Do you ever wonder why “development” always features so strongly in all Tory plans?
Developers are just never very far away. – Owl
Emanuele Midolo, Gabriel Pogrund www.thetimes.co.uk
Boris Johnson’s closest adviser faced fresh conflict-of-interest allegations last night after it emerged that he has stayed on the payroll of two property developers during his time in Downing Street.
Lord Udny-Lister has served as the prime minister’s chief strategic adviser since 2019. No 10 announced last week that he would soon leave for a new role as Johnson’s special envoy for the Gulf, responsible for courting Middle Eastern investment. The announcement came days after we revealed that Lister had been paid by both the buyer and seller of the new site of the Chinese embassy while leading talks over the £255 million deal on behalf of the government.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “We need urgent answers from the government on how they’ll deal with what appears to be a serious conflict of interest. This government’s catalogue of cronyism grows every week. Yet they seem to feel no urgency in addressing these concerns. There needs to be more integrity at the heart of government.”
Lister has been on the highest salary band of any special adviser in government since December 2019, paid between £140,000 and £149,000 a year. Throughout that time, he has been a non-executive director of Stanhope, one of the largest private developers in the capital, whose £500 million redevelopment near East Croydon has been picked by the government as the location of a new civil service hub.
Lister is also a member of the strategic board of Delancey, a property company that has given £350,000 to the Conservative Party over the past decade. While at No 10 Lister invited its owner, Jamie Ritblat, to provide advice on the property market several times during lockdown.
No 10 said on Friday that Lister would report directly to Johnson in his new role in the Gulf. Neither Delancey nor Stanhope have interests in the region. But both have dealt with Middle Eastern states on flagship deals.
Delancey and the property arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund jointly bought the £557 million Olympic village, while Stanhope sold an office block near King’s Cross to the Qatar royal family in 2015. The Gulf states remain among the most active investors in London property, and are expected to play an increasingly important role post-Brexit.
“I’m very pleased to be sending Lord Udny-Lister to work with our partners there,” Johnson said. “His appointment marks my ambition to achieve a wholesale modernisation of our Gulf relationships, creating jobs and driving prosperity at home while delivering on our priorities and values overseas.”
Lister received a peerage last summer but at the time of publication his Lords register of interests was empty.
Downing Street refused to answer specific questions but a government spokesman said: “Mr Lister has at all times followed the Cabinet Office’s guidance and codes of conduct.” Ritblat’s conversations with Lister, when he advised on the property market, are understood to have taken place by phone. Asked if they were minuted, a government spokesman declined to comment.
Delancey said last week that Lister was not involved on behalf of the company in the sale of Royal Mint Court, which is to be redeveloped and serve as China’s new British embassy. The company said: “Delancey is not aware of any past or existing conflict of interest by Lord Udny-Lister sitting on its advisory board.”
Stanhope said Lister’s role was to ensure “good governance within the company and he has no involvement in any existing or past Stanhope projects”.