Government minister Liz Truss on Sunday dismissed allegations of corruption leveled at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a televised interview, reflecting a ruling party and its leader facing more criticism and skepticism over playing it straight.
The accusations include Johnson wanting to stop an inquiry into leaks coming out of Downing Street in order to protect his relationship with fiancée Carrie Symonds, as well as the controversial refurbishment of the official Downing Street flat.
The Westminster scandal is beginning to cut through to the general public.
In a poll carried out by Opinium for The Observer newspaper released on Saturday, almost four in 10 voters thought that Johnson and the ruling Conservative Party were corrupt.
The survey found 37% of voters described Johnson as mostly or completely corrupt, as opposed to 31% who said he is clean and honest. It also found that 38% of voters said the Tories as a whole are corrupt with just 31% saying they are clean and honest.
As to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, 33% of voters said he was mostly or completely corrupt, compared to 31% who thought was clean and honest.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak fared better, with 40% finding him clean and honest, versus 23% who find him corrupt.
The poll still puts the Conservatives 11 points ahead of the main opposition Labour Party, however.
Truss, who is the international trade secretary, told Sky News that the furor over the Downing Street refurbishment costs is a “massive distraction from what we should be focused on, which is how we are recovering from the pandemic, the vaccination program, and the work we’re doing to rebuild the economy.”
She added: “I have been assured that the rules have been fully complied with and I know that he has met the costs of the flat refurbishment.”
“I absolutely believe and trust that the prime minister has done that. What people want to know is that in line with the rules, the prime minister has met the cost of this refurbishment. That has happened. All the costs will be declared in line with the rules.”
Truss refused, however, to say when Johnson paid the costs. Local media have reported on allegations that a Conservative Party donor had been the one to initially cover the costs.
“All the details will be given out in line with the rules,” she said. “There are certain reporting procedures and those procedures are being followed.”
On the issue of Johnson trying to stop an inquiry into how news of last November’s lockdown was leaked before being officially announced, she dismissed these as “tittle-tattle.”
“The prime minister, who I work very closely with, has consistently through this crisis acted in the best interests of the country,” she said.
“These noises off are simply not helpful, they are not contributing to a positive future and they don’t reflect what is actually going on in Downing Street.”
She said the investigation is still ongoing, adding: “I hope it finds who the individual was who conducted this leak because it’s very, very unhelpful when confidential is leaked from the government.”
‘Frankly, it stinks’
The Labour Party on Saturday demanded a full inquiry on the integrity of Johnson and his government following revelations from a former chief adviser and ally who accused the leader of cronyism.
Speaking to the BBC on Saturday, Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the UK’s main opposition party, accused the Tory government of sleaze and urged No. 10 to publish all information relating to the accusations, if it has nothing to hide.
“It matters. It is about integrity, it is about taxpayers’ money. Every day, there is more evidence of this sleaze,” said Starmer, describing Johnson’s attempts at denial as “contemptuous.”
“Frankly, it stinks. If there is nothing to see here, whether it is the refurb of No 10, whether it is the dodgy contracts, whether it is the privileged access, if there is nothing to see, publish everything, have a full inquiry. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he added.
Joining the growing chorus for an inquiry, former Attorney General and Tory MP Dominic Grieve asked for an immediate explanation on what funds were used to refurbish the premier’s residence.
Former ally turns on ex-boss
The growing calls and mounting pressure on Johnson follow an unprecedented and extraordinary attack by former chief adviser and ally Dominic Cummings, who accused his former boss of trying to silence and destroy a leak inquiry into the use of Conservative Party donations to refurbish Johnson’s Downing Street apartment.
“It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,” Cummings said on his blog, adding that he warned Johnson about using party donations for personal use.
“I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended,” he said.
Cummings made the explosive posts after he was accused of leaking private text messages between Johnson and billionaire businessman James Dyson in which the prime minister agreed to help Dyson and his tax concerns if his company were to manufacture and produce ventilators in the UK during the pandemic.
The former chief adviser rejected any accusations that he was behind the leak, arguing that he had not seen the messages nor were they forwarded to his phone.
In addition to the allegations of “sleaze” and cronyism, the government has been embroiled with lobbying scandals involving former Prime Minister David Cameron and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman.