(Bloomberg) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hit back at claims that he said he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a third pandemic lockdown, amid a row over allegations of government sleaze.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported the alleged remark but both Johnson himself and his spokesman denied that he made it. The BBC and ITV later attributed similar comments to Johnson.
The government’s most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said he will investigate the controversy over funding arrangements for Johnson’s official apartment. The U.K.’s ruling Tories remain ahead in polls, despite the row, with important elections taking place on May 6.
Status of Lex Greensill in Government ‘Unclear’: Tierney
Greensill Capital founder Lex Greensill, who is at the center of the lobbying scandal engulfing British politics, was given a pass and access to IT at Downing Street even though his exact status within government was “unclear,” Darren Tierney, director general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office, told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Tierney said Greensill’s initial appointment was signed off by the Cabinet Office, after he was brought into government by former cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood for his “expertise” on supply chain finance. Asked whether it looks like a “glaring” conflict of interest to have Greensill at the heart of government, Tierney replied: “Yes it does.”
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case then told the committee there are a number of people working in government who have status as an unpaid adviser. There is no list of who these people are, Tierney added.
Johnson Close to Naming New Standards Chief (3 p.m.)
Johnson will soon name a new independent adviser on ministerial standards, Case told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Monday. Johnson is “in the final stages of the discussion with the leading candidate,” he said.
The previous office holder, Alex Allan, stepped down after Johnson said Home Secretary Priti Patel hadn’t breached the ministerial code when he himself had determined she had done so, “even if unintentionally.”
Case: Lockdown Leaker Not Likely to Be Found (2:35 p.m.)
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case stonewalled questions from U.K. members of Parliament when asked about an inquiry into who leaked details of the country’s planned second lockdown last fall before it had been publicly announced.
He said he didn’t expect the inquiry to be successful, saying that “professional investigators” are looking into the matter, but the fact it’s still ongoing is “a clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified.”
“Given the time that has now passed, I think that it is probable that the team will not successfully identify the source or sources,” he told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. He expects the probe to conclude in “weeks rather than months.”
Case added that the prime minister had also asked him to “review” the way the 10 Downing Street apartment refurbishment was paid for and to report back. Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings said the premier had planned to get a Tory donor to fund the work.
Case: Under 100 Officials Hold Outside Paid Roles (2:15 p.m.)
Fewer than 100 officials hold dual roles, and none so far represents a conflict of interest, the country’s top civil servant, Simon Case, said in a letter published on Monday by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Case has been probing dual roles among civil servants since the revelation earlier this month that at least two top civil officials held roles at the now insolvent lender Greensill Capital while still in post.
“I have so far been made aware of fewer than one hundred senior civil servants who hold paid employment alongside their civil service role” Case wrote. “For context, examples of such roles include tutoring or fitness instruction.”
Johnson Denies Making Comment About Bodies (12:45 p.m.)
Boris Johnson on Monday denied making the comment that he’d rather see bodies piled up than go into a third lockdown, answering “no” when asked in a pooled television interview during a campaign visit to Wales whether he’d said it.
“No, but again, the important thing that people want us to get on and do as a government is to make sure that the lockdowns work,” Johnson said. Asked whether he’d discussed using donations to pay for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, he said “if there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.”
Minister Defends Johnson Over Refurbishment (Earlier)
Boris Johnson’s Cabinet colleague, Ben Wallace, was sent on the government’s media round on Monday, and was forced to deny the premier is “sleazy.” Allegations made by Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, include the accusation the prime minister was planning on getting Conservative Party donors to pay for redecorations to his official residence.
“Do I think the Prime Minister is sleazy? No, I don’t,” Wallace, the defense secretary, told BBC radio, adding that Johnson has paid for the refurbishments out of his own pocket.
The opposition Labour Party is seeking to ramp up pressure on Johnson. “The critical question is, what was the original arrangement and why was it so complicated?” leader Keir Starmer said in a pooled interview. “These allegations do undermine trust in the government.”