Labour is demanding a formal inquiry by parliament’s watchdog into Boris Johnson’s £15,000 Caribbean holiday after the prime minister and a Tory donor failed to disclose who paid for it.
Jon Trickett, the shadow cabinet minister, has written to the standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, asking her to investigate Johnson’s latest declaration in the register of members’ interests.
No 10 claims that one of the founders of Carphone Warehouse, David Ross, allowed the prime minister and his partner, Carrie Symonds, to use his accommodation for a week-long holiday in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
But on Wednesday night, Ross reportedly told the Daily Mail he was not the owner of the villa on the island of Mustique where Johnson had stayed, and that he had not paid for the prime minister’s holiday.
In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for the businessman said Ross had “facilitated accommodation” but shed no further light on who had picked up the prime minister’s bill.
“Mr Ross facilitated accommodation for Mr Johnson on Mustique valued at £15,000. Therefore this is a benefit in kind from Mr Ross to Mr Johnson, and Mr Johnson’s declaration to the House of Commons is correct,” the spokesman said.
Releasing a formal request for an inquiry, Trickett said Ross’s new statement left an obvious, unanswered query: “The question remains: who paid?”
“Transparency is crucial to ensuring that the public have confidence that elected members of this house have not been unduly influenced by any donations or gifts that they may receive,” he wrote.
According to the register of members’ financial interests, “MPs have a wide-ranging duty to draw attention to (‘declare’) an interest on almost any occasion when someone else might reasonably consider it to influence what they say or do as an MP.”
A spokesman for the commissioner said her office did not comment on complaints or whether it intended to launch inquiries.
Johnson’s spokesman declined to say who owned the villa, whether Johnson knew who owned the villa, and if not, how it could be known it was not owned by, for example, someone from China or Russia.
“All relevant transparency requirements have been met,” the spokesman said, declining to say who in the Cabinet Office had cleared them.
Ross, 54, has known Johnson for at least 15 years. He was a member of the London 2012 Olympics board as a representative of Johnson, who was then mayor of London. He was forced to quit as the deputy chair of Carphone Warehouse in 2008 after failing to disclose that he had pledged a large proportion of his stake in the company against personal loans.
The Caribbean holiday provided Johnson with a New Year break after the election campaign. At the time, it was reported that Johnson and Symonds were visiting the private island of Mustique. The prime minister was criticised for waiting until the end of the holiday to issue a statement on the death of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
Reports claimed the couple stayed at the Oceanus, a six-bedroom Moroccan-style villa on the island’s west coast, which is estimated to cost up to £32,000 for a week between Christmas and New Year.
The confusion potentially comes in part from the ownership structure of the villas, where it is believed that some people, possibly including Ross, own shares, allowing them a certain amount of time in a villa each year.
According to Johnson’s declaration, the holiday donor was identified as “Mr David Ross”. Under the heading “nature and value of benefit in kind (or amount of any donation)”, Johnson’s entry stated: “Accommodation for a private holiday for my partner and me, value £15,000.” The private holiday was between 26 December and 5 January, according to the entry in the register.
Ross is a former tax exile and friend of David Cameron with a fortune estimated at £1bn. He has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative party, and prominent Tories are known to have been visitors to shooting parties at his large country estate in Leicestershire.
He has entertained many stars on Mustique. Lavish parties have been attended by, among others, Mick Jagger, the publisher William Cash, the merchant banker Mark Cecil, and Prince William and Kate.
Ross also gave Cameron gifts when he was prime minister, flying him from London to West Yorkshire in a helicopter and providing him with a flight from Germany, where he had attended a World Cup football match.
In April 2019, Johnson was forced to apologise for failing to declare expenses correctly. The standards committee wrote: “We conclude with concern that these two investigations by the commissioner in rapid succession demonstrate a pattern of behaviour by Mr Johnson.
“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.”
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “All transparency requirements have been followed, as set out in the register of members’ financial interests.”