Opposition parties seek inquiry into Johnson’s Spanish holiday
Labour and the Liberal Democrats on Friday called for an investigation into Boris Johnson’s free use of a Spanish villa owned by the family of minister Lord Zac Goldsmith, as sleaze allegations continued to surround the Conservative party.
The opposition parties called on the prime minister to declare his use of Goldsmith’s villa for a holiday in October in the MPs’ register of interests, which requires the monetary value to be stated. Johnson has included the trip in the register of ministers’ interests, which does not require him to detail the value of the gift.
The row about Johnson’s holiday capped a difficult week for the prime minister and the Tories following his failed attempts to overhaul the parliamentary authorities’ oversight of MPs’ conduct as well as save the career of former minister Owen Paterson.
Angela Rayner, deputy Labour leader, wrote to the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone to demand an investigation into Johnson’s holiday. She noted that the Goldsmiths’ villa had previously been rented out at a fee of £25,000 per week.
She accused Johnson of a “long history of breaching the rules in relation to parliamentary standards and other integrity and anti-corruption measures”.
Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem chief whip, backed calls for an inquiry by Stone into Johnson’s holiday. A spokesperson for Stone declined to comment.
Downing Street said Johnson’s holiday was “fully declared in the proper way”.
It added his use of the Goldsmith family’s villa was “a family holiday at the home of longstanding family friends and is unconnected with the PM’s parliamentary and political activities”.
Labour wrote to Stone a second time on Friday, calling on her to investigate whether Johnson had breached the ministerial code over a controversial refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. The Electoral Commission is currently investigating the matter.
Downing Street did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Paterson is stepping down as an MP after Stone concluded he breached lobbying rules by “repeatedly” using his role as a parliamentarian to “benefit” two companies for which he was a paid consultant.
The Commons standards committee recommended that Paterson be suspended for 30 days. He denied any wrongdoing.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi admitted the government had made an error in its failed efforts to block Paterson’s suspension and seek an overhaul of the policing of MPs’ conduct. Labour accused Johnson of presiding over a culture of “sleaze”.
“When you make a mistake, I’d much rather have a government and a prime minister and the chief whip who says, ‘Hold on a second, let’s go back, because I think we’ve made a mistake here’,” Zahawi told LBC.
He added the government still intended to create a new parliamentary standards system that would include a mechanism to allow MPs to appeal against rulings.
“We should work on a cross-party basis to create a fairer system . . . my appeal to my fellow parliamentarians from all parties is ‘Look let’s come together and create a better system with a right of appeal’,” said Zahawi.
Johnson angered many Conservative MPs by ordering them to vote to block Paterson’s suspension and to overhaul parliamentary regulation, and recriminations inside the party continued to fly on Friday. He had abandoned the moves in a major U-turn on Thursday.
One cabinet minister called the failed moves “all too clever by half” and suggested that Downing Street was too focused on a group of older Eurosceptic Conservative MPs dubbed “the old and the bold”, including Paterson and former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith. “They’re like unguided missiles,” said the minister.
Another senior Tory suggested that Johnson listened to this group of Tories because they were instrumental in removing of Theresa May as prime minister.
Downing Street said Johnson had full confidence in Mark Spencer, Conservative chief whip, who has been the focus of much of Tory MPs’ ire.
Government insiders said Johnson was planning to take the Conservative parliamentary party on an away weekend in January in an effort to forge a better relations after a series of U-turns.
Labour meanwhile announced on Friday it would seek to strengthen rules to prevent MPs from profiting from their roles.
One senior Labour official said its plans could include restrictions on which second jobs MPs are permitted to undertake.