Boris Johnson embroiled in fresh row over finances amid Tory leadership comeback plan

Boris Johnson has been urged to come clean about his financial affairs and end his Conservative leadership ambitions, as the former prime minister became embroiled in a fresh row over money.

Adam Forrest

The prime minister is thought to have secured an £800,000 line of credit while he was at No 10, backed by a millionaire relative who was suggested for a top role at a quango.

Canadian businessman Sam Blyth agreed to guarantee the huge credit facility for his distant cousin in December 2020 before it was taken out in February 2021, a newspaper report claimed.

Labour condemned the lack of transparency around the “alleged murky financial arrangements”, calling on No 10 to come clean about who exactly Mr Johnson had received money and other benefits from when he was PM.

Tory MPs said the latest questions about Mr Johnson’s finances, coming soon after damning new Partygate claims, showed exactly why he was not a “suitable character” to be prime minister.

Asked about the huge £800,000 line of credit, former Tory minister Caroline Nokes said there was no way he could return. “Boris was a particular politician for a particular time … but now is not his time. We need sensible, grown-up politicians,” she told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

“It should help kill off any chance he has of coming back,” one backbencher told The Independent. “He wasn’t a suitable character to be PM. The stories about Partygate and his finances would keep on coming if he tried to come back.”

Another Sunak-backing Tory MP said the huge line of credit Mr Johnson was given at No 10 “reminds us why so many people had concerns about him as leader”.

They added: “But some MPs just don’t care because he’s such a unique character. You still can’t rule out a comeback push, because there are a hardcore group who think we did the wrong thing getting rid of him.”

Natwest bank chairman Sir Howard Davies also criticised Mr Johnson, suggesting that the markets would react very badly to any attempted comeback. “Running the country is not the same as running his own finances, where it seems there are mysterious people prepared to fill in any budget gap,” he told the BBC.

The Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team were said to have approved the £800,000 credit arrangement in December 2020 after Mr Johnson asked for the advice of cabinet secretary Simon Case, the Sunday Times reported.

Mr Johnson’s Canadian cousin, the guarantor of the credit line, was considered for a position as chief executive of the British Council, a non-departmental public body when the guarantor arrangements were being put into place, according to the newspaper.

But Mr Case and Cabinet Office officials are said to have been unaware of Mr Blyth’s application for the quango, having been assured that there were no conflicts of interest. And Mr Johnson insisted he was not aware of Mr Blyth’s appearance on a recommended list for the British Council job.

A spokesman for the former PM said: “Boris Johnson did not in any way assist with, and was unaware of, any application by Sam Blyth, formal or informal, to serve in any position whatever with the British Council, and neither was anybody in No 10 who was acting on his behalf.”

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Mr Blyth, said to be a friend of Mr Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson. The Canadian told the Sunday Times: “I am aware of the statement Boris Johnson is making and can confirm the accuracy of his account.”

The former PM’s wife Carrie Johnson is believed to have made free use of Mr Blyth’s villa in the Dominican Republic in early 2022, before Mr Johnson and the whole family holidayed there in October.

Mr Johnson has argued that the use of the Dominican Republic villa did not need to be registered because its free use came from a family member providing a personal benefit. “All Boris Johnson’s financial interests are and were properly declared,” said a spokesperson.

Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “Boris Johnson was never fit for office. These alleged murky financial arrangements only further confirm this fact. This raises the question of why this arrangement was not publicly declared.”

She added: “The public have a right to know when sizeable gifts and loans are made to leaders to avoid any suggestion of inappropriate influence. Will No10 or the Conservative Party confirm just who Johnson received money from when he was in No10, why this was not properly declared, and what these wealthy individuals were offered in return?”

The latest revelations come after The Independent revealed a bitter split between warring Tories over whether Mr Johnson should be restored as leader given his history of scandal.

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “It’s clear as day he’s filling up his coffers and plotting a comeback. This disgraced prime minister should not be granted one. Johnson must publicly rule out a comeback.”

Analysis by The Independent shows that Mr Johnson has raked in than £2.6m in earnings, donations and benefits in kind in the past year alone.

The total includes outside earnings of just over £1.3m in the past 12 months, as the former PM entered the speaking circuit after leaving No 10 in September.

Mr Johnson has also received just £1.2m in donations and hospitality, gifts and benefits in kind – including a £1m donation from Brexiteer businessman Christopher Harbourne and accommodation worth just over £60,000 from Lord Bamford and Lady Bamford.

It also emerged that Mr Johnson put a dinner costing more than £4,000 on a government credit card while with staff in New York for a UN General Assembly meeting in September 2021.

The bill for £4,445.07 for the meal at Smith & Wollensky’s enjoyed by Mr Johnson and his entourage emerged in a question posed by Labour. “While families are sick with worry struggling to make ends meet, this waste of public money is obscene,” said deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner.

Foreign Office minister David Rutley said: “Expenditure was subject to normal FCDO controls and an appropriate use of public money.”

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