Cabinet secretary Simon Case
has admitted discussing “opportunities” for the prime minister’s wife, Carrie
Johnson, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Earthshot prize, but denied
recommending her for any paid role.
Case’s account followed
reports that he had sought to secure a job for Carrie Johnson at their charity,
the Royal Foundation, which offers the prize for environmental innovation.
In a robust letter released on
Thursday evening, after Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, challenged
him to account for the reports, Case insisted: “I did not recommend Mrs Johnson
for any role.”
However, he admitted raising
the possibility of Carrie Johnson working with the charity. “In autumn 2020 a
former member of the No 10 team asked about opportunities for Mrs Johnson with
environmental charities. I was happy to have an informal conversation with
someone involved with the Earthshot prize about what roles were available, as I
would have done for anyone with relevant experience who was keen to get
involved with charity work,” he said.
“I was informed that there was
one publicly advertised role and possible volunteering opportunities. In
keeping with the Earthshot prize’s charitable status, the publicly advertised
role was not publicly funded, and any applicant would have been required to go
through a full and open interview process. I am not aware of how this
information was used, but, as I understand it, Mrs Johnson did not pursue any
of these opportunities.”
Rayner had written to Case, a
former private secretary to Prince William, posing a series of questions,
including: “Did the prime minister instruct, request or ask you to discuss the
employment of Carrie Johnson with the Royal Foundation?” and: “Will you be
referring yourself to the standards commissioner for breaches of the civil
service code of conduct?”
She adds: “It is clearly
inappropriate that the prime minister should be the judge and jury in his own
case, so I ask you to confirm that this matter will be subject to an
independent probe and fully investigated.”
In his reply, Case said that
he would not be referring himself to the standards commissioner, because she
oversees the code of conduct for parliamentarians, not civil servants – and
“furthermore, as set out above, there was no improper conduct”.
Case was handpicked as cabinet
secretary by Boris Johnson. He has infuriated some more junior colleagues
by escaping a penalty for lockdown-busting parties, despite having to recuse
himself from investigating them when it emerged one gathering was held in his
Rayner has also written
separately to Lord Evans, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life,
urging him to investigate both the claim over the royal job, and reports,
confirmed to the Guardian, that Johnson tried to employ his then mistress in a
senior role in the Foreign Office, in 2018.
Evans’s committee oversees the
standards system as a whole and does not usually investigate individual cases –
but Rayner points out that after the resignation of the prime minister’s ethics
adviser Lord Geidt last week, it is unclear who else would do so.
“In the absence of an ethics
adviser, and given it would be inappropriate for the prime minister to be the
judge and jury in his own case, I ask that you instigate an independent
investigation into this matter,” she writes.
Evans, a former head of MI5,
recently warned that Johnson risked undermining the public’s trust in ethics in
public life. Without an overhaul of the system, including strengthening the
role that Geidt held, he said, “suspicion about the way in which the
ministerial code is administered will linger”. Geidt subsequently resigned, saying
he had been put in an “impossible and odious” position.
Since he stepped down, Geidt
has said the prime minister’s apparent effort to hire Carrie Johnson to a
taxpayer-funded role four years ago, “could be ripe for investigation”.
Downing Street has suggested
it may not hire a direct successor to Geidt, hinting that it could instead hand
over the job to a panel, or committee.
In the House of Commons on
Wednesday, Johnson noticeably swerved the question of whether he had
tried to get Carrie Johnson appointed to a senior post while he was
foreign secretary. At the time, he was still married to his second wife, Marina
The Labour MP Chris
Elmore asked him: “Has he ever considered the appointment of his current spouse
to a government post or to any organization in the working of the royal
households? Be honest, prime minister, yes or no?”
Johnson replied: “I know why
the party opposite wants to talk about nonexistent jobs … Because they don’t
want to talk about what is going on in the real world.” He then went on to
discuss employment statistics.