Foreign secretary evades questions on latest Boris Johnson ‘sleaze’ allegations

UK

The foreign secretary has evaded answering questions on the latest ‘sleaze’ allegations surrounding Boris Johnson to hit the Conservative Party.

James Cleverly was asked about a claim that the BBC chairman Richard Sharp helped the former prime minister arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000, weeks before he was then recommended for the job by Mr Johnson.

Mr Cleverly admitted he had not tried to contact the ex-PM to seek clarity on the situation today, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “You’re the journalist not me.”

Labour has reported Mr Johnson to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following the report in the Sunday Times, which his spokesperson denied as “rubbish”.

Boris Johnson and Richard Sharp
Image:
Boris Johnson and Richard Sharp

The allegation comes after Conservative chairman Nadhim Zahawi admitted paying a settlement to HMRC following a tax error related to a shareholding in YouGov.

Pat McFadden, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said that taken together the stories were damaging public trust in politicians and that is “really corrosive to governance”.

He told Sophy Ridge: “It’s very easy for the public to conclude that all politicians are the same and in it for themselves.

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I think with the Boris Johnson stuff, he almost relies on that level of cynicism so that people conclude, no scandal matters, nothing matters because that’s what they’re all like anyway.”

Asked if the report about Mr Johnson was true, Mr Cleverly said: “Well, I’ve not had a conversation with either of those parties about that situation.”

However, he insisted that, as far as he can see, Mr Sharp’s appointment as BBC chair was made on his merits.

“I have met with Richard, we discussed the (BBC) World Service, he struck me as an incredibly competent, experienced, thoughtful individual. I can see exactly why he has the attributes, both personal, professional, to be the chair of the BBC.

“So, as far as I can see, his appointment was made on those merits.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the chair and any questions are a matter for the government.”

Mr Cleverly also evaded questions over Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs, saying: “I don’t know any more detail than is in his public statement.”

Nadhim Zahawi arriving in Downing Street in November
Image:
Nadhim Zahawi

Cleverly says he’s ‘not an investigator’

Questions have swirled following an article in The Sun on Sunday, which claimed a seven-figure payment was made by Mr Zahawi to end a dispute with the taxman “after scrutiny of his family’s financial affairs”.

On Saturday night, the cabinet minister admitted he made an error but insisted this was “careless and not deliberate”.

But he did not disclose the size of the settlement – reported to be an estimated £4.8m including a 30% penalty – or confirm whether he paid a fine.

Mr Cleverly was asked to shed light on this, and whether Mr Zahawi negotiated his tax settlement with HMRC while he was serving as chancellor in the closing days of the Johnson administration, or what Rishi Sunak knew when he appointed him party chairman.

“I’m not an investigator,” Mr Cleverly said when it was put to him that he was there to speak on behalf of the government.

Asked whether Mr Zahawi will survive in his role until Wednesday, Mr Cleverly said: “What else am I going to say other than yes, because he’s a very, very effective minister.”

However, Mr McFadden said his survival is “difficult” and what happens next will be a test to the prime minister, who vowed to turn over a new leaf after Mr Johnson’s scandal-plagued premiership.

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