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20 December 2016

Boris Johnson accused of breaking the ministerial code

Labour believe that the Foreign Secretary used a foreign trip to promote his latest book. 

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson has been accused of breaching the ministerial code and using a ministerial trip to promote his latest book, The Churchill Factor.

The Foreign Secretary visited Serbia last month after what the Foreign Office described last month as an invitation “to talk about freedom of the press at the oldest known bookstore in Belgrade. The store chose to welcome him by putting some of his books on display and some local people asked him to sign their books.”

However, it has since emerged that a week before Johnson’s Belgrade visit, the British Embassy in Serbia told Tanjug, a Serbian news website, that he would “participate in a discussion on his book, The Churchill Factor”, while Danas, a Serbian newspaper, ran a double-page spread advertising Johnson’s visit and the book. But a Foreign Office spokeswoman rebutted the claims, saying that: “We don’t recognise the claims made by Tanjug newspaper who did not attend the meeting.”

Labour’s shadow minister with portfolio, Andrew Gywnne, has written to John Manzoni, the head of the Civil Service, and Sue Gray, who is in charge of propriety and ethics, demanding an inquiry in Johnson’s conduct in office and whether or not he has broken the ministerial code. 

The ministerial code states that ministers must ensure that “no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”, and if such a conflict is unavoidable, “the Prime Minister must be consulted and it may be necessary for the minister to cease to hold the office in question”. In 2005, David Blunkett was forced to resign as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions over a percieved conflict of interest, though he was later exonerated. 

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Labour’s shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, hit out at Johnson. “Once again, Boris Johnson’s conduct has raised questions on his ability to represent Britain internationally, let alone hold the office of Foreign Secretary.”

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A spokeswoman for the  Foreign Office said: ““As we made clear at the time this was a meeting with a small group of Serbian editors on media freedoms. It was in no way a promotional event.”