Johnson faces scrutiny over holiday at minister’s Marbella villa

Opposition calls for watchdog inquiry into stay at Zac Goldsmith’s luxury property

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for an inquiry into Boris Johnson's holiday last month at a villa in Marbella owned by junior environment minister Zac Goldsmith.

The UK prime minister has declared the trip in a register of ministers’ interests but he is refusing to declare it in the register of MPs’ interests, which would require him to reveal its value.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the holiday, which he took with his wife, Carrie, and son Wilfred, did not need to be on the MPs’ register because it was not connected to his work in parliament.

“Given the hospitality was provided by another minister, it’s right that the [prime minister] made this declaration in his ministerial capacity to ensure sufficient transparency,” the spokesman said. “I also point out that this was a family holiday at the home of long-standing family friends and is unconnected with a PM’s parliamentary and political activities.”

“The [prime minister] has written to the House of Commons registrar to set out that this holiday has been declared under the ministerial code, because the arrangement is with another minister.”

Mr Johnson gave a peerage to Mr Goldsmith, the son of the controversial billionaire James Goldsmith and a long-standing friend of Mrs Johnson, after he lost his Richmond seat in the 2019 general election. The Johnsons stayed for almost a week at the villa, which is reported to have been advertised for rent at £25,000 a week.

Paterson controversy

The controversy follows the resignation as an MP of former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson after Mr Johnson abandoned a plan to overturn his suspension from parliament for breaking rules on paid lobbying.

Part of the prime minister's plan had been to abolish the entire scrutiny system led by Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards who last year found that Mr Johnson broke the reporting rules for an earlier holiday.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to Ms Stone on Friday, calling on her to investigate Mr Johnson over his latest holiday.

"You will of course be aware that the last time the member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip [Mr Johnson] enjoyed a free luxury holiday your subsequent report found that '[he] was required under the House's rules to register the holiday accommodation he received' and the Committee for Standards agreed with the conclusion, stating that 'Mr Johnson was required to register the holiday accommodation he received in the register of members' interests ... It is also worth noting that Lord Goldsmith was given a peerage and a ministerial job by Mr Johnson. The public could understandably draw the conclusion in this case that the prime minister is dishing out cushy jobs to his friends who pay for his luxury holidays," Ms Rayner wrote.

The Electoral Commission this week gave the Conservative Party advance sight of its report into the funding of the prime minister's private flat on Downing Street, and opposition parties want Ms Stone to investigate that too.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times