1.This Report arises from an inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into late registration of a financial interest by Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP. The inquiry was undertaken by the Commissioner at her own initiative.
2.We publish with this Report a memorandum by the Commissioner in which she sets out the detailed background to her inquiry and her conclusions. We will therefore set out here a very brief resume of the material points.
3.On 17 January 2019 Mr Johnson registered an interest in the form of a 20% share of a property in Somerset. He had been notified of his acquisition of this interest on 25 January 2018. This meant that the registration was outside the 28-day time limit set by the House.
4.Mr Johnson told the Commissioner that he had initially misinterpreted the rules relating to registration. These require that “Members must register any land or property in the UK or elsewhere which (i) has a value of more than £100,000; or forms part of a total property portfolio whose value exceeds £100,000; and/or (ii) alone or together with other properties owned by the Member, provides rental income of more than £10,000 in a calendar year”. Mr Johnson had registered a house in London, owned jointly with his wife, which met the threshold in (i) above from 1 November 2016 and that in (ii) above from 1 March 2017. He stated that he had understood these thresholds to apply to individual assets and that he had therefore assumed that his 20% share in the Somerset property from 25 January 2018 did not exceed either of the thresholds, and therefore did not need to be registered.
5.Mr Johnson has apologised to the Commissioner for his misreading of the rules. He stated that it was only in January 2019 that “I realised I had inadvertently misinterpreted the rules and sought to make amends”. He argued that he had been misled by the descriptor of the relevant category in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, “Land and property portfolio”, into thinking that the thresholds applied separately to separate assets.
6.In her memorandum the Commissioner comments that she had told Mr Johnson in correspondence that “I [do] not think that Members should be in any doubt that it is the combined value of the properties owned/rentals received which is the measure for registration”. She states that “I accept that the Member had misunderstood the House’s rules but he should have checked more carefully what was required of him”. She added that:
it is the Guide to the Rules which explains what Members should and should not register. Members should not rely solely on the category headings in the Register. Paragraph 47 of chapter one of that Guide clearly requires Members to aggregate the value of, and rental income from, any land and property portfolio.
7.The Commissioner states that, in other circumstances, she might have considered concluding her inquiry by way of the rectification procedure. However, she took also into account that this was not a single instance of late registration. In autumn 2018 she concluded an investigation into a complaint against Mr Johnson which established that on four previous occasions in the recent past he had been late in registering financial interests; this involved nine separate payments. In our Fourth Report of the current Session, following a memorandum from the Commissioner, we concluded that Mr Johnson had indeed breached the rules of the House by failing to register remuneration within the required timetable on nine occasions. We recommended that Mr Johnson should make an apology to the House on a point of order, which he did, on 6 December 2018.
8.The Commissioner notes that during her previous inquiry she had asked Mr Johnson to confirm that his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests was up to date. He gave her that assurance on 24 October 2018. The Commissioner concludes that:
Mr Johnson has co-operated fully with my inquiry, but his failure to check properly that he brought his Register entry up to date during the last inquiry might be regarded as showing a lack of respect for the House’s rules and for the standards system. That does not demonstrate the leadership which one would expect of a long-standing and senior Member of the House, nor compliance with the general principles of conduct.
9.For these reasons the Commissioner has referred the matter to the Committee on Standards “for them to consider whether any further action is required”.
10.We are grateful to the Commissioner for referring this matter to us. We invited Mr Johnson to comment and in response he has written to us; the letter, dated 1 April 2019, is published as Appendix 2.
11.There is no dispute about what happened or that a breach of the House’s rules took place. In assessing the seriousness of the breach, we take into account, in accord with our usual practice, what we consider to be mitigating and aggravating factors.
12.We assess the following to be mitigating factors:
13.We assess the following to be aggravating factors:
14.We conclude with concern that these two investigations by the Commissioner in rapid succession demonstrate a pattern of behaviour by Mr Johnson. While there is no suggestion that he has at any time tried deliberately to conceal the extent of his interests, this latest breach reinforces the view which we expressed in our previous Report, that he has displayed “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House”, in conjunction with “a lack of effective organisation within [his] office”. We find it particularly regrettable that Mr Johnson gave an assurance to the Commissioner that his registration of financial interests was up to date, and within a very short period it proved not to be.
15.We acknowledge Mr Johnson’s repeated apologies for these breaches of the rules, most recently in his letter to us dated 1 April 2019. We require that Mr Johnson should meet with the Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests in person to receive a full briefing from her about his obligations as a Member to register all relevant interests in accordance with the rules. Should we conclude in future that Mr Johnson has committed any further breaches of the rules on registration, we will regard this as a matter which may call for more serious sanction.
1 Appendix 1; written evidence accompanying the Commissioner’s memorandum is published on the Committee’s website.
2 Guide to the Rules, chapter 1, para 47
3 Appendix 1, para 15
4 Appendix 1, para 16
5 Appendix 1, executive summary
6 Appendix 1, para 23
7 Committee on Standards, Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, Boris Johnson (HC 1797), published 6 December 2018, paras 15–16
8 Official Report, 6 December 2018, col 1080
9 Appendix 1, para 29
10 Appendix 1, executive summary
11 See the details published on the Commissioner’s website:
12 Appendix 2; Appendix 1, executive summary and para 23
13 HC (2017–19) 1797, para 14
Published: 8 April 2019