British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under fire after the Sunday Times reported that while he was mayor of London, he gave a friend 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 Jennifer Arcuri — an American former model turned high-tech entrepreneur — access to the trade delegations even though they were not related to her field and regulations limit participation to just one.
He was also accused of awarding her companies several grants worth tens of thousands of pounds without declaring a conflict of interest and despite the fact that she was not eligible for one £100,000 grant, because her company was not based in the UK.
Johnson also did not declare a conflict of interest in dealing with her, the Times said.
“The pair crossed paths at Tory party conferences, London tech events and a fundraising ball,” the Times said. “They mingled in Tel Aviv, New York, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Arcuri’s spacious top-floor rented flat in Shoreditch High Street, east London. They were close friends.”
After the publication, officials in the opposition Labour Party called for Johnson, who was elected prime minister last month, to answer the allegations.
“Boris Johnson must now give a full account of his actions in response to these grave and most serious allegations of the misuse of public money in his former role as mayor of London,” said senior Labour lawmaker Jon Trickett.
“The public has a right to know how and why these funds were used for the benefit of a close personal friend without, on the face of it, legitimate reason,” he said.
Downing Street has not responded to requests for comment.
Arcuri denied any wrong doing.
“Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman . . . I am incredibly disappointed that The Sunday Times cannot write about a successful female entrepreneur without smearing her with innuendo based on leaks from City Hall,” she said.
Johnson is fighting to ensure the UK exits the European Union by next month’s deadline despite a series of political setbacks at home, including defections from his own party.
He is also battling to convince the UK’s top court that his decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks with Brexit looming was neither illegal nor improper. The government’s opponents claim Johnson illegally shut down the legislature to prevent lawmakers from scrutinizing his Brexit plans.
Johnson took power in July with a vow that Britain will leave the EU on October 31 “come what may.” He promised to break a stalemate that saw the Brexit agreement struck between the EU and Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign.
Many lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing, and have put obstacles in Johnson’s path, including legal challenges to the Parliament shutdown.