A firm run by Boris Johnson’s tennis partner has been paid £1.4m of government cash to help officials “network” with some of the UK’s richest people, it has been revealed.
Labour has condemned the contract as “a blindingly obvious conflict of interest and a shocking waste of money” and demanded an investigation.
The money is being paid to Quintessentially, a “luxury lifestyle” company – co-founded by Ben Elliott, an Old Etonian friend of the prime minister – which charges well-heeled clients thousands of pounds to meet powerful people.
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Mr Elliott was appointed co-chairman of the Conservative party last summer and raised funds for Mr Johnson’s election victory, before being picked as the government’s first “food waste tsar” in January.
Now the Financial Times has revealed that the Department for International Trade (DIT) has paid Quintessentially £1.4m to enable civil servants and the super-rich to “network at the highest levels”, under a contract that began in 2016.
It arranges “exceptional visits” in order for officials to convince them to invest in the UK, according to the contract it has seen.
Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s Cabinet Office minister, said: “Everybody knows the Conservatives are a party of the rich and powerful, for the rich and powerful, but these revelations further expose how they and their allies see government as a chance to make easy money at the public’s expense.
“Handing over taxpayers’ money to a company run by the Tory Party co-chair just so officials can meet the ‘great and good’ is a blindingly obvious conflict of interest and a shocking waste of money.
“The government must immediately stop paying for these services, and make a statement on why it thought it was appropriate to pay this company for them in the first place.”
The Independent has asked both the Conservative party and DIT to respond to criticism of the arrangement. Downing Street declined to comment.
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Mr Elliott is the prime minister’s tennis partner for a game recently auctioned off to the wife of an ally of Vladimir Putin, to raise £90,000 for Conservative coffers.
Aged 44, he boasts powerful connections across British society. As the nephew of Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, he has been photographed with her husband, Prince Charles, the future king.
When Michael Gove picked him to tackle food waste, Mr Elliott told the Evening Standard it was because “I am such a relentless, bossy f***er that I will turbocharge the whole thing”.
He also acknowledged he had considered running as the Conservative candidate for the London seat of Kensington, saying: “Yes, I’ve thought about it. The professional political class is not great.”
Mr Elliott also praised Extinction Rebellion as “marvellous”, saying: “It’s a wonderful thing. It’s moved the debate on, making the penny drop on green issues.”