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Who is funding Boris Johnson?

Who is funding Boris Johnson?


Out of Downing Street, and unleashed from restrictions on second jobs, Boris Johnson is now earning more than any former UK prime minister in history. But where is that money coming from?

In 2019, Boris Johnson was celebrating an election win that few had forecast. With an 80-seat majority, he looked set to be the UK’s prime minister not just for one term, but perhaps a decade. 

There was only one problem: he couldn’t afford to be prime minister. He had high outgoings and he’d seen a massive drop in his income.  

While backbench MPs at Westminster are allowed to take on certain outside interests, ministers are banned from taking second jobs. The prime minister’s salary is just over £164,000 – roughly double the basic salary of an MP, and roughly five-times the UK’s median salary.

But it wasn’t enough. Here’s Tortoise’s political editor Cat Neilan.

“As prime minister Boris Johnson couldn’t turn to his usual sources – like the Daily Telegraph, where he had been earning £275,000 a year writing a weekly column.

So instead he turned to a distant cousin, Sam Blyth, who gave Johnson a loan guarantee of £800,000.

This was signed off by Simon Case, the most senior civil servant, who also advised Boris Johnson that because Sam Blyth was a family member – albeit a distant one – he didn’t have to declare this in his register of interests.  Neither did he declare a £57,000 holiday provided by the same cousin.

But our investigation has found that this advice is disputed by others who work in the civil service and guard the rules. And that’s before we get to the question of who provided the loan that Sam Blyth was guaranteeing.”

Cat Neilan, Tortoise

The loan remains something of a mystery. 

But even where declarations have been made for donations and earnings after Boris Johnson left Downing Street, we still don’t have the full story.

What we do know, thanks to the data compiled through Tortoise’s Westminster Accounts project, are the numbers: 

  • Boris Johnson has earned 85 per cent of all the outside pay generated by MPs this year. In the first six weeks of 2023, he has registered £3.7m. 
  • Since the last election, including donations, Johnson has declared £6.1m and counting. 
  • That’s more than twice the amount declared by Theresa May, the second highest earner, who totals £2.8m when including donations. The average MP has received about £19,250.

Boris Johson’s biggest sources of declared money this parliament are:

  • £2.4 million from the Harry Walker speakers’ agency in New York; an advance for speeches not yet given
  • More than £515,000 from HarperCollins, his publisher – an advance for a book not yet written;
  • And £1 million from Christopher Harborne, an investor and Conservative donor based in Thailand.

That’s the biggest donation to an individual MP in British history, but little is known about the person who gave it or what for. Here’s Cat Neilan.

Christopher Harborne gave millions to the Brexit Party, before swinging back to the Conservatives last year. He is big in the crypto world and owns businesses that lease private jets and provide aviation fuel.

He lives in Thailand under the name Chakrit Sakunkrit, which according to the Wall Street Journal was recently added to a list of names that the now-defunct Signature Bank “felt were trying to evade anti-money-laundering controls.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesman says all his declarations are made properly; Harborne hasn’t responded to our messages but we know from the Electoral Commission as well as Johnson’s team that he is a permitted donor. But all that really means is that he is on the UK’s electoral register. Despite calls from campaigners, including the Electoral Commission, our current system doesn’t give political donations a clean bill of health.”

Cat Neilan, Tortoise

This coming week, Boris Johnson will give evidence about whether he misled Parliament over the Downing Street parties during lockdown. It could determine once and for all whether he stages a comeback as Conservative leader.

But, in the meantime, Boris the brand continues to out-earn his colleagues, and push the limits on what is and isn’t declared, with apparent impunity.

Today’s story was written by Cat Neilan and mixed by Imy Harper.