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Sunday, November 01, 2020

Boris Johnson, the wine, the caviar and olive oil

Most sitting Prime Ministers receive gifts from foreign dignitaries as part of the normal course of their work and naturally there are rules to be followed as to how these gifts are treated to avoid allegations of corruption and undue influence.

Boris Johnson is no exception and nobody can criticise him for being in receipt of such gifts especially as they will be properly catalogued and disposed of. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the sort of gift he is being given, and doubly interesting that the Independent reveals he has had wine, caviar and other luxury items confiscated by the Cabinet Office because they would have broken corruption rules.

What is not made clear in the story is whether this excess is unusual or whether other Prime Ministers have been in the same situation. My guess is the latter.

The paper says that the prime minister was also given a painting, a sculpture, Scotch whisky and some expensive olive oil – but they were all removed because they all exceeded strict limits on freebies.

Johnson was also gifted a “futuristic” strategy game similar to chess, and a pen and pen holder set, but won’t get the chance to use them. The wine – a present from the government of Hungary – will remain uncorked after being taken away by Cabinet Office officials for “disposal”.

The ministerial code, aimed at preventing individuals exerting indue influence over our politicians, means MPs cannot accept any gifts valued over £140.

What struck me about this story was the contrast it provided between the way international diplomacy works and real life. All over England, poorer children are failing to get a square meal during the school holidays because Johnson's government are too ideologically parsimonious to provide for them. At the same time expensive food stuffs are being destroyed because they were given in breach of corruption rules.

I am not arguing here that wine and caviar should be doled out on the streets of Manchester, but wouldn't it be nice if for once a foreign diplomat decided that a suitable gift for the UK Prime Minister was 1000 hot meals for poorer children in one of our inner cities? Or even that Johnson himself recognises the absurdity of his position and acceded to Marcus Rashford's campaign for the state to feed those children.
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