UK’s Johnson dogged by questions over ties to US businesswoman

UK’s Johnson dogged by questions over ties to US businesswoman

As candidates pitch economic plans, prime minister under scrutiny for relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, who reportedly had privileged access to trade missions, including to Israel

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference in London, November 18, 2019. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference in London, November 18, 2019. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced new questions on Monday about his relationship with an American businesswoman who allegedly received favors and public funds while Johnson was the mayor of London.

A major speech by Johnson to business leaders ahead of Britain’s December 12 election was overshadowed by tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, who accused the prime minister of discarding her “like some fleeting one-night stand” amid a media storm about their relationship.

A police watchdog is investigating claims that Johnson gave special treatment to Arcuri while he was mayor of London between 2008 and 2016. The Sunday Times reported in September that Arcuri was given financial grants and privileged access to trade missions to the United States, Israel and Asia that Johnson led as mayor.

Johnson has insisted that “everything was done with full propriety.”

In a series of UK media interviews, 34-year-old Arcuri said she had a “very special” relationship with Johnson lasting several years. Johnson, now 55, was married at the time.

“It was not just a sexual intention,” Arcuri told the BBC. “He actually was very intrigued by my energy.”

She accused the prime minister of ignoring her when she tried to contact him about how to handle the media fallout from the allegations. Speaking to broadcaster ITV, Arcuri accused Johnson of casting her aside “like some gremlin.”

“I’ve kept your secrets, and I’ve been your friend,” she said. “And I don’t understand why you’ve blocked me and ignored me as if I was some fleeting one-night stand or some girl that you picked up at a bar because I wasn’t. And you know that.”

Screen capture from video of US tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri during a television interview in the UK, November 18, 2019. (YouTube)

In September, the Sunday Times reported that while Johnson was mayor of London, he gave Acrui access to several international trade missions, including two to Tel Aviv, despite strict regulations barring him from doing so.

According to the report, Johnson overruled officials in his office several times to grant Arcuri access to the trade delegations even though they were not related to her field and regulations limit participation to just one.

The Arcuri allegations erupted again as Johnson and the leaders of two opposition parties made election pitches to business leaders, who are skeptical of politicians’ promises after years of economic uncertainty over Brexit.

Britain’s stalled departure from the European Union is the overriding issue in campaigning for the UK’s December 12 election, which is being held two years early because Johnson is seeking to get a majority of lawmakers to pass his Brexit divorce deal with the European Union. More than three years after the UK voted to leave the 28-nation bloc, the terms of the country’s departure and the nature of its future relationship with the EU remain unclear.

Borris Johnson (L) and Jennifer Arcuri at the InnoTech Summit in 2013 (Screen capture/YouTube)

Conservative leader Johnson, Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson all addressed a conference of employers’ group the Confederation of British Industry on Monday.

Johnson is campaigning on a promise to take Britain out of the EU on the new scheduled date of January 31, saying that doing so will end the uncertainty that has weighed on business investment and confidence.

“The worst thing now is the continuing economic uncertainty: people waiting to take on new staff, or invest in property, or just to invest in this country,” Johnson said.

He did not mention that Britain’s departure will be followed by many months — and potentially many years — of negotiations with the EU on the future economic relationship.

Johnson also promised to cut a tax paid by businesses with bricks-and-mortar premises, but announced a proposal to postpone a planned reduction in corporation tax, which had been due to fall from 19 percent to 17% next year.

Johnson said putting the cut on hold was “the fiscally responsible thing to do” and would allow more investment in the health system.

Corbyn meanwhile pledged a major expansion of apprenticeships and said a Labour government would crack down on “tax tricks” used by wealthy individuals and corporations.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference at the InterContinental Hotel in London, November 18, 2019. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Some businesses are alarmed by Labour’s economic plans, which call for a greater role for the state in key industries. Last week, the party said that if it formed a government, it would part-nationalize telecoms provider BT and provide free internet access to all Britons.

Corbyn said he understood businesses’ “caution” about Labour’s plans.

“But your businesses, your workers, your consumers have been failed by rip-off energy bills and very poor rail and bus services in many parts of the country, and I think many of you know that because you know things can’t go on as they are,” he said.

Swinson, whose party currently holds just 20 of the 650 House of Commons seats, was arguing that her centrist Liberal Democrats are the “natural party of business” because they want Britain to remain in the EU — a view shared by many industries.

Businesses, meanwhile, are wary of all sides. CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn criticized both hard-core Brexiteers seeking “the wholesale deregulation of the UK economy” and Labour’s left-wing plans to nationalize big chunks of the economy.

“These ideologies from both sides are causing great harm to our economy. Not just in the future but right now,” she said.

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