“The Conservative Party is the party of aspiration and opportunity for all, no matter your gender, your ethnicity or where you come from.” – Great quote, Owl.
Eleni Courea, Henry Zeffman, Gabriel Pogrund www.thetimes.co.uk
Two of Boris Johnson’s closest advisers were being lined up for leadership roles in the Middle East outreach group at the heart of a dispute that has shaken Tory high command, The Times can disclose.
Lord Udny-Lister, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, and Baroness Finn, his present deputy chief of staff, were in talks to take senior roles with Conservative Friends of the Middle East and North Africa (Comena).
Comena is being set up by Mohamed Amersi, a telecoms millionaire and Conservative donor who made incendiary claims at the weekend about Ben Elliot, the party chairman. The group has applied for formal affiliation to the party and is being formed to develop its links to Middle Eastern countries.
Amersi’s close links to such senior Conservatives will make it harder for the party to distance itself from him after his assertion that Elliot had fostered a culture of “access capitalism” at the heart of the establishment.
Udny-Lister, who served as the prime minister’s special envoy to the Gulf before he left government in April, was to become one of Comena’s vice-chairmen, according to documents seen by this newspaper. He said he had agreed to be involved but did not recall agreeing specifically to accept a vice-chairman role.
Finn was approached about taking a role before she joined No 10 but the discussions never led to formal agreement and she never reached the stage of seeking permission from Downing Street. A friend said: “Simone was approached to join the advisory council but this was not progressed.”
Theresa May was to be a patron. A spokeswoman for the former prime minister confirmed that she had agreed to this but added that she was no longer involved with the organisation.
According to documents seen by The Times, other Tory politicians who were being lined up for leadership positions included Lord Johnson of Marylebone, the prime minister’s brother, Sir Hugo Swire, the former Tory minister, the MP Mark Garnier and Lord Lamont of Lerwick, the former chancellor.
Amersi’s list of supporters was subject to Comena becoming affiliated to the party and the parliamentarians declaring their interests in the Commons and Lords registers.
Garnier said he had agreed to be vice-chairman of the group “subject to Comena achieving affiliate status with the party and then moving forward into a properly structured organisation”. Lamont said he had agreed to be a vice-president about six months ago but that progress had stalled. Neither Johnson nor Swire responded to requests for comment.
At the weekend Amersi claimed that Elliot benefited from giving wealthy clients of his company access to the Prince of Wales. Amersi said Elliot had introduced him to Prince Charles in 2013 after he paid thousands of pounds for elite membership of the Tory chairman’s concierge company, Quintessentially. A spokesman for Elliot said the introduction was “entirely about helping to raise money for charity”.
Amersi told The Daily Telegraph last night: “I highly regret that Prince Charles has been involved in this.” He became a leading figure in several of Charles’s charities, including Prince’s Trust International.
Last night Amersi also claimed that he would have been treated better by the Conservatives if he had was white. He told The Daily Mail: “I sometimes wonder if I was white and my surname was John Smith and I had been to Eton and Oxford I might have been treated differently. And I think there is some truth in that.”
A party spokesman said: “The Conservative Party is the party of aspiration and opportunity for all, no matter your gender, your ethnicity or where you come from.”
Comena was to rival the Conservative Middle East Council, which is led by Charlotte Leslie, the former MP for Bristol North West, but severed its formal ties to the party in 2019.