Liz Truss is facing the possibly of her first major sleaze probe amid claims she failed to declare “murky donations” related to her leadership campaign.
Labour on Thursday appealed to Cabinet secretary to open an investigation into the Tory frontrunner over funding for a so-called “Fizz with Liz” champagne dinner.
The Independent reported this morning that Ms Truss was facing questions about why she did not not declare the thousands of pounds worth of hospitality spent on schmoozing Tory MPs.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Ms Truss was clearly “corked from the same vintage at Boris Johnson” – who quit after a string of sleaze scandals wore down MPs’ patience and his poll lead.
In her letter to top civil servant Simon Case Ms Rayner called for an “urgent investigation”, adding that there were “serious questions for the Foreign Secretary to answer about why she failed to declare this large sum of hospitality funding”.
The funding for the event, hosted in Mayfair, was paid by a multimillionaire private members’ club owner and aristocrat Robin Birley and was attended by around a dozen Conservative MPs.
Asked why the dinner – said to be used to schmooze Tory MPs ahead of her leadership bid – did not appear on the MPs’ register of interests Ms Truss’s campaign said it had “nothing to do with her” and was in fact hosted by Mr Birley.
But this account was disputed by other MPs present who told The Independent that they had been invited by Ms Truss, and that she was the host and not Mr Birley, who “turned up briefly to say hello”.
An invitation to the dinner sent from Ms Truss’s Commons email address and seen by The Independent says: “Liz Truss MP is delighted to invite you to attend a dinner at 5 Hertford Street on 26 October at 7.30pm. Most grateful if you could confirm attendance by 10 October. Best wishes, Office of Liz Truss.”
In her letter calling for a probe to be opened Labour’s deputy leader noted that “by using parliamentary paper and explicitly inviting colleagues within her capacity as an MP via her parliamentary email address, Ms Truss’s event clearly falls under the transparency requirements of the Members Code of Conduct”.
She added: “This £3,000 sum was a donation from a very wealthy individual which Ms Truss has failed to be honest and transparent about.”
Ms Rayner told The Independent: “Liz Truss is corked from the same vintage as Boris Johnson. She thinks the rules don’t apply to her and she can take the British public for fools.
“There must be an urgent investigation into the murky donations made by this millionaire aristocrat and why as Foreign Secretary, she has failed to come clean about them.
“With Boris Johnson forced to leave office due to his failure to be honest with the British public, we are faced with a potential Prime Minister already openly breaking the rules before they have even got the job. Britain deserves better than this.”
A spokesperson for Ms Truss’s campaign said: “It was not organised for her, on her behalf or by her. She was invited by Robin Birley with loads of MPs. It was put on by Mr Birley to discuss low tax and deregulation.”
Asked to explain the email from her Commons office inviting MPs to the event the spokesperson said later: “I am aware of the email but it was not her event. We are sticking with the line. We have had very clear advice.
“A declaration would only need to be made if there was a benefit to Liz, or it was above the threshold for individual declarations for MPs’ register of interests. Liz was one of a number of MPs in attendance.”
Mr Birley, who donated £20,000 to Boris Johnson in 2019, and who is a half brother of environment minister Zac Goldsmith, said last September that he had lost faith in the government. Mr Birley told The Times: “I do not see this government as particularly pro business. I am terribly depressed about the situation.”
Despite recent gaffes, Ms Truss remains the strong favourite to defeat Mr Sunak in the Tory leadership contest. The latest YouGov poll put her 34 points ahead among Conservative members.