Liz Truss, the current favorite to succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the Tories among party members, hosted a lunch at an expensive private club owned by a Tory donor after canceling civil service advice to search for a venue cheaper.
A leak of correspondence revealed that the Foreign Secretary “refused to consider elsewhere” and demanded that public funds pay for a £ 3,000 event with Joe Biden’s trade representative.
Officials were so concerned about the cost and the venue’s close ties to the Tories that the proposal was referred to the top official at the Department of International Trade.
According to correspondence, Truss, then Secretary of Commerce, “explicitly requested that we reserve 5 Hertford Street”, which is owned by Robin Birley, a £ 20,000 donor to the Boris Johnson leadership campaign and half-brother by Zac Goldsmith, the environment minister.
The venue agreed to reduce the bill to £ 1,400, but on condition of immediate payment – meaning officials had to use an emergency procedure to pay immediately.
Correspondence, disclosed by the Sunday Times, comes as Truss’s supporters campaign for her to succeed the PM if he is toppled by Tory MPs.
Truss and his companions drank two bottles of dry gin, three £ 153 bottles of Pazo Barrantes Albariño, a Spanish white wine and two bottles of French red Coudoulet de Beaucastel at £ 130 a bottle, it was reported.
Prior to attending the event with US trade representatives, an official described the club as “obviously incredibly expensive and more than I understand we would expect to pay for such a venue.”
“[Truss] hosts [the US trade representataive] Katherine Tai tomorrow for dinner, ”one emailed. “She wants to do it in a private dining room.
“[Her special adviser] insists it takes place at a private club called 5 Hertford Street. She recommended it because she had been there before – her argument is that it’s the right size and quality.
“To my knowledge, we haven’t hosted anyone there before as a department. “
The email, sent on June 15, said officials had suggested another option, Quo Vadis in Soho, which “costs just £ 1,000”.
This was refused on behalf of Truss as she “insisted that we reserve 5 Hertford Street” and Quo Vadis would be “inappropriate”.
The email continued: “Something we just found out is the owner… it’s Robin Birley, a donor to the Prime Minister, the Conservative Party and the Ukip.
“I understand that the place hosts festive events, which is probably how [Truss and her special adviser] know it.”
Officials then entered negotiations with the venue regarding the price, which led its events manager to agree to waive the rental fee and reduce the overall bill to £ 1,400 on the deal he was paid immediately after the meeting.
The condition required officials to resort to an emergency procedure to sanction the payment. Permanent Secretary John Alty said he was “happy” with the deal.
The disclosure led to calls for further disclosures about the event. The Commerce Department in November told the Mail on Sunday the venue was chosen because of short-term availability, not because Truss insisted on it.
The lunch was condemned by Labor MPs. Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, said: “It is shameful to see Liz Truss oppose official advice to book a luxury lunch that brings in thousands of pounds in business for a Tory donor.
“Without a US trade deal in sight, the sheer incompetence of wasting taxpayer dollars is truly shocking. As workers see their family budgets shrink, Conservative ministers still manage to find ways to line the pockets of their comrades.
Emily Thornberry, the phantom attorney general, wrote on Twitter that Truss has already faced questions about her ‘expensive tastes’ and brought up the example of the former Secretary of International Trade’s decision to take three staff to Vietnam and Singapore in December 2020.
Truss was forced to correct a parliamentary question on travel to South East Asia and reveal the cost to the taxpayer included £ 20,296 for flights, £ 3,980 for accommodation and £ 4,034 – or £ 250 per day for each person – for expenses.
Thornberry wrote that this “won’t be the last time Liz Truss gets in trouble asking the taxpayer to foot the bill for her dear likes.”
“It’s about character, and if Truss’s natural instinct is to hide the truth and hope no one asks questions when it comes to the little things, don’t be surprised when she does. great things. “
Often regarded as London’s most exclusive club, 5 Hertford Street hosted Prince Harry’s first date with Meghan, but recorded six-figure losses last year.
Truss has reportedly used it previously to host “fizz with Liz” dinners with MPs and “biz for Liz” receptions with potential donors, in preparation for a likely leadership bid.
A DIT spokesperson said: “This was a diplomatic working dinner attended by the former secretary for international trade, senior British officials and US counterparts from our biggest trading partner.”