Boris Johnson admits to personal failings over sleaze row as Tories su…

Boris Johnson made perhaps his biggest admission of failure over the sleaze row engulfing his government tonight – as however another poll showed the Tories being hammers by voters.

The chief Minister, who has before refused to say sorry for sparking a standards row  by attempts to overturn punishment for ex-minister Owen Paterson, spoke as he fronted a televised press conference in Downing Street. 

It came after an Opinium poll for the Observer gave Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour a tight one-point rule after days and days of accusations against mainly Tory MPs over lucrative second jobs and rental payments for homes.

It is the first time Labour have been ahead with Opinium since January and follows several surveys last week showing the party jump-frogging the Conservatives.

Mr Johnson appeared to take umbrage at repeated questions on sleaze at an event he called to discuss the consequence of the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

He refused to confirm reports that he has apologised in private to Cabinet ministers for trying to reform parliamentary sleaze rules, only to U-turn within hours.

But ultimately he admitted: ‘Of course I think that things should certainly have been handled better, let me put it that way. By me.’

At the same time Mr Johnson faced accusations that he promised to use his own political strength to help US tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri while they were in a relationship.

In a diary extract seen by the Observer, American businesswoman Ms Arcuri said he pledged to help her firm in order to ‘win my love’ while he was mayor of London. 

Labour this afternoon wrote to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) asking it to ‘look again’ at its decision to rule out a formal investigation into the conduct of the PM during his time running the capital. 

The chief Minister, who has before refused to say sorry for sparking a standards row by attempts to overturn punishment for ex-minister Owen Paterson, spoke as he fronted a televised press conference in Downing Street.

It is the first time Labour have been ahead with Opinium since January and follows several surveys last week showing the party jump-frogging the Conservatives.

Mr Johnson (pictured today) faced accusations that he promised to use his own political strength to help US tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri while they were in a relationship

In a diary extract seen by the Observer, American businesswoman Ms Arcuri said he pledged to help her firm in order to ‘win my love’ while he was mayor of London.

Labour’s Starmer dragged into sleaze row over office use 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was dragged into the MPs’ sleaze row last night for allegedly using his Commons office for party political campaigning.

He faced claims that he may have broken the MPs’ code of conduct by using his taxpayer-funded office for ‘Call Keir’ speed calls.

The Labour leader was pictured in his Westminster HQ launching a programme of ‘virtual public meetings’ last year.

According to party supporters, that first event, in spring 2020, was followed by a second ‘Call Keir’ meeting in the Labour leader’s office in October last year.

The programme of hour-long speed meetings was advertised on the Labour Party website as events where ‘Keir Starmer will listen to and answer questions from the public’.

However, the Commons code of conduct states that ‘Members shall ensure that their use of public resources is always in sustain of their parliamentary duties’.

Last night, Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Taxpayers will be angry that facilities they have funded are being used for party political purposes.’

Mr Johnson also told the press conference all MPs should work ‘above all’ for their constituents.

He said: ‘It’s very important that all MPs work chiefly, and above all, for their constituents.

‘Anybody who lobbies on behalf of a commercial interest is clearly in breach of the rules.

‘You can take from what I’ve said that all MPs should follow the rules, and I think that the rules are there to protect them, protect the public, they’re very simple to understand, and we should just get on with it.’

As sleaze accusations continue to harm the Conservatives one MP told the Sun the PM should offer a ‘Liverpool apology’ – a reference to a mea culpa he was ordered to give to the city after insulting them as a junior minister in the early 2000s.

At the same time, the Department for Transport was forced today to deny that Cabinet minister Grant Shapps, a keen pilot, is using a lobbying body to protect airfields from development.

In Ms Arcuri’s diary extracts revealed in the Observer Mr Johnson is said to have offered to be ‘the thrust – the throttle’ behind her career.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘As mayor, Boris Johnson followed all the legal requirements in the Greater London Assembly’s [sic] code of conduct at the time.’ 

With the political sleaze row continuing to rule headlines, the Sunday Times reported the Transport Secretary – who the newspaper says owns a £100,000 aeroplane – ‘set-up and diverted public money’ to a new team within the Civil Aviation Authority which is designed to lobby against planning developments that infringe on airstrips. 

The newspaper said objections by the Airfield Advisory Team had helped to frustrate Homes England’s plans for 3,000 homes at Chalgrove, an airfield in south Oxfordshire, while also opposing ambitions to build a battery gigafactory on Coventry airport.

But Department for Transport (DfT) officials said the team was not a lobbying body and instead provided ‘sustain to general aviation on a range of matters affecting their operations’. 

The Sunday Times article also suggested Mr Shapps’ flying hobby had ‘undermined’ Government efforts to repatriate Britons after the collapse of travel agent Thomas Cook in 2019, and had taken up ‘valuable time’ while the DfT dealt with post-Brexit and coronavirus travel disruption.

But a source told PA the claims were ‘utterly bogus and demonstrably false’.

Opinium also recorded a slip in the chief Minister’s approval rating to a new low, with a net rating of minus 21 per cent.

The drop in sustain for the Tories since its botched handling of the Owen Paterson affair has been recorded in a number of surveys in recent days, with a Savanta ComRes poll for the Daily Mail putting Labour six points ahead and a YouGov survey finding the competitor parties neck-and-neck.

A separate survey by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on Wednesday put Labour two points ahead of the Tories.

The findings come after the Government attempted to rip up the current Commons standards system to delay former Tory cabinet minister Mr Paterson’s suspension for breaking lobbying rules, and revelations former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox voted by proxy while offering legal sets in the Caribbean.

The Sunday Times reported that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ‘set-up and diverted public money’ to a new team within the Civil Aviation Authority which is designed to lobby against planning developments that infringe on airstrips

He is reported to own a £100,000 Piper Saratoga aircraft similar to the one above

Mr Paterson opted to resign as MP for North Shropshire after 24 years after ministers U-turned on their standards reforms when opposition parties made clear they would not sustain them.

The messy handling of the affair has since thrust how much time and money MPs raise from second jobs back into the spotlight, along with scrutiny of second home arrangements.

Another Tory MP was accused of profiting from consultancy roles last night – wityh claims he has four jobs on the side.

Richard Fuller, who represents North East Bedfordshire, has received £700,000 from firms including a private equity outfit, Investcorp, which has invested in spy technology in China, the Sunday Mirror claims.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner told the paper: ‘The corruption scandal that has engulfed the Conservative Party gets worse by the day.

‘We need an investigation to get to the bottom of whether this relationship has put our national security at risk and whether this technology has aided human rights abuses in China.’

Mr Fuller told the Mirror: ‘My constituents will read your article and if they want me to respond I guess I can talk to them about it.’ 

Transport Secretary and flying enthusiast Grant Shapps is accused of lobbying his OWN Government to stop houses being built on airfields 

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has today been accused of fighting plans by his own Government to build homes on little-used airfields.

Mr Shapps, a keen pilot said to own his own £100,000 aircraft, is said to have used a lobbying body to protect airfields from development.

He disputes claims made in the Sunday Times today that he ‘set-up and diverted public money’ to a new team within the Civil Aviation Authority designed to lobby against planning developments that infringe on airstrips.

The newspaper said objections by the Airfield Advisory Team had helped to frustrate Homes England’s plans for 3,000 homes at Chalgrove, an airfield in south Oxfordshire, while also opposing ambitions to build a battery gigafactory on Coventry airport.

But Department for Transport (DfT) officials said the team was not a lobbying body and instead provided ‘sustain to general aviation on a range of matters affecting their operations’.

A Government source said: ‘This body is not a lobbying body, it is an advisory body to help general aviation with problems they may have, which may be planning or anything else.

‘It is not essentially anti-housing – indeed, housing can sometimes be a solution for financing an airfield.

‘As Secretary of State for Transport, it is his function to protect general aviation and we’ve seen a decline in the number of airfields across the country.’

A DfT spokeswoman said: ‘It is right that the Transport Secretary works to promote all aspects of the department’s fleeting including the general aviation sector, which contributes £4 billion to the economy and supports 40,000 jobs, especially as we focus on our recovery from the pandemic and on building a different workforce that’s fit for the future.’

The Sunday Times article also suggested Mr Shapps’ flying hobby had ‘undermined’ Government efforts to repatriate Britons after the collapse of travel agent Thomas Cook in 2019, and had taken up ‘valuable time’ while the DfT dealt with post-Brexit and coronavirus travel disruption.

But a source said claims were ‘utterly bogus and demonstrably false’.

Mr Shapps is believed to have held a pilot’s licence since 1995, before he entered Parliament. 

In 2017, while out of Government, he was elected chairman of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Aviation. On taking on the role he said: ‘Grant Shapps said: “The All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation seeks to be the strong voice in Parliament that general aviation needs to help promote jobs and growth in this country. 

‘We will seek to do this by inspiring young and old to look to the skies to help develop the kind of high-tech jobs and skills we all want to see. I am delighted to have been elected chair and look forward to championing such an important part of our economy.’

He resigned the role on becoming Secretary of State for Transport in place of Chris Grayling in 2019.

Jacob Rees-Mogg may have broken rules by ‘not declaring £6million in cheap loans from his Cayman Islands-connected company’

Jacob Rees-Mogg may have breached parliamentary rules by not declaring £6 million in personal loans from his Cayman Islands-connected company, The Mail on Sunday can show.

He is the first Cabinet Minister to be dragged into the row over MPs’ outside interests, and led the Government’s botched attempt to soften parliamentary sleaze rules.

The Leader of the Commons borrowed up to £2.94 million a year in ‘director’s loans’ from his UK-based Saliston Ltd between 2018 and 2020.

Parliamentary rules require MPs to be ‘open and frank in drawing attention to any applicable interest’.

The Mail on Sunday can show Jacob Rees-Mogg may have breached parliamentary rules by not declaring £6 million in personal loans from his Cayman Islands-connected company. Pictured November 8 in the House of Commons

Although it does not clearly cover director’s loans, the code of conduct requires directors to declare ‘taxable expenses, allowances and benefits’.

In the MPs’ Register of Interests, Mr Rees-Mogg disclosed himself as an ‘unremunerated director’ and shareholder of the firm, but did not say he had taken out the loans.

By using ‘director’s loans’ – classed by the Government as a taxable assistance – he was able to borrow the large sum at very low interest.

Mr Rees-Mogg insisted last night as the loans were not earnings, he was not required to declare them to Parliament and he had not broken any rules.

He said the 2018 loan was ‘chiefly’ used to buy and refurbish his £5.6 million home in Westminster. He would not say what the rest of the money was for.

But a source in the Commons sleaze watchdog said the loans should ‘absolutely’ have been declared in the Register of Interests, adding: ‘The whole point of registration is the public should be able to know what is governing your decision-making and the actions that you take.’

Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Leader of the Commons, urged Mr Rees-Mogg to ‘come clean’ about his interests and called on Boris Johnson to set afloat an immediate investigation into his activities.

Mr Rees-Mogg bought his house, formerly Tory HQ, in February 2018 using a mortgage with Coutts bank, Land Registry documents show.

The £6 million he took in loans includes £2.94 million in 2018, £2.3 million the following year and £701,513 in 2019-2020, Companies House documents show.

In the first year he paid no interest, in the second he paid £46,915 and in the final year £2,030 – £48,945 in interest over three years, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per cent. A typical £30,000, two-year personal loan comes with six per cent interest.

The North East Somerset MP was a director of Saliston Ltd until he joined the Cabinet in July 2019, but retains a 100 per cent shareholding and is a ‘Person of meaningful Control’.

His wife remains a director.

Saliston Ltd has before been described as a ‘holding company’ by Mr Rees-Mogg.

It has £8 million character assets, understood to include a Mayfair house, and nearly £1 million in other investments.

In 2018, it took out a £2.87 million bank loan, according to its accounts, the same year it lent Mr Rees-Mogg £2.9 million.

It has a controlling stake in Somerset Capital Management LLP, the parent firm of Somerset Capital Management (Cayman) Ltd in the Cayman Islands.

The North East Somerset MP was a director of Saliston Ltd until he joined the Cabinet in July 2019, but retains a 100 per cent shareholding and is a ‘Person of meaningful Control’. Pictured October 27 after attending a Cabinet meeting ahead of Rishi Sunak’s Budget

Somerset Capital Management LLP’s accounts show its limited-liability members were remunerated with £3.8 million in 2021. Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘Saliston is 100 per cent owned by me. This is declared clearly in the Commons register and to the Cabinet Office.

‘It has no activities that interact with Government policy.

‘The loans from 2018 were chiefly taken out for the buy and refurbishment of [my home] as permanent cash flow measures.

‘All loans have either been repaid with interest in accordance with HMRC rules or paid as dividends and taxed consequently.

‘I have no managerial responsibility for Somerset Capital Management. However, I know that the Cayman company purely provides a fund for non-UK investors but any and all money it makes returns to Somerset Capital Management in the UK where it pays complete UK taxes.’

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