote to Johnson and Ross demanding more information. Their replies revealed fresh details of an “ad hoc arrangement”, under which the Mustique Company paid the owners of the villa in which Johnson and his partner stayed, and Ross subsequently reimbursed them.
“Taking the additional new evidence into account, the committee concluded that Mr Ross was the donor of Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation,” the report said, meaning Johnson’s initial declaration had been accurate.
However, they rejected the prime minister’s insistence that he had voluntarily registered the arrangement, saying it represented a substantial benefit in kind, and he was obliged to reveal it. They also found that it was “regrettable” that “a full account and explanation of the funding arrangements” had only come to light as a result of their own inquiries.
While Johnson has been formally exonerated, the committee’s findings underline the sense that Johnson’s financial arrangements are haphazard. He had previously been forced to insist he was personally paying for a costly refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, after initially seeking to solicit funding from Tory donors for the project.
The prime minister’s ethics adviser, Lord Geidt, found he had acted “unwisely” over the funding of the flat project, though not that he had breached the ministerial code.
Given that Johnson had previously been reprimanded twice in four months in the last parliament by the committee for standards for an “over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”, the committee said it would have “expected him to go the extra mile to ensure there was no uncertainty about the arrangements”.
Johnson’s ex-adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed the prime minister told him he wanted to quit politics shortly after the next general election, to “make money and have fun”.
Deputy Labour 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.”