The public has been shocked by the revelation that Liz Truss’s recent trip to Australia is estimated to have cost the UK taxpayer £500,000 for the charter of a private jet alone. That’s the equivalent to the amount of money Rishi Sunak now wishes to save the Treasury by scrapping the paltry allowance of £6 a week / £312 a year for those who work from home. It’s a small sum to cover the additional expenses they will have incurred, especially in the context of the £10,000 given to MPs at the start of the pandemic. Are we being taken for mugs yet again as this government hits us with tax hikes and benefit reductions, while spending lavishly on itself, its mates and its donors, and writing off billions of pounds in fraud?
The private jet in question is not the VIP Voyager that caused controversy when Boris Johnson splashed out £900,000 on a Union Jack paint job in 2020. That has only been used twice on official government business, once in a fly-past over Athens in January 2021 and a second time to make Johnson look important as he flew into Cornwall to host the G20 summit in June 2021. Alas, rather than look important, Johnson looked like an environmental vandal by creating such a massive carbon footprint for so short a trip… At least the VIP Voyager has a “day job” refuelling airborne RAF aircraft in the sky.
Liz Truss used the second ‘Brexit jet’– an Airbus 321 which was six months old at the time that Boris Johnson leased it from Titan Airways in March 2021. That, too, has a ‘Global Britain’ livery, as stipulated in the contract. The private jet was leased at a cost to the taxpayer of £75 million and is usually to be found parked at Stansted at a further monthly cost to the taxpayer of £72,000. Fuel for flights is not included, of course, and Truss’s trip burned through 150 tonnes of the stuff and created a 500 tonne carbon footprint.. It is surprising that Ms Truss used it to fly to Australia, as when the lease was first announced, it was said to be for short to medium-haul flights only. Indeed, she had to make various stop-offs to re-fuel along the way, so her trip took longer than a commercial flight.
Obviously, Ms Truss did not travel alone, but even if you factor in a sizeable entourage, they still could have flown to Australia at one-tenth of the cost. Then there’s the question of whether she really needed to go at all? There has been a lot of in-person contact of late, as Ms Truss flogged off what could metaphorically be described as the UK’s family silver on the cheap through the Australian trade deal. She gave the Australians absolutely everything they wanted in return for miniscule and meaningless concessions, condemning our agricultural sector to a diminished future and our food standards to decline – and all so she could say she had negotiated a trade deal and have her Instagram moment. What on earth was so important that it required a flight costing half a million quid? What part of her shoddy deal couldn’t have been achieved via a Zoom call?
According to Ms Truss, she went private for security reasons.
Calm down! She did not mean that Australia, a country she so recently called “our closest ally”, had suddenly become a hotbed of anti-British terrorism and posed some sort of imminent threat. No, she meant that she was concerned confidential discussions might be overheard on the flight, what with the situation in Ukraine and all. Odd then, that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who joined Ms Truss on the Australia trip, flew business class on a commercial flight with Singapore Airlines for around £5,000. Cheaper and faster.
The other reason Truss gave was that she may have needed to return to the UK at short notice. Why might Truss need to have a plane on standby in the event of an emergency, and not Ben Wallace? He is every bit as concerned with the Ukraine situation as she is, possibly more so. Given her government has all but declared the pandemic to be over (if only wishing could make it so…), that cannot be the reason either.
Maybe the answer lies in a potential vote of no confidence in the prime minister. Ms Truss did not want to miss out on all the manoeuvring that would have taken place had a 54th letter calling for an end to Boris Johnson’s shambolic premiership been submitted to Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee and in charge of the process of electing and deposing Tory leaders. That elusive 54th letter did not, however, arrive… Still, having a private jet on standby came in handy after former prime minister Paul Keating branded Ms Truss as “demented” and urged her to “hurry back to her collapsing, disreputable government”.
The flight will not have been the only cost of the Truss expedition, and when it comes to food, lavish Liz has a terrible reputation for extravagance. She recently hit the headlines for overruling her officials’ suggestions as to where to lunch with a US trade representative to instead treat him to a £3,000 lunch at an expensive private members’ club in Mayfair, owned by a Conservative Party donor. As it happened, she got mates’ rates of £1,400. Still, when compared to a month’s salary on minimum wage (£1,536), it does not look good.
There have been a host of other stories about Liz Truss’s immoderate expenses. Observers may speculate that someone is leaking them to make her look bad, and that that ‘someone’ is Rishi Sunak. Not that he’s got room to boast, having deprived 3.7 million self-employed people in this country of any support whatsoever during the pandemic on the grounds that he was concerned they might commit fraud, only to write off £4.3 billion in fraudulent covid loans made to luckier souls. Galling. As is the regressive 10.4 per cent hike in National Insurance from 12 per cent to 13.25 per cent in April this year. It’s necessary, Sunak says, to fund the NHS and social care. Perhaps Sunak should have thought of that when he was turning a blind eye to all the corruption in the Covid contract VIP lane?
Clearly the magnitude of Sunak’s wastefulness is off the charts compared with that of Liz Truss, but that does not excuse Liz Truss for squandering taxpayers’ money on extravagances. Neither Sunak or Truss comes out of the briefing war smelling of anything other than the fetid stench of corruption and entitlement. When Boris Johnson goes, he needs to take his entire cabinet with him, and a new prime minister needs to select fresh faces with honest hearts and clean hands to replace them.