PM under fresh pressure as opposition parties call for inquiry into Spanish trip

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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 environment minister 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.

Cop26 – Glasgow
The Prince of Wales speaks to Lord Goldsmith and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow (Phil Noble/PA)

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.

Transparency rules

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.

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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.

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.

“Party of sleaze”

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”.

She added:

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.

The prime minister made lord 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.

Further investigations?

A Downing Street spokesperson 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.

The spokesperson also said Johnson’s ministerial standards adviser, lord Geidt, had scrutinised 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, after a Tory donor initially settled an invoice for the works.

Labour Party Conference 2021
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner (Gareth Fuller/PA)

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, Mr 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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