Wednesday 12/8/21
PRESSURE

Johnson under pressure as opposition calls for Spanish trip probe

Both Labour and the Lib Dems are demanding an investigation into whether the prime minister properly declared the luxury accommodation in a Costa del Sol villa owned by Lord Goldsmith's family

HANDOUT - 03 November 2021, United Kingdom, London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: Jessica Taylor/Uk Parliament via PA Media/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: Jessica Taylor/Uk Parliament.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under growing pressure in the sleaze row engulfing his government as opposition parties demanded an inquiry into his free holiday at a Spanish villa owned by the family of Lord Goldsmith.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems urged Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone to open an investigation into whether the prime minister properly declared the luxury accommodation in the Costa del Sol.

Their call came after Johnson tried and failed to overhaul the disciplinary system for MPs that Stone is integral to in a doomed bid to save Conservative former minister Owen Paterson from suspension after the commissioner found he broke lobbying rules.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also renewed calls for the commissioner to investigate the financing of Johnson's luxury refurbishments to his Downing Street flat, with expectations the results of the Electoral Commission's probe may not be far off.

Johnson declared last month's holiday in the register of ministers’ interests, citing a "longstanding personal friendship with the Goldsmith family" who allowed him to stay in the villa free of charge during the trip with wife Carrie and son Wilfred.

But the value of the holiday was not disclosed and the opposition parties questioned whether he should also publish the details on the register of interests for MPs as well.

Downing Street insisted the prime minister did not need to do this and had followed all transparency rules correctly.

Investigation

Rayner wrote two letters to the commissioner asking her to launch the investigations, and added in a statement: "Boris Johnson’s attempt to make Conservative MPs judge and jury over allegations of corruption and rule-breaking was a blatant attempt to prevent the commissioner from investigating his latest breaches of the rules.

"It can’t be one rule for Boris Johnson and another for the rest of us, and our corrupt and sleazy Prime Minister must be held to account just like anybody else would be if they broke the rules."

Liberal Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain accused the Conservatives of being "the party of sleaze," saying they cannot be trusted "to mark their own homework."

"The independent standards commissioner should urgently launch an investigation into whether Boris Johnson breached the code of conduct by failing to properly declare his holiday," she added.

The prime minister made Zac Goldsmith a life peer shortly after voters dumped him as the MP for Richmond Park in a defeat to the Lib Dems in 2019.

It paved the way for Johnson to hand Goldsmith a job in government, first in the Foreign Office before making him an environment minister.

Transparency requirements

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister’s met the transparency requirements in relation to this, he declared this arrangement in his ministerial capacity, given this was hospitality provided by another minister.

"The PM has written to the House of Commons registrar to set out that this holiday has been declared under the ministerial code, because the arrangement is with another minister."

He said Johnson’s ministerial standards adviser, Lord Geidt, had scrutinized the declaration as part of the process.

Rayner was also renewing demands for Stone to investigate the refurbishments to the prime minister’s apartment in No 11, Downing Street, after a Tory donor initially settled an invoice for the works.

Lord Geidt, the adviser on ministers’ interests, found Johnson had not been aware Lord Brownlow stumped up but decided the prime minister acted "unwisely" in allowing the refurbishment to go ahead without "more rigorous regard for how this would be funded."

The Electoral Commission launched an investigation into the refurbishment in April, saying there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect an offence may have occurred.

At the time, Johnson described the row as a "farrago of nonsense."

Now the watchdog has reportedly handed a draft of its findings to the Conservative Party.

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