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Report on the conduct of Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP published

8 July 2021

The Committee on Standards is grateful to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, for her inquiry. The investigation was undertaken following a complaint to the Commissioner that Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP had breached paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct in relation to an entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests concerning holiday accommodation provided to him on the island of Mustique in St Vincent and the Grenadines between 26 December 2019 and 5 January 2020.

A detailed memorandum from the Commissioner is appended to the Committee’s full report. As set out in the full report, the Committee on Standards made further enquiries following the Commissioner’s investigation.

The correspondence sent by the Committee and responses received are also appended to this report. The Committee’s report briefly summarises the Commissioner’s findings before setting out the Committee’s own analysis and conclusions.

The Commissioner’s findings

Mr Johnson sought and was offered the use of a villa owned by Mr David Ross, a friend of Mr Johnson and a political supporter of the Conservative Party, on the island of Mustique, for him and his partner between 26 December 2019 and 5 January 2020.

In the event Mr Ross’s villa was unavailable for those dates, but another villa on the island, Indigo, which was not owned by Mr Ross, was provided. This was the villa in which Mr Johnson and his partner stayed during the period. Mr Johnson did not pay any accommodation costs for his stay, although he met all other costs.

Mr Johnson named Mr Ross as the donor in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Commissioner agreed that Mr Johnson was correct to include the name of Mr Ross, since he was the person who facilitated the visit.

She found, however, that if another person had provided funds or a benefit in kind, Mr Johnson should also have given the details of whoever funded his holiday accommodation in the first instance. The Commissioner stated that she was unable to establish the arrangements, if any, for funding the accommodation.

The Commissioner did not conclude that Mr Johnson’s Register entry was inaccurate since, as she notes, she was unable to conclude what Mr Johnson’s Register entry should have contained.

The Commissioner was told by the Mustique Company (the island’s management company) that they were prohibited by law from disclosing information relating to the arrangements for the use or rental of villas on the Island. The Commissioner stated that supplying the missing information was the responsibility of the Member.

The Commissioner found Mr Johnson in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code 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”.

The Commissioner stated that these enquiries should have included inquiring “definitively who was to fund the free accommodation he had been offered, and what arrangements had been made to pay for it” before accepting free holiday accommodation; and making further enquiries into the funding arrangements of the holiday accommodation during her investigation in response to her requests to do so.

During her investigation, the Commissioner considered whether £15,000 was an accurate value of the accommodation provided. Based on the evidence provided to her during the investigation, she concluded that she had no reason to dispute the valuation.

The Committee’s conclusions on the case

Mr Johnson argued that his registration of the holiday accommodation he received was “voluntary”. The Committee, however, agreed with the Commissioner that Mr Johnson was required to register the accommodation in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

This was a substantial donation in kind. Mr Johnson received it from a friend who was also a party donor and it might reasonably be thought to influence Mr Johnson’s actions.

Following receipt of the Commissioner’s memorandum, the Committee concluded it did not have sufficient evidence to reach a determination as to whether there had been a breach of the Code. The Committee agreed with the Commissioner that, on the evidence available to her, it was not clear who (if anyone) had paid the owners of the villa in which Mr Johnson stayed.

The Committee therefore wrote to Mr Johnson, Mr Ross, and Mrs Sarah Richardson, the reported owner of the villa in which Mr Johnson stayed, to request further information about the arrangements.

The follow-up correspondence (appended to this report) clarified the arrangements for funding Mr Johnson’s holiday. The Committee concluded the arrangements were as follows: Mr Ross facilitated, via the Mustique Company, the use of a villa, Indigo, for Mr Johnson’s use.

The ad hoc agreement at the time that the benefit was conferred on Mr Johnson was that the Mustique Company would pay the owners of the villa and that Mr Ross would, in recompense, allow the Mustique Company the use of his own villa to cover the value of the accommodation. Taking the additional new evidence into consideration, the Committee concluded that Mr Ross was the donor of Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation.

The Committee therefore found that Mr Johnson’s Register entry was accurate and complete, and found no breach by Mr Johnson of paragraph 14 of the Code.

The Committee stated, however, that it was regrettable that a full account and explanation of the funding arrangements for Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation only came to light as a result of their own further enquiries rather than at an earlier stage. If greater clarity had been made available to the Commissioner at the first instance this matter could have been cleared up many months ago.

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.

The Committee stated that it was unsatisfactory that neither Mr Ross nor Mr Johnson explained the arrangements to the Commissioner until last autumn and that Mr Ross only provided minimal information on the arrangement this Spring and in response to the Committee’s further enquiries.

Given that Mr Johnson was twice reprimanded by the previous Standards Committee in the last Parliament in the space of four months for “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House”, the Committee reported that it would have “expected him to go the extra mile to ensure there was no uncertainty about the arrangements”.

Concluding comments: recommendations to Members

The Committee urges Members to avoid seeking or accepting gifts or hospitality on the basis of complex and unclear funding arrangements, which are by definition opaque, lack transparency and run counter to the principle of openness.

The Committee also urges Members to reject any donations whether in cash or in kind where they are not absolutely certain of the identity of the person facilitating, providing and funding the gift. Where there is any uncertainty at all about the arrangements, or if the arrangements change, it would be better not to accept the gift or hospitality.

The Committee also advises that Members would be wise to ensure that they are in a position to substantiate the basis of their Register entry with documentary evidence, in case that should become necessary at a later date.

Please note that one lay member, Mehmuda Mian, recused herself from taking part in the discussions and decisions on this matter because, having been appointed by the House to the Committee on 28 June, she had not had the opportunity to take part in the Committee’s consideration of this matter from its commencement. The report was agreed unanimously by all the other members of the Committee, elected and lay.

Further information

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