Prime Minister Boris Johnson was found to have breached the code of conduct by the Commons Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone over a luxury Caribbean holiday but MPs ultimately overruled the finding.
Stone said the prime minister breached the MPs’ code by having not “fulfilled conscientiously” the requirements for registering the £15,000 ($20,660) accommodation on Mustique paid for by a Tory donor.
But MPs on the Commons Committee on Standards said in a critical report published on Thursday that they did not agree with her conclusion “in light of additional evidence,” and cleared him of the allegation.
They said Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross was the donor as stated so the prime minister’s “register entry is accurate and complete,” but they did express criticism of Johnson.
The MPs said it was “regrettable” that a full explanation of the situation was not provided long ago, saying the matter could have been “concluded many months ago if more strenuous efforts had been made to dispel the uncertainty.”
Stone said it was “unusually difficult to find the facts” about the holiday during her investigation, which lasted more than a year.
She said she could not find “any reliable documentary” that clearly outlined how the trip with wife Carrie Johnson between Dec. 26, 2019, and Jan, 5 last year was paid for.
The commissioner said Johnson was required as an MP to “conscientiously” fulfil the requirement to update the register of members’ financial interests.
But she said it was “surprising” he did not establish further facts when he learned he would not be staying in Ross’s villa as expected but another property arranged by the donor.
“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, I find that Mr. Johnson has not fulfilled conscientiously the House’s requirements for registration,” she said.
This was in breach of the code of conduct, Stone said, adding: “I also find that Mr Johnson has not shown the accountability required of those in public life.”
Johnson rejected the commissioner’s finding and provided written evidence to the Commons committee chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant.
Having received new information, the committee said it reached a different conclusion from Stone—though did not criticise her findings, which were based on “the evidence available to her at the time.”
The MPs received “the missing explanation” in the form of confirmation from the former owners of the holiday villa that they were paid by the Mustique Company that manages the island.
The committee said the funding arrangements were “ad hoc and informal, and do not appear to have been fully explained to Mr Johnson at the outset.”
It added: “This matter could have been concluded many months ago if more strenuous efforts had been made to dispel the uncertainty.”
The MPs said that considering Johnson was twice reprimanded by the committee in the past, they would have “expected him to have gone the extra mile to ensure there was no uncertainty about the arrangements.”
The committee added: “It is regrettable that a full account and explanation of the funding arrangements for Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation has only come to light as a result of our own inquiries 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.”
The finding came after ministerial standards adviser Lord Geidt found Johnson had acted “unwisely” in allowing the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat to go ahead without “more rigorous regard for how this would be funded.”
But he was ultimately cleared of breaching the ministerial code in that instance.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This whole murky affair shows Boris Johnson has a casual relationship with the truth and a flagrant disregard for the most basic standards of integrity and trustworthiness that we would expect from a Prime Minister.
“The way Johnson handles his personal finances mirrors the way he governs the country—chaos and confusion.”
The prime minister said he had not seen the report during a visit to energy company Bulb’s central London headquarters.
“But as I understand it, the committee has found there was no case to answer,” he added.
By Sam Blewett