Boris Johnson Contents

Report

1.This Report arises from a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP had breached paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct in relation to an entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests concerning holiday accommodation provided to him on the island of Mustique in St Vincent and the Grenadines between 26 December 2019 and 5 January 2020.

2.The Commissioner has supplied us with a memorandum relating to these matters, which we publish as an appendix to this report.1As we set out below, we made further enquiries of our own; the letters we sent and the responses we received are published as appendices to this report.2 Full details of the Commissioner’s inquiry and her findings are set out in the memorandum. We shall summarise them briefly before setting out our own analysis and conclusions.

The Commissioner’s findings

3.Mr Johnson sought and was offered the use of a villa owned by Mr David Ross, a friend of Mr Johnson and a political supporter of the Conservative Party, on the island of Mustique, for him and his partner between 26 December 2019 and 5 January 2020. In the event Mr Ross’s villa was unavailable for those dates, but another villa on the island, Indigo, which was not owned by Mr Ross, was provided.3 This was the villa in which Mr Johnson and his partner stayed during the period. Mr Johnson did not pay any accommodation costs for his stay, although he met all other costs.

4.On 24 January 2020 Mr Johnson’s office emailed the Registrar’s office with the following wording for a registration: “Nature and value of benefit in kind: My partner and I received hospitality in the form of use of a private house organised by a friend, Mr David Ross. The approximate value of renting the property for this period was £15,000. I paid for all other expenses, including flights.”4 Following editing changes agreed between the Registrar and Mr Johnson’s office, his registration appeared in the usual format in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on 27 January 2020, as follows:

Name of donor: Mr David Ross

Address of donor: private

Nature and value of benefit in kind (or amount of any donation): accommodation for a private holiday for my partner and me, value £15,000

Destination of visit: St Vincent and the Grenadines

Dates of visit: 26 December 2019 to 5 January 2020

Purpose of visit: private holiday.

(Registered 27 January 2020)

5.Paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct states that:

Members shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of the registration of interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. They shall always be open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its Committees, and in any communications with Ministers, Members, public officials or public office holders.5

6.Paragraph 31 of Chapter 1 of the Guide to the Rules provides that Members must register “any visits to destinations outside the UK where the cost is over £300 if that cost is not wholly borne by the Member or by UK public funds”.6 Paragraph 36 of that Chapter provides that the Member must provide the following details:7

a)The name and address of the person or organisation funding the visit;

b)The amount of any payment, and/or the nature and value of any donation in kind such as flights and accommodation;

c)The destination of the visit;

d)The date(s) of the visit;

e)The purpose of the visit.

7.The Commissioner concluded that Mr Johnson was required under the House’s rules to register the holiday accommodation he received.8

8.Mr Johnson named Mr Ross as the donor in his Register entry (see paragraph 4 above). The Commissioner agreed that Mr Johnson was correct to include the name of Mr Ross, since he was the person who facilitated the visit.9 She found, however, that if another person had provided funds or a benefit in kind, Mr Johnson should also have given the details of whoever funded his holiday accommodation in the first instance.10 The Commissioner stated that she was unable to establish the arrangements, if any, for funding the accommodation.

9.The Commissioner did not conclude that Mr Johnson’s Register entry was inaccurate since, as she notes, she was unable to conclude what Mr Johnson’s Register entry should have contained.11 The Commissioner was told by the Mustique Company that they were prohibited by law from disclosing information relating to the arrangements for the use or rental of villas on the Island. The Commissioner stated that supplying the missing information was the responsibility of the Member.12

10.The Commissioner found Mr Johnson in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code because he did not “make sufficient inquiries to establish the full facts about the funding arrangements for his free accommodation, either before his holiday, as he should have done, or in 2020”.13 The Commissioner stated that these enquiries should have included inquiring “definitively who was to fund the free accommodation he had been offered, and what arrangements had been made to pay for it” before accepting free holiday accommodation; and making further enquiries into the funding arrangements of the holiday accommodation during her investigation in response to her requests to do so.14

11.During her investigation, the Commissioner considered whether £15,000 was an accurate value of the accommodation provided. Based on the evidence provided to her during the investigation, she concluded that she had no reason to dispute the valuation.15

Mr Johnson’s position

12.Mr Johnson does not agree with the Commissioner’s conclusions. His submissions to the Commissioner, and his further written evidence to this Committee, set out his reasoning. Mr Johnson maintains that his Register entry was correct since he holds that his holiday accommodation was a benefit in kind from Mr Ross, and that he made this entry in good faith. Mr Johnson also submitted that he has provided “all such assistance” that he was in a position to provide to the Commissioner during her inquiry, and that it is not clear what further enquiries he ought to have made before or during the investigation.16

The Committee’s consideration of the case

13.When considering allegations against Members, the Commissioner and the Committee normally require allegations to be proved on the balance of probabilities, namely that they are more likely than not to be true, and we have done so in this case.17

14.We set out our analysis and conclusions under three questions:

a)Was Mr Johnson required to register his visit?

b)If so, was the visit a benefit in kind from Mr Ross, as Mr Johnson maintains?

c)Has Mr Johnson fulfilled conscientiously the House’s rules on registration in this case?

Was Mr Johnson required to register his visit?

15.In his letter to the Commissioner of 12 March 2021, Mr Johnson stated that this matter arose from “an entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, that I was not strictly required to make, but which I did voluntarily and in accordance with the Nolan Principles”.18 Mr Johnson’s solicitors repeated this claim that this was a voluntary registration, stating “our client sought to act conscientiously and in good faith in opting to volunteer to register this in the interests of transparency”. They sought to argue that Mr Johnson was not required to register his holiday accommodation, because “the benefit relating to a private holiday had no direct connection with his parliamentary or political activities, but arose from his personal relationship with Mr David Ross” and that Mr Johnson only did so out of an “abundance of caution”.19

16.Paragraph 35(c) of Chapter 1 of the Guide to the Rules states that a Member does not need to register a visit if it is wholly unconnected with their membership of the House of their Parliamentary or political activities, giving a family holiday as an example.20

17.The Commissioner sought the advice of the Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests on this matter, who noted that the Register of Members’ Financial Interests does not allow for voluntary registrations: Members may only register an interest if it is required by the rules of the House, that is, if it is set out in the Guide to the Rules or otherwise meets the purpose of the Register by being an interest which might reasonably be thought to influence a Member’s words or actions as a Member.21

18.The Commissioner concluded that if a political donor, such as Mr Ross, provides a Member with a personal benefit, “this relates sufficiently to a Member’s parliamentary or political activities to require registration under Category 3 or 4”.22 The Commissioner also concluded that, notwithstanding the identity of the donor, “the free use of holiday accommodation valued at £15,000 might reasonably be thought to influence the actions of the Member recipient” and was therefore required to be registered.23

19.We agree with the Commissioner that Mr Johnson was required to register the holiday accommodation he received in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This was a substantial donation in kind. It did not come from a family member or someone who was only a long-standing close personal friend. Mr Johnson received it from a friend who was also a party donor and it might reasonably be thought to influence Mr Johnson’s actions. Mr Johnson was required by the Guide to the Rules, which has the authority of the House, to register the accommodation and doing so cannot therefore be described as a “voluntary” act.

Who funded the holiday?

20.Mr Johnson has maintained throughout that his Register entry was correct on the grounds that his use of holiday accommodation was a benefit in kind from Mr Ross and from Mr Ross alone.

21.While the person who facilitates a benefit in kind may also pay for it and therefore fund it, the facilitator is not necessarily the same as the funder. The House’s rules require that a Member should provide the name and address of the person who paid for a visit either in cash or in kind.

22.In our view, the question of whether Mr Johnson’s visit was a benefit in kind from Mr Ross alone depends on whether an arrangement or agreement was in place that Mr Ross would meet the cost of the alternative villa (either in money or through the reciprocal use of his own villa).

Initial evidence

23.Mr Ross’s evidence to the Commissioner did not offer a clear account of any reciprocal arrangements. The Commissioner asked Mr Ross on 1 September 2020 “as to whether [he] recompensed the owner of the villa, where Mr Johnson stayed for the duration of his holiday in any way at all.” Mr Ross replied on 9 September 2020: “You have asked as to whether or not I have recompensed the owner of the villa where Mr Johnston stayed for the duration of his holiday in any way at all. The answer is no.”24

24.The Commissioner again wrote to Mr Ross on 22 October 2020, asking him “to confirm whether [he] reached any agreement with the Mustique Company or anyone else whereby a villa was available for Mr Johnson’s use in return for your undertaking to make your villa available to them or someone else in the future.” Mr Ross’s response of 3 November 2020 does not directly answer this question but refers to “an ad hoc understanding.” He adds that “It is for that reason that I said that I had facilitated the accommodation and believed that Mr Johnson’s entry was correct.”

25.Mr Ross states in his letter to the Commissioner of 21 January 2021 that he made his villa available to the Mustique Company to cover the cost of Mr Johnson’s stay in the alternative villa. (The Mustique Company is the island’s management company.)25 He does not indicate when, how often or for how long the villa was made available to cover the value of Mr Johnson’s stay, stating merely that “further reciprocal arrangements” have taken place between him and the Mustique Company “covering the notional cost of this and other accommodation”.26 The letter dated 9 March 2021 from the Mustique Company to Mr Ross that he supplied to the Commissioner confirms that he was “responsible for compensating the Company for the cost of the rental of this booking in the usual way”, but also gave no information about what “the usual way” entails.27

26.Mr Johnson’s solicitors have stated that, based on press reports, he understands that the owners of the villa in which he stayed have been compensated for his use of the accommodation28 and that Mr Ross arranged to meet the “notional costs” by making his own villa available to the Mustique Company on future dates. He has not, in the Commissioner’s words, “explained how these two accounts relate to each other”.29

27.The available evidence at the time we received the Commissioner’s memorandum did not, therefore, provide a clear picture of the arrangements. Mr Ross had said that he had not recompensed the owner of the villa “in any way at all”,30 but he relied on a letter from the Mustique Company that says he was “responsible for compensating the Company”;31 and Mr Johnson’s solicitors state by reference to media reports that the owners of the villa in which he stayed received a payment for his use of the accommodation.32

28.As we note above, the Commissioner did not consider she was in a position to conclude who initially funded Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation.33 We agree with the Commissioner: at the point where the Commissioner had made her decision, faced with differing and opaque accounts, it was unclear who had funded the accommodation costs.

29.Mr Johnson’s solicitors state in their letter of 12 March 2021 that logically there can be no person other than Mr Ross who funded the villa, since media reports state that the owners have been recompensed and that the Mustique Company cannot be the donor as they did not know at the time of the arrangements who was to occupy the villa.34

30.This argument is flawed. There are at least three other possibilities which were not categorically ruled out by the evidence provided by Mr Johnson during the Commissioner’s investigation: the media reports might have been wrong and the owners might have provided the villa as a benefit in kind (with or without knowledge that Mr Johnson was to be the beneficiary); the Mustique Company might have chosen to have borne the costs; or a third party might have recompensed the villa owners.

31.Mr Johnson sought to explain the apparent discrepancy in the accounts offered to the Commissioner by noting that “there appears to be some informality in the arrangements made between Mr Ross and the Mustique Company” and that it is “regrettable that information has been provided to the Commissioner in stages”.35

Additional enquiries

32.Following receipt of the Commissioner’s memorandum, we concluded that we did not have sufficient evidence to reach a determination as to whether there had been a breach of the Code. We agree with the Commissioner that, on the evidence available to her, it was not clear who (if anyone) had paid the owners of the villa in which Mr Johnson stayed, and how Mr Ross’s and Mr Johnson’s claim that the use of the villa was a benefit in kind from Mr Ross was consistent with Mr Ross’s position that he did not compensate the owners of the villa “in any way at all”.

33.We therefore wrote to Mr Johnson, Mr Ross, and Mrs Sarah Richardson, the reported owner of Indigo, the villa in which Mr Johnson stayed, to request further information about the arrangements.36

34.We are particularly grateful to Mrs Richardson for her assistance. She confirmed to us that she “did receive financial payment from the Mustique Company for the rental of Indigo during Mr Johnson’s stay”, but they were “not involved in any arrangements”.37Mr Ross confirmed that he had a reciprocal arrangement with the Mustique Company, but maintained that it was an “ad hoc understanding” and not a “formal agreement”.38

35.The Commissioner, in concluding her memorandum, stated that “Mr Johnson has told me that he believes the owners received a payment for his use of the accommodation. At another point he told me that Mr Ross arranged to meet the ‘notional costs’ by making his own villa available to the Mustique Company on future dates”, adding that Mr Johnson “has not explained how these two accounts relate to each other”. The subsequent confirmation we have received from the former owners of the villa that they were paid by the Mustique Company provides the missing explanation.

36.In light of this additional evidence, we therefore conclude that the arrangements for funding Mr Johnson’s holiday were as follows: Mr Ross facilitated, via the Mustique Company, the use of a villa, Indigo, for Mr Johnson’s use. The ad hoc agreement at the time that the benefit was conferred on Mr Johnson was that the Mustique Company would pay the owners of the villa and that Mr Ross would, in recompense, allow the Mustique Company the use of his own villa to cover the value of the accommodation.

37.Taking all the evidence now available to us into consideration, we conclude that there was an ad hoc agreement in place at the time that Mr Johnson accepted the use of holiday accommodation for Mr Ross to provide the use of his own villa to compensate the Mustique Company for the cost of alternative accommodation. We therefore agree that Mr Ross was the donor of a benefit in kind to Mr Johnson.

38.It is regrettable that a full account and explanation of the funding arrangements for Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation has only come to light as a result of our own enquiries rather than at an earlier stage. If greater clarity had been made available to the Commissioner at the first instance this matter could have been cleared up many months ago.

Has Mr Johnson conscientiously fulfilled the House’s requirements?

39.The Commissioner found that, in circumstances where she concluded that Mr Ross was not the “initial funder” of the accommodation, paragraph 14 of the Code placed an obligation on Mr Johnson to make “sufficient inquiries” into the funding arrangements for his holiday.39 The Commissioner stated this should have included inquiring “definitively who was to fund the free accommodation he had been offered, and what arrangements had been made to pay for it” before accepting free holiday accommodation; and making further enquiries into the funding arrangements of the holiday accommodation during her investigation in response to her requests to do so.40

40.The burden of proof is on the Commissioner to show that an entry is inaccurate or incomplete, not on the Member to show that it is accurate and complete. However, there is also an obligation on Members to “fulfil conscientiously” the requirements of the House in respect of registration, and to co-operate fully and frankly with an investigation by the Commissioner. Members should therefore ensure that they are in a position to substantiate a Register entry if that becomes necessary, preferably with documentary evidence. The lack of such evidence has been frustrating.

41.Mr Johnson says that there would have been little value in seeking further information from the Mustique Company, as the Company informed the Commissioner they were prohibited by law from disclosing the information she sought. Mr Johnson has maintained throughout that Mr Ross was the donor of a benefit in kind, and therefore it would have been difficult for Mr Johnson in good faith to have purported to make enquiries as to who, other than Mr Ross, funded his accommodation.

42.Nevertheless, the Commissioner’s investigation provided Mr Johnson with an opportunity to demonstrate that his Register entry had been made conscientiously. The inability to demonstrate this resulted in unnecessary speculation and a lengthy investigation. It would have been wiser for Mr Johnson to have established the facts, dispelled any uncertainty and gained documentary evidence for the arrangement which we in the end have obtained for ourselves.

Conclusions

43.We conclude that Mr Ross was the donor of Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation through an informal arrangement with the Mustique Company, whereby the Mustique Company paid the Richardsons for Mr Johnson’s stay and Mr Ross would provide his villa to the Mustique Company for free in recompense. We therefore find that Mr Johnson’s Register entry is accurate and complete, and we find no breach by Mr Johnson of paragraph 14 of the Code.

44.Although, in light of the additional evidence we received, we have reached a different conclusion from the Commissioner, we do not criticise her either for commencing this investigation or, on the evidence available to her at the time, for reaching the conclusion that she did.

45.Mr Johnson himself has stated that the arrangements for this holiday were “unusual”.41 By Mr Johnson’s and Mr Ross’s own admission, the arrangements for funding Mr Johnson’s holiday accommodation were ad hoc and informal, and do not appear to have been fully explained to Mr Johnson at the outset. Mr Johnson initially agreed to a straightforward arrangement, but when it became apparent, within several days of his arrival, that he was not staying in Mr Ross’s villa, the arrangements became more opaque. It is unsatisfactory that neither Mr Ross nor Mr Johnson explained the arrangements to the Commissioner until last autumn and that Mr Ross only provided minimal information on the arrangement this Spring and in response to our own enquiries. Mr Johnson has stated himself that it is “regrettable that information has been provided to the Commissioner in stages”.

46.This matter could have been concluded many months ago if more strenuous efforts had been made to dispel the uncertainty. Given that Mr Johnson was twice reprimanded by our predecessor Committee in the last Parliament in the space of four months for “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House”, we would have expected him to have gone the extra mile to ensure there was no uncertainty about the arrangements.

Concluding comments: advice to Members

47.The purpose of the Register of Members’ Interests is “to provide information about any financial interest or other material benefit which a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of Parliament”.42 This is a core aspect of the House’s commitment to the Nolan Principle of Openness: “Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”

48.The Register of Members’ Financial Interest records interests that others might reasonably consider to influence a Member. The Registrar has reminded us that where personal benefits are concerned, that means the details of what they have received, even if the Member intends, or the donor intends, that someone else should pay for them in the end. Register entries ought to be based on arrangements already transacted rather than what a Member says is likely to happen in the future. For that reason, Members are required to register all such interests as they are received and to amend the Register if and when new arrangements are made. In addition, Members are required to ensure that all transactions in relation to a gift in kind are completed and documented within the 28 day period allowed for registration.

49.We urge Members to avoid seeking or accepting gifts or hospitality on the basis of complex and unclear funding arrangements, which are by definition opaque, lack transparency and run counter to the principle of openness.

50.We also urge Members to reject any donations whether in cash or in kind where they are not absolutely certain of the identity of the person facilitating, providing and funding the gift. Where there is any uncertainty at all about the arrangements, or if the arrangements change, it would be better not to accept the gift or hospitality.

51.As indicated earlier in this report, the burden of proof is on the Commissioner to show that an entry is inaccurate or incomplete, not on the Member to show that it is accurate and complete. However, there is also an obligation on Members to “fulfil conscientiously” the requirements of the House in respect of registration, and to co-operate fully and frankly with an investigation by the Commissioner. Members should therefore ensure that they are in a position to substantiate a Register entry if that becomes necessary, preferably with documentary evidence. The lack of such evidence has been frustrating. Members would therefore be wise to ensure that they are in a position to substantiate the basis of their Register entry with documentary evidence, such as an exchange of letters recording the arrangement, in case that should become necessary at a later date.

52.Anything less leaves the Member potentially vulnerable to blackmail, allegations of inappropriate influence, or embarrassment. Frankness, straightforwardness and transparency over the acceptance of gifts, benefits and donations enhance respect for the individual Member and Parliament as a whole. Opaque, over-complicated and ad-hoc arrangements risk undermining that respect.

1 Appendix 1. The accompanying written evidence is published on the Committee’s webpages.

2 Appendix 3, Appendix 4, Appendix 5

3 Appendix 1, paragraph 44

4 WE 29 (letter from Mr Johnson to the Commissioner, 15 January 2021)

6 Guide to the Rules, Chapter 1, paragraph 31

7 Guide to the Rules, Chapter 1, paragraph 36

8 Appendix 1, paragraph 88

9 Appendix 1, paragraph 97

10 Appendix 1, paragraph 56

11 Appendix 1, paragraph 95

12 Appendix 1, paragraph 95

13 Appendix 1, paragraph 99

14 Appendix 1, paragraphs 94 and 98

15 Appendix 1, paragraph 51

16 Appendix 2

17 See Committee on Standards, Sixth Report of Session 2014–15, The Standards System in the House of Commons (HC 383), published 4 February 2015, paras 141–44.

18 Written Evidence 32

19 Written Evidence 33, paragraph 4

20 Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules, Chapter 1, paragraph 35(c)

21 Guide to the Rules, Introduction, paragraph 8

22 Appendix 1, paragraphs 86–87

23 Appendix 1, paragraph 88

24 Written Evidence 16

25 The island’s website states that “ The Mustique Company, the island’s management company with over 756 resident staff, […] oversees every aspect of island life as well as the management of the villas on behalf of the shareholders and the safeguarding of the island”.

26 Written Evidence 30

27 Written Evidence 31

28 Appendix 1, paragraph 97; Written evidence 6; Written evidence 33 paragraph 9(3)(ii)

29 Appendix 1, paragraph 97

30 Written Evidence 16

31 Written Evidence 31

32 Appendix 1, paragraph 97; Written evidence 6; Written evidence 33 paragraph 9(3)(ii)

33 Appendix 1, paragraph 62

34 Written evidence 33

35 Appendix 2

36 The letters and the replies we received are published as appendices to this report: Appendix 3, Appendix 4 and Appendix 5.

37 Appendix 5

38 Appendix 4

39 Appendix 1, paragraph 97–99

40 Appendix 1, paragraphs 94 and 98

41 Written Evidence 24

42 Guide to the Rules, Introduction, paragraph 5




Published: 8 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement